Maintaining your Personal Brand Online
This seems like a really subtle thing but it's something that I've tried to do and that is establish a personal brand and maintain it throughout all of my online activities.
Maintaining a personal brand using your own name or alias can actually be easier than maintaining a corporate brand, especially when it comes to social networks or blog comments. Using a company name within blog comments or setting up Facebook groups for a company often has that "spammy" feel to it. You look like your trolling for links instead of being an unbiased contributor to the conversation.
I've been lucky in that my last name, Snook, is relatively unique and memorable. Ironically, as a teenager and with my desire to fit in with the crowd, I didn't want that uniqueness. I even thought changing my last name might be an option. Luckily, I didn't make that mistake and have finally in recent times come to embrace the name. I've been slowly expanding on that to the point where people just call me "Snook" (or Snookums, affectionately). And that's a good place to be.
Here's a quick list of things you can do to help maintain your personal brand online:
Use your real name, especially if unique
Because it's your personal brand, it should be personal and there's very little that's more personal than your real name. When you meet people in person, you normally tell them your name. When you give people a business card, you normally have your name on it. When people do a search for your name, you want them to be able to find your name. Using a pseudonym can make it more difficult to be found.
If privacy is a concern, and I understand that it can be, especially for women, then I certainly I understand using a pseudonym. Be sure to be consistent and be professional — whether that's on your site, your business cards, or any forums you may participate on.
Create a logo or wordmark and stick with it
Since I've gone freelance over two years ago, I've been using the same logo. It's recognizable and readily associated with me and what I do. It doesn't have to be a fancy logo. It could even just be your name with a nice font face. It should have some character and over time, it will be part of your brand.
You may be tempted to change the logo with every redesign but I recommend that you be consistent. Changing up your brand can confuse people and make it harder for people to remember who you are.
Use the same avatar everywhere
Admittedly, I tend to fall down when it comes to my avatar. I use a photo for IM, Twitter and Skype but use my site logo on forums and blog posts (via Gravatar). Using a consistent avatar makes it easier for others to identify who you are.
A possible compromise between using an image and a logo is to combine the two into a single image. For example, you could use your photo but have your logo in a corner. The real estate of an avatar is usually quite limited so your mileage may vary.
If you have an established brand, stick with it
I don't necessarily mean that you can never redesign your site but there are usually elements of a design that people remember or identify with your brand. Take my site, for example, and the colour green would probably be one of the key things you might remember.
If you remember the fixed comments I had, they too were a part of my brand. It was a tough decision to remove the fixed comments from the site because it was part of what people remembered when using the site.
Use an image for your RSS feed
Although the impact that an RSS image has is minimal, it's seen in enough places to make it another point to enforce your brand.
Use a favicon
Using a favicon for your site is, in my opinion, a must. Not only does it improve usability making it easier to identify your site in a sea of tabs, it's easier to identify in bookmarks, and people often use them in blogrolls.
When it comes to social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn, I don't have any hard rules. Many of the previously mentioned ideas can apply just as well to social networks like using your name, and using a logo or photo for your profile image.
Some people even go as far as signing up for every new service before it gets popular just to lock up a particular user name. I haven't gone to that degree and have even disabled my account on various services simply from lack of use.
The important part is that if you use the service, be consistent and be professional. For every service that I use I think about the clients and family who might be reading it. Be careful to only share what you'd feel comfortable sharing in person.
Why maintain a personal brand?
For many people employed within a larger organization may wonder if these steps are important. For me, it is important to maintain my own sense of self outside of any organization that I work with. Our society is very transient and the idea of working for a single company for more than five years is foreign to many of my generation (and younger). When working for a company, you still raise the awareness of the company as a whole. You become a conduit for increased awareness of the company you work for. That makes you a stronger asset to the company while also maintaining your own individualism. I've certainly gained a greater respect and understanding for a company when I know the people that work for that company.
Maintaining a personal brand isn't complicated. In the end, it's about consistency. Be consistent in how you present yourself and it'll pay off in spades.