Branding is no longer for Fortune 500 companies and Madison Avenue agencies with excessive budgets and inadequate tracking.
Personal branding is about managing your name — even if you don’t own a business — in a world of misinformation, disinformation, and semi-permanent Google records.
Going on a date? Chances are that your “blind” date has Googled your name.
Going to a job interview? Ditto.
Here are 4 tips for preserving or promoting your name, whether personal or business, in a digital world:
1. Get Google insurance:
Register the URLs for your name and variants, and consider creating a blog. The objective here is to own the first 1-5 results that appear on search engines if someone searches your name. I don’t think most people should be bloggers, but having a Google-friendly and SEO-rich blog platform like WordPress or TypePad that is updated even twice per month as an online journal is worth the investment for having first say in your image. This recommendation comes from Mike Fertik, CEO of the much-buzzed ReputationDefender.
2. Remember to maintain positive “cache-flow”…
Twittered a drunken message after a tequila shot or five? Put up a webpage with text or photos you now regret? Even if you delete a webpage or portion of a page, this deleted content can often be found via a cached version of the older page on Google. Think before you commit something to semi-permanence on the Internet with an impulse “publish”. It’s easier to put up than it is to take down. Good dirt hunters — or just head hunters and job interviewers — will find your MySpace page and related “private” pages, and I’d suggest you do similar research in kind before initiating serious business relationships. I found the MySpace page of a vice-president at a PR firm I was considering once, and it contained racist remarks, sexual innuendo, and all manner of incriminating descriptions… and it was the second result on Google for her name! Do you think that more than a few media have Googled her name from her e-mail signature? Do you think that could affect if her calls or email are returned, and how much your retainer produces? Of course.
3. Check Wikipedia for character assassins and review as needed:
Wikipedia is the low-hanging fruit of choice for novice character assassins. It’s amazing Pagerank and sheer incoming link volume will put it at the top of Google searches, so be sure to review it for personal and business misinformation and disinformation. If the vandalism is rampant, nominate the page for deletion. Don’t be caught unawares like one great journalist I know who was shocked to find appalling misinformation and sexual references in her Wikipedia entry several months after someone had initially published it as a slanderous joke.
4. It’s better to create a category than to fight in one.
Being first and then striving for perfection — instead of fighting to be best in a crowded space — is the fastest path to mindshare.
I didn’t want to be pigeonholed in the broad and boring “work-life” or “career” categories for several reasons, so I needed to create a more appropriate label. This is how “lifestyle design” emerged, which offers me the ultimate calling card: one I dominate as I define it. The concept is not just about working less but about designing an ideal, often aggressive, lifestyle. I produced a simple and understandable label for both media and people looking for an alternative to the current options. From The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, one of the few “marketing” books worth the investment:
“Miller Lite was the first domestic light. It took an importer five years to say ‘If there’s a market for a domestic light beer, maybe there’s a market for an imported light beer.’ The result was Amstel Light, which became the largest-selling imported light beer.”
Create instead of imitate. From an SEO standpoint it’s more effective, and from an intellectual and explicative standpoint, it’s more much accurate. The current collection of labels are often to broad to encapsulate an innovation you want to turn into a meme or movement.
Get smart and get real. You, Inc. exists whether you want it to or not.
Manage your personal brand so you can benefit from the new digital landscape instead of suffer from it.
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Related and recommended reading:
How Does a Bestseller Happen? A Case Study in Hitting #1 on the New York Times
The 7 Commandments of Blogosphere (and Life) Self-Defense
The Top 5 Timesavers for Bloggers/Writers
Tom Peters’ “The Brand Called You” in Fast Company
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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52 Replies to “Tips for Personal Branding in the Digital Age: Google Insurance, Cache-flow, and More…”
Great post, man you are pumping them out and we appreciate it.
Also check out spock.com. I thoughy my MySpace account was more hidden and just for me and my friends. It was only one of two things that come up and I have some high google rankings for my real estate page and that didn’t show.
