The Basics: Building Your Online Presence from Scratch

In 2021, following a year when much of our lives have had to go digital, it is vital to maintain an online presence. Whether for your own personal or professional brand, or for a business, the benefits of a strong online reputation are undeniable. As we spend more time online, consumers, potential employers or potential employees, investors, and any other people you may be trying to reach will not only look for you or your business online, but will demand to see you online. Particularly, as many of us are working from home, your digital presence will likely be your or your business’ first impression on potential customers.

A neglected digital presence will not only keep you from certain opportunities, but may cause confusion or uncertainty as well. The internet provides great opportunities for exposure, increasing your reach and allowing you to engage with communities and audiences that otherwise could remain untapped or unseen, only because they exist online. It’s a way to build your reputation, personal or professional, as the digital world and the “real” world are intersecting more and more.

If you’re starting from scratch, it may feel like trying to cross the ocean in a rowboat. If you don’t have much of a presence online, where do you start? While the vastness and quick turnover of the Internet can be overwhelming, figuring out the basics will help you establish a strong online presence. Here, we outline our recommendations for where to begin when it comes to building out your online presence.

Determining Your Intention and Deciding on Your Brand

Think of your online brand as a first impression. You’ll have a moment to engage with new people, whether it be a potential employer or a customer researching your business, who will decide if they want to continue based on what they see and read. By determining what you want to show them – and who you ideally want to show – you can come up with a plan for how you want to present yourself online.

First things first: why do you want to establish an online presence?

Identifying the “why” behind your brand will help you find a place to start. Whether you want to build out a personal or professional brand, give exposure to your work, establish a business presence online, or connect with a larger audience, setting clear goals will help you find your message and determine your audience.

What do you want to show your audience?

Once you’ve determined the “why,” it’s time to hone in on how you want to present your brand. Having a focused, cohesive personal or professional online brand can help you more clearly communicate your message to your audience and establish a presence online.

And who are they?

They are your audience! Be they prospective employers, fans of your art, or potential customers and clients, considering your audience is crucial when it comes to establishing yourself online. Defining your audience will give you an understanding of what is and is not relevant, appropriate, or beneficial to the overall impression you want to give online.

What should you focus on?

When it comes to content and messaging, it’s important to pick 2-3 topics that you’re interested in and stick to those themes across all online platforms. These topics should focus on what gives your audience the most value – pick topics that you know the most about and will be helpful to others wanting to learn or stay in tune with your field. Again, it’s all dependent on the brand you’re trying to build – from industry thought leadership to hobbies to advice, the most important thing is to determine what you want to to share.

Building Out Profiles and Keeping Profiles Active

Once you have determined your focus, audience, and the message/image you want to convey online, it’s time to make social media profiles. Creating social media profiles can help you find and connect to communities in your areas of interest, as well as reach desired audiences with your own brand, messaging, and content.

Your social media profiles should be an accurate but succinct representation of you and your brand. They should be easy to identify as you or your business, and any key information should be highly visible.

Note: having a variety of professional headshots or branded images can help strengthen your social media profiles.

Profile Checklist

  • Create profiles on all major social media platforms: Creating profiles on the most popular social media platforms will expose you to the most users. Additionally, these are the platforms that many users online expect and already know how to navigate. These are platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, etc.
  • Where you can, claim vanity URLs: a vanity URL refers to a branded URL that contains your username or keyword within the URL. This helps identify your targeted brand – either your name or business name – both to Google and online users. Some platforms, such as YouTube, may require a certain amount of content or followers before you can claim a vanity URL, while others, such as Medium, will make them available upon creation.
  • Fill out the profiles as fully as possible: when creating a new profile, make use of the opportunities! Always include a unique description or bio, location, news mentions, personal or business website, and any other information that can be included. Filling out profiles completely will both strengthen the profile and provide other users with as much information as possible.
  • Link profiles to one another: in addition to filling out profiles completely, it is important to link your social media profiles to one another, and to keep them cohesive. When possible, use the same username across platforms. If your desired username is taken on one or several platforms, try to keep usernames as similar as possible, making sure they all maintain your name or business name.
  • Engage: once you are part of a community, it is important to engage with the community, particularly in conversations relevant to your industry and brand. Following others in your industry, engaging in conversations on social platforms, and sharing regularly will all serve to grow your connections and increase engagement with your own profile.
  • Keep it going: consistency is key when it comes to social media activity. If the profiles are created but inactive, they are not helpful to the audiences you may want to reach. Make sure to maintain your activity on your profiles, and that your activity highlights the areas of focus that you identify as key to your brand.

Note: when creating a new social profile, make sure your profile security settings are set to public so that your profile is indexable on Google. Keep personal profiles private and separate from your public-facing accounts to maintain your online brand.

Start a Blog and Produce Content

Once you’ve built your socials, you need something to share to encourage others to stick around. Our Director of Strategy Anglyn Aviles Solodar has said it best: “content is king in SEO.” Creating a blog, such as a WordPress site or a Medium profile, where you can write about your chosen areas of focus will continue to solidify your brand identity and voice. Not only will this give you an opportunity to educate your audience and show more of your own expertise or interests, but it will also provide new avenues for people to find you, and will help you develop and present your brand’s voice.

Note: sharing blog content across your social media platforms can increase engagement and exposure, but make sure to tailor each post to the specific format and tone of the platform!

Generally, high-quality content can strengthen a website or profile and potentially improve its rank in search results. Content can make you more visible to audiences you’re trying to reach, particularly based on the topics you cover.

When it comes to content, there are some general guidelines to follow:

Quality Matters!

The quality of your content is vital not only for the SEO impact, but for your audience’s experience of your brand. What’s more, bad content can actually have a negative impact on your SEO goals. Make sure your content is informative, dynamic, and relevant to your intended audience and their interests, and avoid fluff or filler language. And keep that word count high!

Note: look at page one for the topic you’re writing about for research and to see what is already out there.

Maintain Your Focus

Sticking to your focus topics will help you maintain a consistent and identifiable online presence. This doesn’t mean content should be repetitive – quite the opposite. Make sure your focus topics for content are defined without being too narrow to allow you to produce content on the topics regularly.

Be Unique

While this may be easier for some topics than others, it is important to keep content unique. Similar to the concern of quality, repetitive content can have a negative impact on SEO results, and often earns less engagement from online visitors.

Note: including featured images and relevant backlinks in your content can strengthen the piece and improve readers’ experience.

As you identify your topics and find your voice, content can play a vital role in helping you establish a recognizable online presence and solidify your brand. Though it may be a bit more time consuming than social media, content can help your audience get a deeper understanding of what you’re about and strengthen your online presence overall.

The Benefits of a Strong Online Presence

It’s hard to do something new, especially when it feels like everyone else is already doing it. Building out an online presence is more difficult than maintaining one. Once you have determined your why, your audience, and your message (and your profiles are created, built out, and linked together – phew!), maintaining your online presence will just take some consistent engagement and output. By using these tools and step-by-steps, building out your online presence can not only be simple, but vital to furthering your personal and professional goals and defining your brand.

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