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Online Identities: Branding Yourself in Social Media

Given there’s seemingly a new social media site to join every week now, choosing the right handle and picture for your profile is becoming increasingly important.

First off, to get the handle or profile name you want, it’s best to strike while the iron is hot. With the plethora of new social networks popping up, don’t hesitate to join. If you’d like to have some consistency and use the same handle for each of your profiles (for instance, /jordanhubert or /jahubert, as I gravitate toward), then grab it before it could get taken. If the site turns out to be a bad fit or not appropriate for you or your company, then you can always deactivate at a later time. But, it’s better safe than sorry; grab your desired handle while you can.

Also, it’s best to resist the urge to create a handle that seems funny or cute at first, but may end up regrettable. Demi Moore’s @mrskutcher Twitter handle immediately comes to mind here. What was a fun handle became essentially unusable, following her divorce from Mr. Kutcher. While this is a case of the user wanting to drop a name, sometimes the social network makes that decision for you, as evidenced last November with Facebook trying to make famed author Salman Rushdie change his profile name to his birth name, Ahmed. Fortunately for Rushdie, Facebook quickly buckled, permitting him to be “Salman” again on the site. Bottom line: pick a handle that won’t potentially be problematic down the road for either you or the social network.

Additionally, determine the purpose for each of your social media accounts – will it be for exclusively personal or professional use, or a mix of both? Personally, I don’t see much of a barrier in my own usage; for example, I tweet plenty about client news and industry insights, just as I tweet frequently about movies, music, golf and pop culture – mostly because those are subjects of interest to me personally, but also to show that there’s an actual person behind these accounts.

However, if you are creating a social media account specifically intended for work, then be sure to know any company rules that may come with it. Former PhoneDog employee Noah Kravitz recently learned this the hard way, after being sued by the Internet company who said the worker cost the firm thousands of dollars in lost business when he took 17,000 Twitter followers with him when he left. One person who should take note of this incident is Chipotle Mexican Grill Communications Director Chris Arnold. Even though his Twitter handle is @ChipotleMedia, the account is under his own name, and he tweets about personal issues almost as much as he fields Chipotle inquiries.

Chris Arnold also uses the Chipotle logo as his profile picture, which only adds to a potential dilemma with this account, should he leave the company in the future. The answer here, however, is not to skip on adding a profile picture. You should have a picture; LinkedIn research shows that a page with a profile picture –not just on their own site but on other social networks as well– is seven times more likely to be viewed than a page without one. I’ve heard many say, “Well, we don’t have our pictures on our physical business cards.” That’s true, but it’s not a very sound argument in social media, where profile pictures play a key role. The profile picture easily differentiates certain users from others and causes us to stop and decide whom to read when scrolling through our feeds.

I’ve also heard others express reservations about including a profile picture since it doesn’t seem relevant to their industry. But, if you are trying to show that you use and understand social media, having a profile picture appropriately conveys that message. You can even show off your social media prowess by doctoring your profile picture, as evidenced by a recent trend of including your company logo or brand you’re endorsing within your picture (see @AdrianneCurry pictured with her Erox perfume as one example).

As you can see, there are suggested rules to follow when branding yourself in social media, but you can also make your own. So, get out there, and go social!

Jordan Hubert can be reached at jhubert@sterlingpr.com. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jahubert.

Photo credit: Relevant-Trafik via Flickr

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