I’m sorry, but places like Reputation Defender can’t guarantee “removal” of any offending material they find.
We personally ran into a problem with people posting erroneous fraud comments about us at http://ripoffreport.com/ . People are allowed to post unchecked claims against businesses and people and the owner of the site won’t remove them (you can post rebuttals)
I had to create a page on my site to counteract this guys’ postings with my name showing up on google http://www.cre8media.com/eric_gockel_check_fraud.asp
Further, another site http://repsavior.com was scraping the postings from ripoffreport so if you found your information on their site, you could pay them to get it removed from ripoff (and from their own site, which makes them just as bad as ripoff report, if not worse). They ignored my requests to take down the postings. Even tho they fed their “leads” to http://www.qedmediagroup.com/ . I spoke to the head guy at QED, but he called me small time and wouldn’t honor my request of getting the slander posts removed. I put a bit of this up on my blog (to also counter the search engine results,
Anyway, there’s a whole dark underworld for this business, and I’d be leery of anyone saying they can help.
Funny that you just posted this. I just posted something for a blog on myself. I was just thinking the same thing. Make yourself famous!!!! Besides, bloggers are the media of today’s information age
Excellent advice, I recently locked down a few domains for my own name with just this purpose in mind… as we all get digitized into (semi)permanence with our flashes of insight or idiocy.
Makes me want to go out and register my domain…
More great advice Mr. Ferriss. The funny thing is, this is a week after my brother-in-law asked if I had bought the domain name for my daughter. “She’s only 7–what am I going to do with it?” I asked. As he pointed out, maybe nothing for 6 or 8 years, but what if someone else with the same name grabs it before that and it’s gone? So I went and snagged it that day. She’s on the way to personal branding someday.
Yes, I bought my own name years and years ago and now use it for my travel writing portfolio site–which comes up #3 in Google after two entries for my blog. Sweet.
in this day and age where almost everyone from the boss down to the mail clerk has their share of indiscretions it bothers me that people have to hide their online profiles. maybe hr shouldnt be digging that deep.
I find that parents trying to name their kids something unique, like Apple will actually hurt their child in the internet. With my name you only find about 3 guys. If I was Mike Smith, you would have a hard time finding me. So before you name your kid Alieson or Pfil think about the future googling.
Tim – I love your stuff.
I’ve been thinking about writing an eBook to get out of my 9-5 life. You seem to recommend making information products in your book but in this (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/04/26/tim-ferris-interview-part-i/) interview you seem to discourage using them as a source of income.
Any reason for the discrepancy?
Thanks in advance,
I can’t comb through the interview right now, but if you post the specific part in question, I’m happy to try and answer the apparent conflict.
Hi Tim, I recently registered my name through http://www.weebly.com. I got hosting and my domain name for less than €20. Now anyone can have instant web presence with fairly professional looking content.
Well if you do a google search for my name.. I’m the first 6 pages of results.. and they are all positive and pointing towards my website.. page 7 is mixed results of people with the same last name and more of me.
Great post.. very important. My wife googled me before we started dating.. we’re married now, so I guess she must have liked what she found.. haha
Cardinal rule of posting information online or including in an email: Never write something that could be troublesome if it was published on the front page of the New York Times.
I’ve found that a great way to manage my google reputation is by sharing a first and last name with someone much more infamous than I. By the time the searcher finally finds me, I look like a saint by comparison.
Wish I had penned your book. Read it this summer and it was superb.
Just wanted to tell you that I started a business this summer in which I integrated many of your concepts. Here are a few insights…
Starting a business can not be done on four hours a week. Growing a business can not be done on four hours a week. However, I could currently live as a parvenue expatriate in Thailand on the proceeds from this business; on four hours of work a week!
So far I haven’t outsourced assistance. I have found that there are literally millions of Americans that will work for very little here and count themselves luck to do so.
In order to succeed as a little guy you need to be unique and useful. In other words, help people out in a better way.
Marketing is great. But as Andrew Carnegie said, the key to business success is having the winds of market demand at your back.
