There was once a time when having a unique and well-managed public persona was purely the concern of pop stars, celebrities, and eccentric artists. Similarly, “branding” was only a matter for actual brands to worry about.
How the world has changed!
Today, regardless of what you do in life, you are likely to have a public persona: even if this is just the way you present yourself to friends, family, and acquaintances on social media.
Have a career of any kind, though, and the need to carefully manage your online presence is likely to go much further than this, becoming a case of full-on personal branding.
We won’t go quite so far as to say that if you don’t exist online you effectively don’t exist offline either. But in certain areas of business and life we’re not getting far from that point now.
For better or worse, online reputation has come to overshadow offline reputation.
Although your business might still primarily function through real world contacts and word of mouth reputation, the reality is that you have no way of knowing just how much business you might be losing out on through having a lackluster online presence; precisely because you lose it. I.e. if prospective clients look for you online but don’t find very much, or what they do find doesn’t impress them, it’s unlikely they’ll ever bother to get in touch with you in the first place. So you wouldn’t be any the wiser to what you’ve lost either one way or the other.
And just because you make most of your new contacts through real world marketing and face-to-face connections doesn’t mean that you don’t also lose out on business due to a weak online presence: you could spend a whole hour pitching your latest project to an enthusiastic and attentive audience, and at the end of the meeting receive lots of sincere handshakes and genuine promises to get back in touch at the earliest opportunity, but the first thing any of these people will do after they leave the presentation is Google you. And if they don’t like what they see, you may never hear from them again.
The word “empowerment” is currently very fashionable. It is a word that has its origins in political and social struggles, but has since been “hijacked” by the corporate/business world. From the very serious context of campaigning for human rights, it has now come to be used to sell trivial trinkets of consumerism such as lipstick or lycra yoga-wear: not items that are likely to free anybody from patriarchy or institutional racism any time soon. Consequently the word has now become almost meaningless.
Nonetheless we might say that photography can be empowering. Or, to avoid this modish term, that images can be powerful tools in establishing a strong, persuasive, and dignified personal identity.
We live in the age of the image. Visual literacy has never been so high as it is right now. And as visual literacy increases, it seems that traditional literacy decreases. The result being that attention spans shorten, emojis replace text, and “Top 10 Best” style “listicles” take the place of in-depth analysis.
People now expect their information fast, and preferably in visual form. Whereas images once helped to illustrate text, the balance has shifted, and in most of our everyday dealings text has instead come to play a secondary and supporting role to images.
But get the images wrong, and few people will bother to move on to the text.
Social media can be intimidating. So many apparently perfect people living perfect lives.
And then there’s you.
Sure, we may be fully aware that the rose-tinted images people share online have been enhanced by digital filters, or that for every photo they post of themselves having a fabulous time in exotic locations there are likely countless others that they’d rather you didn’t see. But realizing that it’s all something of a charade doesn’t make social media any less effective in persuading us that we’re missing out on the good life.
But it makes no sense to compare yourself to these people: instagram celebrities, models, influencers. People you don’t even know, and in all probability will never meet. And by doing so you’re only likely to further undermine your self confidence.
What does make sense, however, is to learn from these people: take control of your image; make a statement; show the world what you are made of. Just like they do.
This doesn’t necessarily mean playing the same game of projecting a fictitious and fantastical vision of your life onto the internet. In any case not all of us want share so much of our private lives – real or imagined. What it does mean, however, is simply taking control of your public image. Even if there’s only one single photo of you online – say on your LinkedIn profile, or the About Me page of your website – make sure that it’s the right photo!
Both your self-confidence and career will thank you for it.
Of course, there can often be some images which end up online that you’re less enthusiastic about. Perhaps shared by an unthinking friend, or taken by a professional photographer at a work event.
Photos of this kind needn’t be massively compromising (i.e. drunk and unconscious with the word “loser” written on your forehead) to nonetheless become a nuisance in time. Think: “why on earth did I wear that ridiculous tie to the conference?” or “why on earth did I pull that stupid face?”. Depending on where these photos have ended up though, there may be little or nothing you can do about having them removed.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to haunt you for the rest of your life. Most people searching online don’t get any further than the first few results. The solution then is simple: make sure that the first few results are flattering photos of you that fit squarely with your personal branding.
As long as your on-brand images out-rank any others that you’re less keen on people seeing, it will effectively be as if the good shots are the only ones that exist (unless you really are such a fascinating individual that people will bother to keep looking beyond the first page of Google).
Write down exactly how you want to be seen in your photographs. Confident? Sophisticated? Fun? Serious? Approachable? Understanding? Business-like?
Even a simple portrait or headshot can communicate so much about a person (perhaps even more than the proverbial “thousand words”). The problem is that unless the contents of a photo are very carefully considered, they can often end up saying things we didn’t intend for them to say.
Clearly then, just any old headshot will not do. Instead you should be aiming to produce an image that communicates exactly what you want to say about your personality, your life, and your career.
To do this you need to think about each single element in the image.
Your expression and how you hold yourself count for a lot: particularly the way in which you face the camera and what you do with your hands. If you want people to have confidence in you, or in the services you offer as part of your job, then you need to look totally comfortable and in control.
Clearly the way you dress will tell the viewer a lot about who you are as a person too. Even if you wish to come across as outgoing and extrovert, avoid wearing anything that is very showy or which attracts too much attention. The viewer should be looking at your face, not admiring your clothes or accessories. Keep things relatively simple, while offering small clues to your personality in sartorial form.
The location in which you are photographed is also an extremely effective storytelling device. Just think of the difference in message between a photo showing a person working behind a desk and one where they are sitting on the front steps of a house with the door open behind them.
Even if you just want a simple head and shoulders portrait, with the background fully out of focus, be sure to choose the background carefully. Even if the viewer isn’t necessarily conscious of the background, it will no doubt give off a subtle message that will influence their overall reading of the photo. Think of how much changes between a portrait taken against the out-of-focus greenery of a park or garden compared to one where the background features sunlight glinting off of modern office towers.
Your reputation is only as good as the photographs you use, and consequently only as good as the photographer you hire to shoot those photographs. This means that you’ll need to select your photographer very carefully.
Even a person who normally looks fantastic in real life can look terrible if photographed by somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing. Conversely, a talented photographer will know how to get the best out of any subject. Not only taking their picture from a flattering angle, but also helping to create a visual story that communicates their chosen message to viewers.
You should certainly take a careful look at a prospective photographer’s portfolio before booking them, making sure that you like the way people appear in their photos. However we would also recommend discussing your ideas and needs with a few photographers before choosing, to get an idea of how they would approach the shoot in order to produce exactly the kind of image you want.
Get in touch if you need to find a photographer to help you with your branding and e-reputation!