If you’re an adult of a certain age, the idea of a personal brand is a fascinating concept. A few decades ago, your personal brand boiled down to how you dressed, where you worked, and what social clubs you were a part of. But now your personal brand follows you everywhere on the web. It’s your social network, your resume, your photos, and quips. It’s a pervasive, evolving mass, and if you don’t cultivate it correctly, bits of your identity can erode without much thought. So let’s take a closer look at how you can get your personal brand in order.
- Nothing is permanent on the social web
- It starts to matter when your personal brand goes pro
- Getting the right domain extension
- Platforms for creating a personal website
- Your personal brand needs a custom email address
- Thoughts on reserving the digital future of your child
Nothing is permanent on the social web
Here’s the rub. Social media has made it easier than ever before in history to spread your ideas and actions online. Have a baby? Posting a picture on Facebook is easier than making instant coffee. Have a thought? Tweet it in two seconds. Want to write something long form? Medium will get it to the world in a snap. But you don’t own this content. Your baby picture is Facebook’s baby picture, on Facebook’s layout, with Facebook’s targeted ads hovering nearby (remember, on most social networks, you aren’t the customer, the advertisers are).
For a lot of people, this situation is fine. But think about it for a second. The social web is only in its infancy. Facebook, Twitter, Medium—in 10 years, do you think you’ll still be using them? If not, where will that content go? Without a brand hub, you have nothing permanent—it’s like having a lot of friends with couches to sleep on, but no home. Looking long term, that’s a scary proposition. Especially if you ever want your personal brand to go pro.
It starts to matter when your personal brand goes pro
I was talking to a local artist the other day about how to leverage his online persona into real sales, and there’s no simple answer. But there are a few key points to note.
Your central hub can’t be a social network
If you are a creator of things, your livelihood relies on people consistently being able to find you. You need a home that can withstand the whims of the market—remember, MySpace was the biggest thing on the web only a decade ago, and it’s not like people could just move that content to another platform with the same domain name.
Similarly, be wary of using closed platforms with big social components as your main sales hub. The artist I was talking to had moved the majority of his sales over to Etsy, but once you go that route, you give up nearly all control over the experience. Your domain will have etsy.com in it, the site will look like an Etsy site, and most importantly, your brand will become tied to Etsy’s. Just think about it. Do you really want your brand to be an Etsy store? Maybe so, maybe no—but you can’t deny the existence of a brand connotation.
With a more analytics-geared answer, Rand Fishkin of Moz says:
I’d always bias to taking the website over the social media presence. It’s not that a great Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare or LinkedIn account aren’t great, it’s just that the flexibility, power, branding and measurability of a website has yet to be matched on any platform. With a website, you can custom build virtually any form of analytics, leverage any type of web technology to display/deliver content and control your own destiny. Even if Facebook or some other new, wholly flexible platform allowed for all of these features, you would still never truly own your home on the web.
I’m a huge supporter of and advocate for social media marketing, but I don’t think I could ever endorse having your primary base of marketing and acquisition happen anywhere but on a site you fully own and control.
Social media is a wonderful marketing tool
The keyword is marketing. And on the marketing front, you should do all you can create authentic experiences that touch as many people as possible. But whether you do daily process shots on Instagram, talk to fans on Twitter, or organize events on Facebook, the key here is consistency. Like a good blog, you’re never going to build an audience with inconsistent posts—but unlike a blog, the instant consumability of social media requires you to be posting all the time. Seriously. Daily Instagram posts, hourly tweets, twice-weekly Facebook events. Once you’re a part of someone else’s stream, you’re competing against the 100+ other things that person is following. It might seem like a lot, but the marketing benefits of having thousands of followers is huge.
Getting the right domain extension
In my opinion, personal branding is the hardest of all the branding types. Seriously. (How many failed aliases have you tried to use in the last decade? I’m at three.). But now that the new generic top-level domains have launched, getting your real name on the left side of the dot is easier than ever. So what domain extension do you want on the other side?
Picking the right one can be tricky, and there are a number of things you should consider before making your choice. Let’s break down some of your options.
The most obvious choice for your personal site is yourname.com, and that’s probably the choice I’d make if it were available to me. If your name is rare enough for this to even be an option, your only real consideration should be whether you should go with lastname.com or fullname.com. I personally prefer lastname.com, because email addresses like email@example.com look nicer than firstname.lastname@example.org.
.CO and .ME
Today, the flood of new domain extensions allow me to be picky, and I do have some concerns with these specific two. Starting with .CO, my primary concern is spelling errors—particularly with people unconsciously adding an “m” to .CO when sending emails. .ME is a little safer in that no one will mistake it for another extension, but I always wonder if people think .ME has an Apple affiliation due to the recently retired Mobile Me (I still regularly use my @me.com email address).
Your local ccTLD
Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) are super popular around the world (aside for the US), and they make for wonderful personal domain names. For example, if you’re a designer who does the bulk of your work in New Zealand, picking up a .NZ (or .KIWI) domain name is a great choice. Due to popularity, many basic names will already be taken, but if your parents were adventurous types, there’s a good chance your name will be available (I desperately tried to rename myself Bowser as a child, and BowserHall is available in just about every extension).