Thus the success of your book in which you give distinctive voice to the nascent demands of a younger generation and tap into an older generations complete disillusionment with their louche prosperity at the cost of a life in general.
Email does suck the life out of you!
If you own a business the work never ends. Limiting your work hours (this includes thinking) will be the biggest challenge.
The dollar is sinking so fast, you may have to write a new book about working abroad and vacation in the United States. That is a serious joke…
Thanks again for a great book with great ideas. Always refreshing!
Man, this has been one of my favorite posts from you, Tim. I think creating your own label is one of best practices you can do in life – why fight with others when you can put yourself in the spotlight instead? My father always told me to strive to be the only one in a position – he said, once you look around and nobody is there, you’ve done right. Distinguish yourself, create a personal identity, and make it clear that you aren’t the same as every other Joe Blow.
The web is still kind of like the wild west. Good advice, Tim.
…….This is something that I think is relevant to everyone. Myspace tends to portray a more juvenile type webpage, where as having a blog seems more realistic. I just hired someone to start on mine on elance. That site is really useful.
Jose Castro Frenzel
The more good content you put about yourself on the net – in a controlled way – the more work it will be for somebody to digg something up. Even basic profile pages on social net works can help.
I am still amazed how much people try to limit whatever is on the net about them, starting with mere photos. It will hit them so much harder where there is nothing if something ‘bad’ is put online.
[ Somebody once tried to threaten me with “I will google you and find out everything about you!” to which I replied “Good luck reading through all of that.” ]
I really wish i got into number 1 a while back but ive got a much too common name and its already taken by way to many variations.
Ive really got to say Tim, your ideas in “life style design” are exactly what ive needed. Ive had similar ideas for most of my life but they were always shunned down by others who said i needed to conform.
Many things in my life have changed since the reading of your book and the following of your blog. I think others feel the same.
Tim – this is the part of the interview (at http://www.problogger.net) that through me off:
“Darren – So a 4 hour work week sounds like a pretty nice goal – how many hours do you work per week?
Tim – If we define “work” as what you do for income, I spend about 2 hours every 10-14 days checking email for my companies. The structure is entirely virtual, even though I have 200-300 contractors at any given time, and I’ve removed myself from the information and decision flow.
Now, if we look at time on the book, it’s a lot higher, but I’m not doing the book for income. NOTE TO ASPIRING AUTHORS: writing books is not a good way to make money. The benefits are huge, but not often financial. For me, if I had 100 million dollars in the bank, I would still be writing this book and spending most of my time learning about publishing and PR. I love it. ”
I’ve thinking about creating some informational products and marketing them over the Internet. Your book seems to promote the idea since it something that can create passive income. I could understand why you would discourage becoming a print author (as the margins are low) but do you feel the same about writing eBooks? Thanks in advance (again, I love your stuff),
Ebooks can be very profitable if you do it right. “The SEO Book” is a great example of this. My reference was to the current traditional publishing route, which — while good for some people — is a terrible bet for income. 200,000+ books are published per year in the US alone and less than 5% sell more than 5,000 copies, or so I’ve been told. If you make $2 a book, the odds are not good.
Hope that helps!
We live in an RSS world today.
1. If you are “notable” enough to have a Wikipedia page you should subscribe to the changes of that page.
2. Subscribe to a RSS feed for a Google alert on your name.
There is no reason not to be up to date with your image on the web
I’m an entrepreneur addressing an issue that I see other entrepreneurs increasingly grappling with. So I created a blog as my tool for getting the word out. I didn’t really want to brand myself personally, but I did want to brand my no-name little business. The results have been pretty interesting.
More and more businesses we talk to are unhappy with their offshore partners. Small businesses are looking to outsource more than ever, but the problem is that finding a reliable offshore partner is incredibly difficult. Many companies are seeking the cost-benefits associated with outsourcing, but most get burned in the process. I own a Chicago-based outsourcing company and decided to create an humorous blog about this phenomenon. I wanted to make it funny, relevant, and insightful. It shows that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we’re dead serious about what we do.
