A few weeks ago, I attended a session for library students/new professionals called “Personal Branding and Your Online Presence.” The workshop featured three speakers – Justin Hoenke (Justin the Librarian), Rebecca Goldman (Derangement and Description), and Naomi House (INALJ – I Need A Library Job) – who each gave advice on how to create and maintain a positive online presence. You can find out more about each speaker and find their presentations here. Attendees were also given a personal branding handout with more resources after the event. I jotted down my own notes and thoughts from the event, and I thought I’d share them with you here. [Just an FYI: The notes below are not all necessarily word-for-word from the presentations – some of them are from a speaker, and others are my thoughts about something they said!]
Justin had a lot of great points about creating a persona and engaging with the rest of the online community. He pointed out that having a personal brand gives your community a way to connect with you. Make sure to share your personality and interests – people want to talk to other people, not librarian robots! – but also make sure to stay professional. Having a visible personality and brand helps people remember you and what you represent. He told us to be positive, and “sit with it first” (before you post it) – good advice to remember when considering the permanence of online information. Another good thing to remember about your online persona – you’re not a rock star, so don’t let your 15 seconds of fame go to your head. As Justin put it – you are an awesome average person. I like this point – it’s easy to get caught up in how many times you are reblogged, retweeted, or liked. Get excited about a successful post, then concentrate on making the next one great too!
I really liked another point Justin made: “Find something you dig, focus on it, and repeat.” I think this is good advice not only because you’re contributing to an online discussion (about outreach, teen librarianship, archival digitization – whatever!), but also because focusing on something you like makes you more likely to keep talking. This might sound simple, but I think a lot of library students and new professionals face this issue. They want to start an online presence and talk to other professionals, but they’re not sure what to say. I have a few friends who have started blogs, Twitter accounts, and tumblrs, but hardly ever post because they don’t have a focus. Unfortunately, it’s common for information professionals to join up on social media because it’s “expected,” not because they have something they want to talk about or a community they want to join.
Anyways, back to Justin’s presentation. He also talked about the particulars of a brand – picking colors, fonts, consistent profile pictures, etc. He emphasized how important it is to keep your brand consistent across several platforms – if you have a profile pic and an underwater theme on your blog, carry that over to Twitter. If you use sans-serif fonts on your blog, make sure your digital portfolio text matches.
Rebecca was speaking from the perspective of having a web comic (which more archivists should do!). One of her main points was to go where your audience is. After you decide on your focus, figure out who would be most interested in what you are posting and where they like to go online. Rebecca found that her audience was mainly on Twitter. She still hosts the comic on her blog, but she tweets out the links and other jokes that didn’t make it into the comic. As well as going where your audience is, make sure you go where your content works best. If you have a lot of images, video, or audio, you might consider a different platform than someone who is completely text-based.
Rebecca also told us not to start out anonymous. She did (she wasn’t sure if her employers would like her idea of a comic poking fun at archives), and now she regrets not taking credit for it earlier. Along with claiming your content, make sure it has something unique to offer. What is going to make your blog, tumblr, or YouTube channel stand out from the rest? Why should people come to your site?
A last note from Rebecca – your posts don’t always have to be perfect. You can usually go back and change things later if you need to. While I think Justin’s point to sit on it is great advice, I agree with Rebecca that you don’t need to agonize over every word of every post (unless it’s really sensitive information or something that might upset people!).
Naomi came into branding from a different perspective – branding a service. [Btw, I just want to mention how much I liked getting such different perspectives in this session. It was interesting to see how their approaches differed.] She started I Need A Library Job (INALJ) as a way to send friends and classmates information about job postings. One of the first things she said was make sure you like your brand/name. She wishes she had decided on another name now (although I like her name – it’s very clear what you will find on her site!). On that note, she also considers changes very carefully. She thought long and hard before changing her emails to a blog, and then her recent change of organizing jobs by state. Naomi said that you’ll always have some unhappy customers, but really make sure a big change is worth it before you go ahead and alter something.
Naomi, like Justin, emphasized being positive as very important. She said she always tries to stay positive in her posts and interactions, but she’s not afraid to block someone who is being inappropriate. She told us to stand up for ourselves when necessary, but in a professional way. (Remember your potential bosses may see your angry Twitter fights!)
In terms of content and engaging with others, Naomi pointed out that you are your own best expert. Take other people’s thoughts and opinions into account, but ultimately make the decision you are most comfortable with. After all, it’s your brand/persona. As she said, be confident in yourself, your content, and your decisions.
I really enjoyed meeting these librarians and archivists and hearing what they had to say about personal branding. I knew them all by their online personas before the presentation, so it was interesting (and a bit surreal) to hear the people behind the brand.
After coming home from the session, I posted about it on my tumblr. As a result, a conversation started about which platforms to use and where information professionals are expected to be online. I think everyone involved had some very good points – both about using platforms and joining communities where you feel the most comfortable, but also not ignoring conversations going on elsewhere. There are so many online outlets for information professionals to use, and it can be difficult deciding which ones work best for you.
Another edit: I just saw this Online Identity category on Justin’s blog. Check out his comments on why he has an online persona/what platforms he uses and how. Interesting!
One more edit: As a result of this post, yet another awesome tumblr conversation has begun about personal branding/online identity. Make sure to read all of the comments like here, here, and here. On professionalism (which the conversation mainly revolved around), I say that staying professional doesn’t mean not sharing your personality and opinions. Or, as transformativetidbits said (quite nicely!), “make sure your interests intersect in a manner that highlights both your skills and your creative streak and passionate heart.”
The last edit? thecommonlibrarian has done a lot of great thinking about her online identity lately, and has been nice enough to share her thoughts with the rest of the Tumblarian community. She recently posted an awesome Venn Diagram detailing her different tumblr blogs and what she posts on each of them. I really like the idea of sitting down and writing out what you post on each of your online profiles/platforms. It’s a nice way for you to figure out what your online persona is really like. Maybe you think you have a very library-focused tumblr, but realize instead that you post more about your knitting projects. Or your archivist twitter handle has been taken over by your conversations with other foodies. Neither situation is bad by any means (it’s great that your personality is showing through!) – I just want to point out that your idea of your online persona and the reality might be different. I think I’m going to follow thecommonlibrarian’s lead and create a VD of all my social media accounts (librarian and otherwise), to really evaluate what my online persona is. It will be a nice document to have around, both for personal brand decisions and future persona comparison.
I’d be interested in hearing what other people have to say on the subject of personal branding and establishing an online presence. What do you think people should take into consideration? Would you approach your persona differently if you could do it over again? Which platforms do you think work well for your community?