Letters and phrases you identify with
A very similar topic was brought up recently on Hacker News, and one of the replies fits perfectly into this category.
I use the .gg TLD. My personal site is bram.gg and my email is email@example.com
.gg is my favorite TLD, and the most underrated. It’s expensive enough that the domain you want probably isn’t taken, but cheap enough that it’s worth the price if it’s something you care about. “gg” is also a common phrase in gaming subculture, meaning “good game”.
Now going with something like .GG for “good game” is a viable option, but I’d be a little concerned about longevity. Let’s say you keep this domain for 20 years—are you going to be ok with “good game” when you’re 40? 50?
To me, a similar concern goes for extensions like .WTF, .ROCKS, .NINJA, and .COOL. If you’re a 40-year-old who genuinely, unquestionably rocks, then go for it, but if you’re 17 going with a .NINJA domain, will you be cool with it when you’re 37?
The new gTLDs also allow for people to self-identify with their careers. So if you’re a photographer, you could use a .photography or .photos extension. Or if you’re an engineer, you could go with a .engineer domain.
When going for longer, more specific domains, there are two things you should consider. First, how confident are you that you’ll stay in that career forever? Are you sure you’re not going to quit your job and become a brewmaster (.BEER in the next five years? And second, be mindful of length. There’s an American football player named Michael Hoomanawanui, and if he retires and becomes a photographer, hoomanawanui.photography probably isn’t his best option for a domain name (24 characters is incredibly long).
Domain hacks won’t work for everyone, but if you want to get clever, you could do a lot worse than finding the ccTLD that fits into your name. Some common name-enders are .ES, .AM, .AT, .BE, .CH, .DE, .MY, and .SH. Unfortunately, .LL (ha.ll) isn’t available.
At the end of the day, just about anything you choose will be fine as long as you stick with it (isn’t that always the lesson?). The goal of a personal domain is for people to be able to find you, and if you stay in the same place long enough, they likely will. Just know that no matter what domain extension you go with, it’ll be better than sending people to Facebook or LinkedIn to discover who you are.
Platforms for creating a personal website
Before you get too bogged down with actually creating your personal site, be sure to take a quick inventory of your current and potential needs. Are you just looking for an anchor for your various social handles and blog articles? Are you looking for a portfolio site to help you get a job? Are you trying to sell something? Once you know what your needs are, your search will be infinitely less complicated.
Below is a sample (not an exhaustive list) of platforms in our Marketplace that will help you get started with a custom domain:
For a quick personal landing page: about.me
Unlike the big site builders that do it all, about.me acts more like your business card, online. In short, about.me allows you to put up a representative picture of yourself, basic CV-type information, and links to all your works on the web. It’s simple to use, easy to maintain, and is a great way to anchor your internet self.
If you express yourself through blog posts: Ghost
Ghost is a super clean blog platform that makes it easy to get your words published. What’s neat about Ghost though is that it’s growing at a steady clip, yet isn’t part of a wider social network like Tumblr (or Medium, which is a double ouch in that it doesn’t let you use custom domains).
For making online stores: Big Cartel
If you’re a “maker, designer, musician, or other artist” looking for a platforms to sell stuff, Big Cartel has all the tools you need. And it gives you a nice social component as well, as Big Cartel has been cultivating and promoting great indie stores for years.
If you want to do it all: Squarespace
No matter what you want to do on the web, Squarespace can help you create it. It does blogs, portfolios, stores, simple pages—heck, it’ll even host your podcast. But most impressive is the array of themes Squarespace provides, giving you the flexibility to make your site look any way you want.
Your personal brand needs a custom email address
After you’ve created your website, don’t forget to create the custom email address to go along with it (especially if your personal brand is “going pro”). You’ll look a far more savvy with an @YOURNAME.com address than the gmail.com or yahoo.com alternative.
When you’re ready to make this happen, be sure to read our guide on how to get your own custom email address (there’s even a free option!).
Thoughts on reserving the digital future of your child
Now we’ve really gone off the deep end. Here’s a bit from Alexander Taub in Forbes’ The Mad Rush To Reserve Your Child’s Digital Future:
I’ve been noticing a trend over the past few months. I have a lot of friends who are having their first child. Many of these friends, especially the ones who work in the technology space, are reserving and managing the handles, email addresses, and websites of their newborns. They believe that when their child comes of age, the good handles, email addresses, websites, and digital accounts will be much harder to come by. By 2025, Jonathan.Smith@gmail.com or @jonsmith equivalents will definitely not be available. You may have to settle for @jonsmith13 or Jsmith13@gmail.com.
Our thought? Skip the gmail. Skip all the social media platforms that might not exist in a decade. Instead, register a solid domain name for your child—domain names, unlike social media, will be there when your child wants it, and custom email addresses are always cooler than their closed-platform alternatives.