Google You; Your Professional Brand, Online

Switch to Mac and you will become instantly cool, you will have fun while you work, and the blue screen of death will never appear again. Ever.

That’s the Apple promise.

The corporate world had this figured out decades ago. Often, it’s not about the physical value of a product or service, it’s about the strength of a promise; it’s about the strength of a brand.

After all, it’s a ‘brand’ new world where colors are trademarked and words are copyrighted. Bad publicity is more powerful than law. Reputations and perceptions are carefully controlled, professionally crafted, and monitored with military-like precision. Five lousy seconds of an unfortunate accident can end up in the news, or worse, on YouTube.

Welcome to 2010, where nothing is what it seems. Most businesses, large or small, practice corporate branding to some extent. Hollywood stars and business tycoons spend billions of dollars each year on brand strategists and publicists. And with the Internet, Google, and social media, the branding bug has marked its latest territory: You.

Your laundry, shining white or stained and dirty, no longer needs to be exciting (or embarrassing) enough to become public. All it takes is your name, typed into a search box, followed by an “Enter”.

There are many possible scenarios that follow that “Enter”. The searcher, whether a prospective business connection, employer, or simply a curious individual, may find a few random results; a newspaper article, a Facebook profile, and a comment on some site that you would rather not have people see. Or they could find results that have nothing to do with you at all, and rather, with a person who shares the same name. The ideal scenario would be having the searcher see a collection of links that you deem appropriate, and that you carefully control.

Professional branding on the Web is vital to today’s business ecosystem. If you are working on building your career, you need to make sure that employers access information that showcases your talent as well as clearly differentiates you from competition. If you are past the beginning of your career, and need to build business connections instead, you have to ensure that the first few pages of search results are expressive of your accomplishments and strong enough to hide the not-so-good stuff on Google.

As with corporate branding, the first thing you need to do before you start building your professional brand is make a few decisions. What is your professional promise? This is how you want people to think of you — it could be a promise of work of the highest quality or it could be innovative thinking. How would you like to portray yourself online? Do you want to be proactive in your branding and actually share your thoughts and ideas or simply make sure that your name is consistently associated with your image?

What follows is the fun stuff. The Holy Grail of personal branding on the web is social networking — the good ones have such high search ranks that they will definitely show up on the first page of search results. Create accounts of as many networks as you can, including LinkedIn, Xing, Twitter, and even Facebook, which is becoming increasingly important for businesses. If you enjoy writing, you might want to consider starting a blog as it is one of the best ways to showcase your professional experience and knowledge.

The important thing to keep in mind regardless of the tool though is consistency. Use the same variation of your name across everything you want to be associate with you and a pseudonym with everything you don’t. Always use the same photograph of yourself, and make sure it reflects how you want to be portrayed. Update the social networks you’re a part of at least once a month with carefully crafted messages that reflect your professional side.

It’s simple: You are a brand. It all matters. Build and own your online brand and don’t let others define it for you.

What does Google have to say about you? If you have no idea, well, you better’d find out.

Originally published in Venture magazine, August 2010

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An Ode to the White Plastic Chair

A family sitting in the garden on a hot summer night, eating cold watermelon and drinking hot mint tea. An old woman waiting impatiently in a governmental building for his paperwork to be complete. A man resting downtown in front of the Al-Husseini Mosque, watching the hustle and bustle of the heart of the city. A collection of random men paying their respects over death.

Different settings. Different people. Different occasions.

The one constant: the white plastic chair.

This is an ode to this design disaster, function heaven.

I hate the way you look. I hate the way you instantly cheapify even the most beautiful scene. Yet, I gotta give you this, my dear white plastic chair: without you, the world wouldn’t be the same.

I’m glad you exist.