3 Tips for Cultivating an Online Brand

Why are you using social media sites?

Obviously, some writers use blogging, twitter, and facebook for fun and nothing more. But a large majority are joining sites as a way to begin developing a web presence.

No matter where we're at in our writing journeys, we can start to broaden our web presences by using social media more strategically (see Monday's post). Part of the strategy involves cultivating our online brand.

Real life brands, like Godiva and Starbucks, make us think of heaven, whereas Hershey's and Folgers make us think earth—as in dirt. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

An "author brand"  refers to the type of book and the reading experience people will expect from us when they pick up one of our books. Our name becomes our brand—either favorably or unfavorably.

Justine Lee Musk in her post The Online Art of Developing Your Author Brand takes branding a step further. She says this: "For better or worse, an ‘author brand’ – that shared mental imprint people think of when thinking of a certain author – is no longer defined by the books she releases every now and then and the interviews she gives . . . but also by the writer’s online presence. And that presence is constant, and constantly accessible, because whatever you do on the Web tends to stay on the Web."

In developing a web presence, writers should begin to think about their brand—how others are perceiving them. What impressions are we forming? When people see my avatar and name throughout cyberland, what do they think? How am I establishing myself? How are you establishing your name?

Those early formations are the ones we’ll want to continue to build upon, so we need to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation with branding right from the start. Here are just a few ideas for helping us with social media branding:

1. Use Our Author Name

Kristin Lamb had an outstanding article last month titled “The Single Best Way For Writers to Become a Brand.” She emphasized the importance of writers using their names versus cutesy titles like “chocoholic” or “caffeine junkie” both of which I considered using by the way. Okay, so not really.

But, Kristen Lamb says this and I agree with her: “There is only one acceptable handle for a writer who seeks to use social media to build a platform, and that is the name that will be printed on the front of your books. Period.”

Why? Because if we’re building a web presence under the name “chocoholic” and an avatar of a double layer fudge cake, it’s not going to help us when we get that book contract and want to promote our name and book. We’ll have to scramble to form new impressions and may confuse our followers with the change. Why not start off with the real thing from the start?

2. Use a Professional Picture

Any author photo is better than the double layer fudge cake picture. Well, maybe that’s debatable. But the point is if at all possible we should use a real picture of ourselves in our avatars.

If we’re trying to establish a web presence as a future author, then we want to put ourselves forward in the best possible way. This is a business where we’re communicating with industry professionals, and if we want them to take us seriously, then we have to take the business seriously first.

I suggest getting a professionally taken picture if feasible. I had a friend who runs a photography business do my first photo shoot last year—which I did before I had an agent or book contract. I had another photo shoot done this year by a high school senior who’s very talented in photography. Neither were very expensive.

The point is, we should try to use a favorable photo of ourselves. If you’re not, why aren’t you?

3. Build a Compelling Image

I’m all for honesty on social media sites. We shouldn’t set ourselves up to be somebody we’re not. But because people are forming impressions of us every time we post or comment, we need to work at establishing positive and distinctive images.

First and foremost we need a level of professionalism, especially since we’ll be rubbing avatar shoulders with industry experts. But second, we need to keep in mind people will form opinions about us that might be hard to break. I have branded certain authors as witty, snarky, smutty, helpful, giving, complaining, inconsistent, shy, boastful, etc. Maybe those are the impressions they wanted to give, maybe not. But they're the ones that stick.

As readers connect with us online, they too, will develop their impressions of us. They'll be able to stay connected to us between books, and get an inside view of what we're working on along with the myriad of activities that make us personable and likable. We won't just be selling our books. We'll be selling ourselves.

How are you doing with your cyberland brand? Are you doing all you can to get off to a good start? Are you mindful of what people are already beginning to associate with your name, picture, and image?

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