This week’s Thing is an interesting one. I have given some thought to my personal “branding” of my online personas, but there’s some aspects of it that have always troubled me.
For one thing, my design skills suck. You could probably guess this by the fact that when I set up this blog, I picked the first WordPress theme that I hadn’t already seen on a million and one other blogs (probably because green and orange aren’t everyone’s ideas of complementary colours!) and have stuck with it ever since. I’ve never done any tweaking of it, or of the backgrounds of any of my other online profiles. I had the default plain blue background on Twitter until a couple of months ago, when I took a photo of a pile of logs and my boyfriend observed that it’d make a good desktop background.
So I love the way Joeyanne has coordinated the “look” of all her online profiles, and even tied these in with her business cards, but it’s just not something I’ve ever been motivated to do. Does it hurt my branding? Maybe… Although I try to use the same name and pic on all my profiles, which I guess ties it all together somewhat.
The question of what name and picture you use is also a thorny one for me. My very first foray into the online librarian community was via Twitter. When I first signed up, my user name was my own full name (with some numbers added – I have a ridiculously common first name and surname, so my actual name has always already been taken on social media sites!), and I had an actual photo of myself. A clear one too, where you can see my face and everything. It was the same one I still use on my LinkedIn profile.
Unfortunately, at the time I had a real live stalker, and he started targeting my social media profiles. He very quickly found me on Twitter, causing me to panic, scrap the old profile, start again without any references that would let anyone know who I really was, add an avatar that wasn’t me and try to think of a username that wouldn’t quite give away my real name. Don’t ask me why I settled on WoodsieGirl – I think that was just the only thing I could think of that wasn’t already taken! I picked my avatar just because it was a picture I liked – my boss at the time had it pinned on her noticeboard, which was where I first saw it. I don’t think the character in the comic the image is taken from is actually a librarian, but in the speech bubble that’s just cropped out of my avatar she’s saying “look it up!”, which made it feel quite appropriate for a librarian! I didn’t pick her because she looks anything like me, although we are both blonde…
Luckily, I haven’t heard from my stalker in over a year now, so I’m hoping he may have actually, finally given up. For this reason, I’ve started actually using my full name in my online stuff, and allowing things that contain my full name to link back to this blog and my Twitter (I was super-paranoid about that for a while, only allowing people to link to my LinkedIn profile if they’d used my full name in case it left a Google trail). I’m hanging on to the WoodsieGirl handle though, for the simple reason that it’s how a lot of people know me now! I’m a bit more conflicted about my avatar – I’ve been wondering if it’s time to add a pic of the real me to my Twitter profile. I’ve shied away from this until now because a) I personally find it confusing when people change their Twitter pics, as I scan for the pics rather than people’s names when reading my feed, and b) I don’t really have a real photo I’d be happy to use! The one above is nearly 5 years old now, and I’ve cut my hair short since then, so it doesn’t really look like me any more. So I’d have to take a new photo, and I am both incredibly vain and completely unphotogenic, so I generally hate photos of myself! I do think it is probably an advantage to have an actual, recognisable photo of yourself on social networking sites: as Joeyanne points out in her post, it allows people who you already know online to recognise you when you meet face-to-face, which is always a great icebreaker.
One thing that I’ve noticed since starting to use my real name in my online professional activities is just how much more Google-able I’ve become. One of the advantages (as I saw it) of having such a common name was that if anyone Googled me, they were unlikely to find anything actually connected to me. That’s still true to a certain extent – a Google search for “Laura Woods” brings back an Irish TV presenter, a London-based professional singer, and a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, along with a few random Facebook profiles, but nothing actually connected to me until the second page of results. Try “Laura Woods” +librarian though, and the first few pages are all me. A year or so ago, before I started putting my real name on things, when I tried that all that came back was my LinkedIn page and the SLA Europe press release about the ECCA I won in 2009. Now, that search brings back my blog, my Twitter, my SlideShare, my LibraryThing, various posts on various forums and people’s blogs that I’ve made, a ton of other people’s blogs and such linking back to me – in fact, my LinkedIn profile doesn’t even appear until near the bottom of the first page, and LinkedIn is usually very highly ranked.
I’m not sure how I feel about being so instantly findable. I guess in a way it’s a good thing – all that you’d find is stuff I’ve put out there, and I’ve not posted anything online I’d be ashamed of an employer or potential employer seeing. I don’t always keep things totally professional, but then I don’t see anything wrong with blending the personal and the professional. As @tinamreynolds put it once, if a potential employer is shocked at my enjoying the odd G&T of an evening, then I probably don’t want to work for them!
Well, this post has turned out quite a bit longer than I’d planned! I’m intreigued by Joeyanne’s suggestion for a bonus activity: have someone look at your blog and describe what they think it says about your personal brand. Anyone want to give this a go? Let me know in the comments if so, and we can exchange favours.