Recently, I was very fortunate to be able to attend a webinar by Andy Beal, author of the online public relations and reputation management strategy book Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online (Amazon affiliate link) and the creator of Trackur (affiliate link), an online reputation management tool. In this webinar, he provided a lot of insight on how people can use the online tools that already exist to promote their corporate as well as their personal brands.
In this post, I want to relay a bit of what I learned from Andy Beal’s webinar as well as my own thoughts on building your personal brand online. There is more to this subject than I would dare try to fit in one blog post, so I will just cover the basics, but if you have questions, please comment, email me, or find me on Twitter.

What is personal branding? On the Internet, your personal brand is comprised of how you portray your unique values and skills, and your online reputation. Google yourself to find out what the top search engine results are for your name. That should give you a good starting point for figuring out what your online reputation is. If it’s non-existent, or bad, there are ways to fix it.

Why is a personal brand important, especially online? Many employers are using social networking to screen candidates, so having a strong personal brand online is your first opportunity to make a good impression. Secondary to that, social networking sites can help build your personal brand and establish yourself as an expert in your industry, which can help you in your job search, or if you are a business owner, can help you promote your business. Think about our President, Barack Obama, and how social networking contributed to his campaign in 2008. That is the power of social networking in terms of personal branding.

Start with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace and Bebo. Those are the five biggest social networks right now and will help establish your presence online. Beal also suggested that you can also branch out into social bookmarking sites, such as Digg and Delicious, and social conversations such as Yahoo Answers and Google Groups to help establish yourself as an expert in your field. If this seems overwhelming at first, Beal recommended to pick one that is best suited to your needs and master it before moving on.

Finally blogging is an excellent way to build a personal brand. Start your own blog – it’s easy to do, relatively inexpensive and in some cases free, and gives you an open space to showcase your expertise.

If your reputation is non-existent, it’s not too late to get started. Beal recommended signing up with social networking sites even if you don’t plan to use them, since you can at least reserve your namesake in case you decide to use that platform in the future.

Finally, something that Beal didn’t discuss in detail during the webinar but he does discuss in Radically Transparent is the concept of monitoring your online reputation. Trackur will do this for you (for a very low $18/month for personal accounts), but if you’re a little more Internet savvy, you can get started by using Google Reader. Add feeds for Twitter searches for your name. Create Google Alerts for your name and add them to your Google Reader. Google’s Reader and Alerts are free and will give you a good head start on monitoring your online presence.

The next step would be controlling your online reputation, but to discuss that in any detail will require a post of its own, so look for that to come in the near future.

Sidenote: I read Radically Transparent as part of the Internet public relations course I took during my master’s degree program, and I have to say it is a very well-written and accurate analysis of how online reputation management works and how people and companies can promote, protect, and enhance their brands online. I very highly recommend it.