I started it a few months ago to liven up my brand and it’s been my main lead generation tool. It’s very hard to differentiate myself from the dozens of “Bob’s from Bangalore” that call on the same prospects I’m after, so I decided to make fun of my entire industry.
The results have been phenomenal. In a crowded marketplace, I all of a sudden stand out. It ain’t safe, but it works.
Mentioning my blog to people helps break the ice because it’s funny. I’ve gotten new clients all over the country, and even one in Belgium because of it. I publicize it like crazy at events and even wear buttons with my blog logo. When I make cold calls, I tell people to visit my blog. I tell them that I’m making fun of my own industry. It differentiates me and has been the main reason for my growth.
I’m not a fancy PR person, but I’m convinced of the power of business blogging to get clients and media attention. Make it edgy and have fun.
I found spokeo.com a few weeks ago. It’s basically an aggregator for social networking activity. It imports your address book and shows you what your friends are up to – their activity on amazon, pandora, myspace, twitter, flickr, stumble, etc.
So, of course I’m monitoring my own profile. Anyone who didn’t know me well would be convinced that I’m pregnant because I looked at a bunch of pregnancy books on amazon for one of my students back in 2005 and it’s still recorded with my profile. I might be able to erase that data – haven’t tried yet.
I guess the moral of the story is:
1. Use information about your friends in a considerate manner. Surprise them with the book you know they want. But don’t give them the impression you’re a total voyeur.
2. If you need to research something and don’t want the world to know – use a separate email address that your closest friends and VA’s don’t even have.
My husband and I read and loved your book. You are an inspiration to two well traveled souls who now have 2 kids and want to “hit the road” again. We are working on some ideas sparked by you. Thank you for reigniting the travel bug in us! We spent 6 years in Japan at one point and have marvelous memories from that and other experiences.
I have recently started my own online travel agency. Ever thought of doing something like that since you travel so much? Check out my site if you get a chance and hopefully, if I am lucky I will hear from you and maybe even meet up one day on our travels.
This is an interesting post Tim – and great advice. You really do need to be careful on the Internet don’t you? It would be awful if some weirdo got on the front page of Google for your name, posted inappropriate content and people actually thought it was you.
And it happens. I was looking for a Patricia Cornwell interview the other day and the first thing I found was a site built by some nut, claiming all kinds of stuff about her. He even accused her of murder. Apparently she is suing him for harrassment etc – but his site is still there.
If people as rich and famous as Patricia can’t stop people from hurting her reputation on line, what chance do the rest of us have? It’s quite terrifying.
Tim – you are a tremendous inspiration. So much so, that is has dramatically altered my course in the business world. Your approach to business and passion for exploration sparked a mobile lifestyle epiphany, which is only leading me good places.
It’s fascinating to think that a world so torn apart by conviction, politics, and competition, has somehow evolved an entire social interface as a result of its technology. As individual bloggers, a unique personality and character can be somewhat identified and perceived as if met in person. What better system than to rapidly market oneself…or destroy an image.
I currently work for a PR firm specializing in snobbery and ego massage…but am cutting out soon to pursue a life long passion for sport fishing in Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. I am launching a fishing charter/adventure service while mobile managing a web development and consulting firm specializing in expanding online presence through SEO, blogging, linking, etc…basically just bringing old school businessmen up to date with the online world of the 21st century. I never would have imagined this new path…i should have heeded the warning on the back of your book more closely…thanks for all the great advice…i read your blog daily. It’s always inspiring and enlightening.
Thanks so much for the kind words. This comment made my night. I just got back from SF and am off to bed, but this is the type of feedback that keeps me going. Thank you, and one day, you’ll have to teach me how to cast properly 🙂
your post got me motivated to get Twittered and Blogspotted ASAP before I got cloned.
