I recently attended a seminar on branding yourself. The program mainly focused on presenting yourself as confident, trustworthy, and competent through your appearance, but facilitator Chris Fulkerson, professional image consultant and founder of VIP Studio, Visual Impact & Presence, also noted that your online image can speak volumes about you and your capabilities as a business owner or professional.
She wasn’t talking about simply having a well-designed, professional website for your company. She was referring to the cautionary tales we’ve all heard in the social networking realm: the risqué photos on Facebook that make potential employers think twice about hiring a recent college graduate, the Twitter post that unmasks how someone really feels about a client, the Google search that reveals who knows what.
Fulkerson suggested we all Google ourselves. I hadn’t done this in about six months or so, and I was a little wary of what I might find. No, there’s nothing on the internet, or anywhere else for that matter, that would prompt the excuse, “I was young, desperate for money, and I had a nice body at the time.” The last time I had checked, however, there were a few search results that, to some potential clients, might indicate that I’m not all about business.
I suppose no one is all about business all the time. Many business owners and professionals juggle their professional, personal, and civic activities in a spectacularly stressful balancing act every day. But those memberships and activities usually go together. For example, you would expect someone like Fulkerson to also serve on the board of a not-for-profit organization that teaches impoverished women how to present themselves at a job interview. A bank president who volunteers an hour a week teaching financial literacy classes to high school students is also no surprise. On the other hand, a business woman who’s also an actress might make you do a double take.
That was my fear. I am in the business of writing, editing, and market research. I continue to write radio commercials, come up with slogans and taglines for businesses and write other ad copy, all of which requires a measure of creativity. But the rest of the writing – business letters, sales proposals, business plans, bios, press releases and the like – isn’t necessarily something I would think to trust an actress with.
As I was working on my certificate in screenwriting from UCLA, I sought part-time work through a temp agency. When one of the head-hunters saw that my résumé included a minor in painting, years of administrative and performance-based community service with various performing arts organizations, and the certificate program in which I was then enrolled, she bluntly said, “Take all that artsy-fartsy stuff off. People will think you’re not serious.”
I obeyed, but it hurt. The “artsy-fartsy stuff” was and still is very much a part of me. It’s an outlet when I’m overwhelmed with data for market research reports or facts and figures for a Business First article and a creative boost when I’m looking for inspiration for ad copy.
With a little bit of reasoning, I think that any potential client could see that my business world and my artistic world can co-exist, but I had one other concern: What’s the order of those worlds in a Google search about me? If “Mariam Williams the artist” comes up ahead of, or has more hits than “Mariam Williams the head writer, editor and researcher of Research Works,” does that say to a potential client that I wouldn’t care as much about their market research report as I would about my next stage production?
I finally googled myself on August 20, 2009. I was glad to see that LinkedIn profiles for women with my name came up second in the search results, and that I was the first Mariam Williams listed when I tried the LinkedIn link. When I googled myself the same day using the search term “Mariam Williams Louisville,” the actress and playwright grabbed the top spot, followed by LinkedIn. At least a couple of professional writing samples made the top 10 that time; I had to go to page two for those when searching under my name without the city. Over all, it sounds like I may be more in need of an SEO specialist than of a change in mindset.
I leave you with a word of caution: You can’t control everything that the internet reveals about you through a Google search. I have learned to author every post as myself on my other blog and to include a copyright notice that also includes my name at the end of every post. Now that there are 50+ posts, some of those entries come up in search results. I’ve also read (not tested for myself!) that if there is anything out there that would make you say, “Those pictures were just supposed to be between you and me! You said you would burn them if we ever broke up!” you can simply ask the offender to remove them before taking legal action. However, if someone has cached the embarrassing footage, there’s not much you can do. So do be careful at those holiday parties, just say no to tagging and set your privacy settings meticulously on Facebook and do watch what your online image says about you.
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