Optimize Your Personal Brand (If You Want To Exist)

In a discussion at my office last week, Steve Baker, author of "the Numerati," described a day when there would be services widely available to help people optimize themselves in the new digital world. He underscored there have long been individual optimization services in the analog world.

Consider college-prep coaches who optimize high school students to pass more easily through the filter of the most competitive admissions officials. These optimizers will advise their clients to do a little more community service here, or another advanced math course there -- all in the name of looking attractive to an algorithm. He's sure we'll eventually have these personal services in the digital world.

Fast-forward to this week, when, during a presentation at Columbia Business School's  Brite conference, Steve Rubel underscored the emergence of individual employee brands. These online celebrities help build relationships and trust with customers.  Just as Derek Jeter helps fill seats in the stadium, these employees drive customer acquisition, engagement and loyalty. And the key to building a strong personal brand? Optimizing one's self in search engines.

Let's take this one step further: A lack of personal optimization can be a serious disadvantage in a down economy. With unemployment rising, job seekers who are highly visible to employers have the upper hand. Those who are not discoverable don't exist. No wonder LinkedIn is seeing record traffic and a surge in interpersonal recommendations.

The State Of Digital Personal Optimization

There are scattered tools on the Web an individual can use to positively influence his or her personal search-engine reputation. Consider any number of free social-networking sites and publishing tools: LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as any of the blogging platforms like Blogger or Wordpress. But these tools are not part of any cohesive or sanctioned optimization strategy. And, collectively, they all require significant personal investment to learn, activate and maintain.

Whether good or bad, the required sophistication, complexity and uncertainty of various online consumer profile tools may limit the beneficiaries of personal optimization to a relatively small volume of sophisticated Web users. This creates a new kind of digital advantage, if not inequality. And that's only the public Web. There are many other databases that influence our lives, such as organ donor lists, jury and scholarship pools, and IRS taxpayer records.

Ironically, personal optimization is not even universally recognized or understood as a best practice for succeeding in the 21st century. In Internet circles, sure. But we're only beginning to hear a lot about personal optimization as scholastic and job competition heats up. The growing sophistication of ad targeting and identify thieves has probably fueled interest, as well.

Digital Personal Optimization: When?

So begs the question: When will serious digital personal optimization services become widely available? There is a mature industry of services firms and software that aid businesses in their attempts to optimize, but there's very little that's compelling or affordable for individuals.

However, commercial services are not the only answer; we need fundamental academic research on what digital optimization means for people. Parents should be teaching their children the best practices on how to optimize (and not). If schools are charged with preparing our children to succeed, then they, too, should include personal optimization skills in their curricula.

How are you optimizing yourself for today and tomorrow?



5 comments about "Optimize Your Personal Brand (If You Want To Exist) ".
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  1. James Hering from The Richards Group, March 6, 2009 at 11:19 a.m.

    Timely, thought-provoking article.

    How about teaching and counseling professional people about what NOT to do online. Can't tell you how many promising recruits we have passed on due to their negative social footprint. Oh the party pics and videos we have seen!

  2. Perry Hewitt from Crimson Hexagon, March 6, 2009 at 11:22 a.m.

    True, but sobering. To run with the college prep analogy (where I've done a fair amount of primary and secondary research), we've ended up in a world where a small number of highly privileged kids get "optimized" (think New Trier, Scarsdale) and the process becomes Byzantine and opaque for many deserving, "unoptimized" candidates. Guessing that digital optimization means opportunity for some, difficulty for many.

  3. Martin Edic from WTSsocial, March 6, 2009 at 11:47 a.m.

    We're already seeing job postings that require you to have good recommendations on LinkedIn and HR people doing social media searches to vet people. I'm reading Numerati and have been struck by how books like this are outdated by the time they reach print- and it was rushed out based on references to very recent events in the book.
    I'm dealing with helping higher ed people understand how prospective students are bypassing advertising and public school rating sites and going directly to social media to vet the schools. Everything in marketing has changed across the board and personal branding (aka 'Reputation') is a big part of that change.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 6, 2009 at 5:02 p.m.

    There are just so many people who cannot compete at this level for so very many reasons. And when these competent, qualified people who are so troubled where they cannot even secure an interview, what do you think it does to their morale when they cannot keep up with levels HR expect? How many in HR are even qualified to be in HR? Even the highly connected and highly optimized are barely treading water. There's a future in building tent cities.

  5. Christopher Payne-taylor from sAY-So, March 8, 2009 at 5:52 p.m.

    Personal optimization is great. The real issue, though, is personal branding, i.e. what exactly is it about yourself that you want to optimize? Which translates into the fundamental personal branding question: who are you?

    Sure, college applicants are inevitably urged to show a little community service here, a little sports there. But this does not a personal brand make, particularly on the professional level. Of far more relevance is what kind of CEO, CMO, or VP of Sales you might be.

    Are you, for instance, a take charge, seat of the pants cowboy, or analytically-minded, research-based number-cruncher? It's no longer enough to say that you are merely capable of addressing a problem; the key is to create an understanding of HOW you would address it.

    Net, net, LinkedIn and Twitter are only coaches you ride in to get to the ball. To dance with the Prince, you have to have something really interesting, relevant and compelling to show him when you get there.

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