Defining the Blur: Leveraging Social Media To Create A Professional Brand

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Mar. 11 2013, Published 7:39 a.m. ET

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For a generation of young professionals who grew up with social media including AOL Instant Messenger, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, using these platforms to communicate comes naturally.  But it takes another level of savviness and skill to learn what it takes to balance and leverage those networks to build a professional brand.

When developing careers, young people must understand how to differentiate between the public and private spheres of their lives. They should also consider: in what context they will share what is private with the public.

Journalist, life coach and author of A Belle in Brooklyn, Demetria Lucas sums up the issue perfectly. “Anyone on late-night Twitter has been witness to the over-sharing of lonely folk with no one to talk to so they tipsy tweet instead of drunk dial,” says Lucas. “Apparently there are still people who use Facebook for more than an online photo album and since they aren’t limited to 140 characters in their status updates, they’re known to go all emo about their frustrations with their partner, (or the partner they wish they had). Oh and in bafflingly bad judgment, they write about the current job they can’t stand.”

When social media becomes a diary of sorts, people begin to lose their credibility and potential networking/hiring connections will question if the person can be held accountable as a source of trust.

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How do personal brands become a source of trust without over-sharing the most intimate details of their lives to their followers? According to YPulse’s State of Now Conference for Millennial Professionals:  “Michael Jackson would talk about the mystery of the artist, having to be an elusive person that everyone would want to know more about; now fans want to know everything. As Dash put it, they even care about what you’re eating, so you tweet a photo of your meal!” Humans use the psychology of relating to one another as a measuring stick of trust. This trust is based on character. Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D. of Psychology Today adds, “Traditionally, in psychology, the term “character” has been used to refer to constellations or configurations of behavioral traits.” When a follower can identify with a personal brand’s character, comfort ensues and a para-social relationship develops.

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These types of relationships can be defined as one-sided interpersonal relationships where one party knows detailed information about the other party but not vice versa. The illusion of interactions through social media helps create a friendship between the two parties. The viewer is made to believe the other person is communicating to them through their actions on various social media platforms.

When it comes to branding, Sally Lal of Universal Music Group advises, “While social media has made it easier than ever to establish a brand based on a personality (with or without much talent), to have longevity, you have to have both personality and talent. If you have that, get your hustle on.”

Further emphasizing a need to leverage something more than just personality to create a branding strategist, Laura Ries adds that it’s important to carve out a unique set of skills.

Define who you are and your unique abilities: Try to define yourself in a single word or concept. Example: I have a friend who defined herself as the ‘process improvement expert’ who ‘always completed projects on time and under budget,’” says Ries.

“Understand other people’s perceptions of you: ‘Think about other people. Think about the impressions you are making on friends, neighbors, business associates. Think about your brand.”

Leveraging social media in the workforce can be efficient once guidelines are made between the corporation and employee. Although differences vary due to job sectors millennial professionals need to create healthy mediums where social media can be used to advance their careers and personal development.

“Take the time to speak with many different people to understand how they perceive your strengths and then use this information as you create your personal brand,” advises Ries.

How do you leverage social media for your personal brand?

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