I think these 2 will cover me in search results and social networking as a first pass,
Yes, Tim, I agree that if you can grab up the domain for your name you should do it. Unfortunately, some other guy bought mine years ago, and continues to just keep it parked and paying the renewal fees on it. I put in a price request through the registrar and the guy wanted $5,000 for it! So I had to settle for a “nom de plume” for my domain.
But I did find a way to make it to the top of Google and Yahoo with my own information about myself – when searched for by my name – and it wasn’t difficult to do at all. If you search for my name, you’ll find my bio, online business cards, a secure web contact form, and a bulletin platform to disseminate updates to my contacts and link to my web presence on other social networks.
And I sure can’t beef about the price either. For what I would have had to pay for my preferred domain to the guy who’s just sitting on it, I can maintain this Web 2.0 hub site for 500 months (I should live so long)!
It really amazes me how you touch on so many points of how I try to live my life.
You’ve nailed business, productivity, “life design”, working out, and also mastering sleep and other things of the internet age. Do you check out “Internet Marketing” at all? I see you mention SEO, so you definitely know a touch.
I always heard the great buzz about “The 4-Hour Workweek” and finally picked up it for a ride home from a mini-vacation. Wow was I amazed by it all.
I always knew not to be a wage slave, now I’m learning how to live like a millionaire the right way. And all by the lovely age of 18.
If you’ve ever considered being a mentor, a fresh minded 18 year old who’s already learned a great deal, would love your time 😉
Shoot me an Email.
As you said.. you’d be surprised how easy it is to contact some people.
Good start, but there is so much more to SEO to really be effective, plus you have to keep up on the technology.
Tim…You have provided many resources for outsourcing portions of one’s business. Question: Did you use a PR agent or publicist early on in any of your businesses (and, in particular, 4HWW)? Do have any recommendations of professionals in those fields who are outstanding in building “brand me”?
Any of you other readers have opinions om this topic?
Actually, this is what I most hate about internet, web 2.0, and everything.
I am a person who likes mystery (being mysterious), but most of all, I like to present myself to people “physically”, in real life. I don’t like people to have an impression about me by watching an online profile or read online stuff about me.
Tim, any advice on how to make myself mysterious online, even if I create a blog with my real name etc.?
Once people realize that they are “You,Inc” the entire ball game will change. It starts out by controlling your online identity, either by buying yourname.com or creating your own blog. You need something out there to represent you online while you are not there. I couldnt agree more with “Google Insurance” and making sure you know what is out there under your name. The easiest way to do this would be to sign up for multiple social networks to get your name out there, and comment on as many blogs and forums as you can in a consistent manner. Over time you will create a brand around yourself based on the feed back you gave and received by others and thus your category has been created.
If I were them I’d just change my business model! How dumb can you get?? They should have sent you a thank you letter and some commission as well. I think you reply and reaction was brilliant. Very mature indeed. Well done Tim.
Slight misprint in heading for #4 ? (that)
4. It’s better to create a category that to fight in one.
Nice catch! Fixed 🙂
you’re my hero Tim! Seriously
Tim, just a quick thank you for keeping this blog going after your fame and fortune! Great articles and great content. Keep it coming!
Not having grown up during the time of the Internet I am less aware than I’d like to be about the personal brand on web 2.0. Lots to learn so thanks for the tips, Tim.
Since I’m starting my own HR consulting firm, I really need to dive into this area. So based on all this great info, I’m going to get a blog going, register as many domain names as I can and make a conscious effort to manage my brand virtually.
Thanks for the heads up Tim and thanks to all you guys for the great comments.
Yes – this can be devastating when someone decides to do an axe-job on you, on the web. Sites like rip-off report have a great click-through rate (everyone loves bad news) so they tend to rank really well on the search engines.
It can be really expensive to do all the SEO needed to outrank them.
So, yes, sometimes the best defense is a good Offense. Setting up a Google Alert on your name, company name, brand etc. is also a good way to keep an eye on what’s going on out there.
Excellent blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
Would you suggest starting with a free platform like
WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many
choices out there that I’m totally overwhelmed ..
Any tips? Appreciate it!