How to Build Your Virtual Brand

Like it or not, people are judging you online. Here’s how to make a strong first impression.

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The phrase “personal brand” is tossed about rather freely these days. You’re not exactly a product, so what does “personal brand” even mean? Simply put, it’s what people say about you when you’re out of earshot. You’re being judged all the time on myriad factors, ranging from your profession to how you dress to the vocabulary you use, and even to your posture.

The same goes for your online self — or what image-building expert William Arruda calls your “virtual brand.” Founder and president of personal branding firm Reach, Arruda has given hundreds of keynote addresses to Fortune 500 companies and authored books on the topics of online identity and career management.

You may be asking: Why bother? If you’re well-established in your career, nearing retirement, or already retired, you may feel like your brand may not need a lot of care and feeding. But in today’s internet-driven world, the opposite is often true, particularly if you’re starting a second career, seeking part-time employment, or promoting a new business, service, product, or something as simple as a knitting blog. There are millions out there trying to make their mark: “It’s much harder to stand out,” writes Dan Schawbel, best-selling author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0.

Bottom line: Regardless of age and career status, your online reputation matters. “It used to be thought that an online profile was nice to have, but I think today it’s a must-have,” Arruda says. “More people are meeting us online before they meet us in person. So our first impression now is being formed in bits and bytes.” In fact, if you’re not managing your online ID, “you’re really doing yourself a disservice, because we know how important first impressions are,” he adds.

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