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ATD Blog

How to Avoid Personal Branding Blunders Online and Off

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Labels. When you don’t take control of your personal brand, others assign one to you—and it may not be how you wish to be known.

“Herman never follows through.”

“Zena is a micromanager.”

It’s not only the brick-and-mortar office where others assign you a brand. It’s the virtual office too: social networking platforms.

To avoid personal brand labels you don’t want, it’s important to define what you do want and how you wish to be known. Your offline and online presence need to align.

Start with determining your career focus. Do you want to be known as a thought leader? Expert? Servant leader? Top learning professional for your niche? Focus creates opportunities.

Next, take the pulse of how you’re perceived in the workplace. Review past performance evaluations and feedback. Ask your most trusted colleagues how they’d describe you in a few words and what they feel are your top strengths.


Are these findings how you wish to be known, or are there some changes you can make to align with your current professional goals? Make a plan and take action.

As for your online presence, what will an online search reveal about you? Check now by entering your first and last name into a search engine like Google, using quotes (like this: “Wendy Terwelp”). Are the references to your name about you or someone else who has the same name as you? If your search results are mostly about you, do they describe how you wish to be known at this stage of your career? Is the content you found outdated or off-brand? Or were you invisible online?

Depending on your findings, here are some action steps to help you up-level your personal brand:
Incorporate your current brand keywords, goals, strengths, and values into your online profiles so the information found is up to date and pops with your personality (especially your LinkedIn summary, as LinkedIn is typically found on page one of a Google search).

Ensure all the areas of your social media profiles, like LinkedIn, are up to date. Upload a recent headshot and a background that showcases your brand, be it a photo of you speaking at an event or an on-brand color.


Ambitious? Grab your domain name and create a personal brand hub. Populate it with content, including other mentions of you in the news. Start a blog and post regularly. Demonstrating your thought leadership online helps build your reputation, credibility, and influence in your industry.

Connect with relevant people, including peers, colleagues, staff, former co-workers, or others relevant to your current professional goals. Think about who needs to know about you and who you can help. Ensure your network is diverse. You are who you hang with, and your network reflects your brand.

Clean up “digital dirt.” If you found digital dirt (inaccurate or unflattering information, outdated content, or other potential reputation busters) you can clean it up by removing it or burying it.

You can remove digital dirt yourself by deleting outdated or off-brand posts, un-tagging unflattering Facebook photos, or by asking the content originator to remove it. If references like news items can’t be removed, you can bury digital dirt by creating and posting stronger, on-brand content on blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social platforms relevant to your current goals and target audience. This better, on-brand content will push the unflattering information lower in the search results, thus burying it. Most people don’t go past the first three pages of online search results.

Can’t find yourself online? It’s time to beef up your online presence. Not appearing in online searches or having minimal online visibility can be as much of a reputation killer as off-brand or off-putting references can be, especially at senior levels. If you have a negligible presence online, start building your online visibility with LinkedIn.

Google yourself often, as results change. You can also create a Google Alert on your first and last name. It’s important to be aware of your reputation and align it to your current professional goals.

About the Author

Wendy Terwelp, CEO of Opportunity Knocks of Wisconsin LLC, is an award-winning career expert and personal branding strategist, dubbed a “LinkedIn Guru” by the Washington Post. Her career advice is quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Business Journal, Fast Company, CTDO,, NBC, FOX, ABC, and other media. Her work was featured in Inc. magazine’s Top 10 Career Helps and ATD’s Best on Career Development, and she was named among the Top 15 Career Masterminds, along with Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute? Wendy is uniquely positioned to discuss personal branding and storytelling from a career perspective as she marries her background as a news reporter with experience as a recruiter and career coach. Her private coaching clients regularly use the power of their personal brands and stories to win raises, promotions, and gigs, and attendees of her speaking engagements also up-level their careers. Pioneer of the Rock Your Network system and a sought-after speaker, Wendy’s clients include the ATD International Conference & Exposition, Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) Annual Conference and Trade Show, SEAK’s Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians Conference, GE Healthcare, Roche, FedEx/Genco, American Cancer Society, UWM Women Leaders Conference, Brigham Young University, among others. Follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @WendyTerwelp.

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