Every time you post something online, your reputation is on the line. We look at how to build a powerful personal brand on social sites and platforms – without the backlash!

“We’ve all become celebrities in the digital age,” says Emma Sadleir, a social media lawyer and specialist speaker at an Investec event for young professionals. “We need to look after our personal reputations.”

When it comes to the internet, it’s crucial to remember that you’re not speaking one-on-one or to a small group of people, but to a potential audience of millions. And you don’t have to be a celebrity to entice a backlash. One irresponsible post may cost you your privacy, personal reputation or even your entire business or career.

At the same time, your online persona should reflect your offline personality. If you’re a gregarious and outspoken person, that should reflect on your social accounts. If you’re reserved and private, you would probably keep activities on your networking profiles activity to a minimum.

Group of youngsters looking at social media on mobile phone

As a TV presenter, model, media entrepreneur and Investec Private Banking brand ambassador, Maps Maponyane is very active on social media as an influencer. “I use social media to grow my own brand,” he says. “I try to not make mistakes that would hinder that growth.”

With this in mind, before you post that racy pic or let forth with a rant on a social network, here are seven ways to build your personal brand on social media – as well as advice on how not to damage it:

7 ways to build your personal brand on social media

Emma Sadleir and Maps Maponyane talk about protecting your personal brand. We look at how to build a powerful personal brand in social communications and how to protect your online reputation.

1 | Be careful with what you post, Google never forgets

male and female checking social media on mobile phone

Many people don’t realise is that deleting something on the Internet doesn’t mean it goes away. Put simply: your sexy selfies don’t self-destruct, and once you post something online, it pretty much lives in the ether forever – even if you delete the post.

A selfie on Instagram, a post on Facebook, an opinion on Twitter, a video clip – even a chat in a closed WhatsApp group – may go viral and come back to haunt to you. It may be come back immediately or a few years down the line.

For this reason, before you share any kind of personal content, whether it’s posting a photograph, a tweet or even sending an email, think about those words or images going viral, and make sure you’re satisfied that the content really communicates your desired viewpoint.

2 | As an influencer, think twice before tweeting

“If you wouldn’t put it on a billboard next to a huge photograph of your face,” says Emma, “don’t just not put it online: don’t let it exist in digital format.”

When you are angry or upset, you are probably not in the best frame of mind to post. Before you fire off that impulsive post on Twitter or Facebook, wait until you have cooled off and can give a rational opinion. Or, if you have an undeniable urge to share those feelings, do it offline to friends you trust, who won’t take your words out of context, and who are more likely to forgive you if you’ve said something impulsive or have had an error in judgment.

3 | Personal branding is important, online or off – look after it

Yes, you’re a person with likes, dislikes, preferences and your own unique personality, but if you’re employed by a company or run your own, your online persona is, in effect, your own personal brand, similar to a company’s brand. It is part of your online identity.

Once you’ve wrapped your head around the fact that operating online is an exercise in a personal branding strategy, let your content and ‘brand’ convey who you really are. Pay attention to the quality of what you’re posting to ensure that it’s in line with your target audience.

If you’re finding it hard to keep up with posting across several channels, cut these back and focus on the ones that best suit you as a ‘brand’. And then be careful not to overdo it and oversell yourself. Aim to add value and provide quality content, rather than going for the hard sell in terms of what you’re offering.

An important consideration when posting content online is to have an end destination where people can view more of what you write or publish, or where they can learn more about your skills and services. This could be your LinkedIn profile, but it could also be a simple personal blog or website containing your CV and portfolio.
If you do go this personal branding route, try and get a website domain name that includes your name, and/or your core career focus, and that can easily be found on Google search results.

4 | Keep your brand voice real and consistent

“The beautiful thing about social media is that everyone now has a voice,” says Maps. However, he advises that you maintain a positive and consistent brand voice and point of view. “I try to make sure that I have an informed opinion,” he adds. “Don’t put anything there that is not factual because you set yourself up for a lot of backlash.”

Youngsters laughing at something on social media

One of the best ways to achieve a positive personal brand online is to be consistent in publishing content. Post regularly so that you stay top of mind to your audience – and stick to topics that you really know about. Your tone and voice also add to consistency, as do small details like keeping a consistent handle (screen name) across all your channels.

However, Emma believes we should never fear posting publicly because of negative connotations. “Social media can be used to your personal benefit if you use it correctly,” she says. “I know that if I go for a job interview tomorrow that I’m much more likely to get the job than not because of my social media accounts.”

5 | Always read the fine print

Emma advises that you educate yourself about the social policies for every social platform to which you post. “Who owns the content?” she asks. “How much control do you have?”

It may be boring, but read the terms and conditions as well as the privacy policies of the most popular platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn etc). Doing so in detail can make for fairly sober reading in terms of who is in control of the content you post – and what recourse you may have should things go wrong.

Overall, don’t rely on default settings on various media platforms to protect your privacy. For example, private or ‘incognito’ modes aren’t private to your friends, who can still see what you post and screenshot the content to share with others.

Take the time to configure your accounts to strengthen your security and privacy as much as possible, but at the same time, see posting online or the internet as similar to sending a postcard, where anyone can read it.

6 | Don’t fall victim to fake news

As much as social networks connect us to news that we may not have had access to previously, it can also be misleading due to its one-sided nature. We often only see posts and opinions that correspond with our own personal views of the world. However, this complementarity of opinions can be manipulated or exploited in the age of big data and fake news.

For this reason, be wary of everything you see and read online and don’t accept a post at face value. Rather try and widen your perspective by cross-checking information from other platforms and sources, from magazines and newspapers to different news channels or streaming broadcasts online.

Young females checking social media on mobile phone together

Go a step further and talk to people in a particular industry, or consume thought leadership content from industry leaders to get a good understanding of a particular topic.

7 | Be a good digital citizen and responsible online influencer

male and female discussing social media

In his book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, author Jon Ronson researches several people who’ve been the subject of intense public internet shaming due to specific events, and what their lives have been like since. Ronson likens online bullying to a kind of mass public punishment without trial. “What’s bad is it’s a kind of totalitarian thought process where nobody’s allowed to offer an opposing view,” he says in an interview with Vox magazine.

When interacting online, we all have a certain level of anonymity or at least feel that we’re commenting from a safe distance, so we may act in a way that we wouldn’t necessarily were we standing face-to-face with that person. But, even though the internet offers a kind of shield in this way, there are still human beings behind those online profiles. Even if you disagree with someone, don’t lose your sense of etiquette or basic humanity. Show respect in online spaces – and expect it in return.

The internet has been an amazing development in our ability to connect and communicate with others, as well as to build our personal brand and widen our career prospects and connections. For all the positives it offers though, there are caveats and things to be aware of whenever you post a piece of content online.

Whether it’s a tweet, a photograph posted on social media or an email you send, make sure your online persona reflects the integrity, core values and personality of the real ‘offline’ you.


If you enjoyed this article, read 7 tips for a safer online shopping experience.

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