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Whether you’re an influencer or an academic, having a solid online persona is essential. It’s the lens through which your readers will view your work, and just as you wouldn’t show up to a job interview in cutoff shorts and a t-shirt with a dirty joke, you also don’t want your online persona to undermine your credibility. My colleague Jason wrote an article on the subject last month, but today we’re going to look at some specific tips to help you perfect your online persona, including the use of curated pieces of content and the promotion of thought leadership.
Why is an online persona important?
There are three facets to a strong online persona:
- Credibility. You need to cut through the fog of Internet noise by emphasizing your knowledge and expertise. One way to do this is by highlighting your (relevant) credentials, but giving readers a window into your content-creation process and your values can help, too.
- Consistency. This isn’t just about maintaining a regular schedule of updates. You also need to make sure that all of your content aligns with your mission. In other words, make sure you stay within the lane you’ve chosen for yourself.
- Authenticity. Authenticity will help you build stronger relationships with your readers, not to mention the fact that it’ll enable your content to stand out from AI-written material.
For better or worse, our personas are the lens through which others see us. We control some of that material, but our personas are also shaped by the treasure trove of ancillary public information that we generate.
How to curate a digital online persona?
Although we can’t control every aspect of our personas, it’s important to be intentional and thoughtful about the parts that we do control. Ben Dattner and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic of the Harvard Business Review have some suggestions for curating our personas:
- Photographs. Humans are visual creatures, and like it or not, photos can play a huge role in shaping others’ perceptions of us. So instead of illustrating your LinkedIn profile with a 25-year-old snapshot taken during Spring Break on South Padre Island, you should probably use something more up-to-date and professional. Don’t think you have to wear a three-piece suit, though. ‘Professional’ doesn’t have to mean ‘stuffy,’ though–you can still present a dignified appearance in a way that reflects your personality.
- Videos. Like with photos, it’s important to put your best foot forward. Keep the videos of yourself doing shots off of someone’s belly private.
- Social media behavior. The kinds of content we engage with on social media can give clues to our personality, beliefs, political preferences, and more (for an academic perspective on the subject, check out this or this). The things we say on social media can haunt us, too. Just ask the many people who have lost their jobs because of their remarks.
Curation isn’t just for official outlets. Indeed, anything that can be seen by the general public should probably be curated. If you’ve posted something problematic, the public won’t necessarily cut you any slack just because it happened on your personal accounts.
Other ways to build your persona
Incorporating thought leadership into your content marketing strategy can be a great way to fortify your persona. ‘Thought leadership’ is a fancy term for opinion pieces written by experts on a particular topic. According to Afoma Umesi, it should be purely informational rather than trying to explicitly promote a brand. But it’s not just about data; Umesi stresses that thought leadership should also empower readers emotionally. Ultimately, it’s a great way to bolster your credibility and connect with your audience.
When it comes to crafting good thought leadership content, Umesi stresses that it’s important to choose the right topic. Make sure you’re staying in your lane. In other words, if you’re an expert in video games, you probably shouldn’t attempt to display thought leadership on British constitutional law. You’ll also want to make sure you have a unique angle on the subject. Thought leadership needs to be distinctive instead of retreading the same tired old platitudes. For some good examples of thought leadership, check out “Provable marketing attribution is a boondoggle; trust your gut instead” by Rand Fishkin or “Why leaders should embrace an asynchronous work culture” by Glenn Rogers.
The idea of branding can be intimidating when you’re not a business. Ann Gynn of The Content Marketing Institute suggests the following strategies:
- Craft a brand mission statement. Ask yourself questions like who you are and what you stand for.
- Write an editorial mission statement. Think about your core audience, what you’ll deliver, and what your readers should take away from your content.
- Come up with content marketing goals. This can include things like building brand awareness or trust. It might also serve as a way to broaden your network.
- Consider your target audience. Think about their roles in their fields as well as their interests and behaviors.
- Build a content calendar. Deadlines help sharpen the mind. Putting your content marketing efforts on a formal schedule will help you stay on track.
Shaun Anderson of Hobo Web has some advice for choosing which social media platforms to use. He notes that blogging can be a good way to position yourself as an expert, while microblogging can let you promote content from other platforms while also giving you an easy way to engage directly with your audience. Similarly, Wade McMaster of Creator Impact has some tips to help you decide whether you should focus on Instagram, X, Facebook, or YouTube.
Every creator needs to be mindful of their online persona. Simply producing good content is only part of the equation. A well-constructed persona can bolster the air of credibility you’ve established with your content, but a carelessly constructed one can undermine your claim to be an authority within your particular field. Ultimately, you want a persona that makes you seem credible, consistent, and authentic. You can achieve this by carefully controlling the kind of personal information you put online, whether it’s the headshot on your LinkedIn profile or the kind of content you engage with on social media. You can also enhance your online persona by engaging in thought leadership. Coming up with strategies for curation can be intimidating, so crafting a brand mission statement or setting up a content calendar can help put you in the right mindset. By being diligent and intentional about shaping your persona, you will ensure that it’s a help rather than a hindrance.