There are many working people, particularly in my generation or older, who resolutely refuse to create or effectively maintain an online brand or image. In my experience they this it for a variety of reasons:
  • It has no value
  • It's too hard
  • It exposes too much that should be private
I'll address these very valid concerns and then suggest simple ways to create an online brand. Before I start let me state  that I am no a Social Media Guru, I just have an interest in these tools and have been using them for some time.

No value

It is easy to find people that claim the creation of an 'effective online brand' is the way to easy street and personal fulfilment. I take this with a large pinch of salt and have no doubt that most of these people are still working their day job. However was is clear is that we are living much more of our professional and personal lives online. Recruiters, customers and the other people we want to involve in our professional lives are turning to tools like Google and LinkedIn. If we are not part of the online community in some fashion then it becomes harder for people to discover and locate us. As well as the Internet providing a "directory" service, it also allows us to actively showcase our skills to improve our competitive edge when looking for the next position. By publishing our own material on the public Internet we are displaying a variety of desirable traits:
  • We really do have the skills and knowledge we claim because we write about them
  • We can work well in a team because we understand the value of sharing
  • We are keeping up to date with the modern world
  • We are keeping our skills updated by learning new things and writing about them
It must also be said that practising writing for the public is a professionally useful activity in its own right.

Too Hard

It is true you can spend a lot of time on this activity -- however it is possible to invest less than five hours a month plus the initial set up time. There are only a few things you need to do to be up an running.

Too much is exposed

How much information you give out is up to you. The approach is suggest here does not include a twitter account for instance, so you won't be tempted to tell the world about your breakfast.

Approach

  1. Get a blog, like this one (Wordpress and Blogger are two popular free services). Aim to publish at least once a month (twice a month is better) on topics related in some fashion to your professional interests. There are more tips on blog writing at http://www.problogger.net/archives/2006/02/14/blogging-for-beginners-2/ and many other places, however be selective about the advice you follow. Your blog posts can cover topics about: your current work; new products related to your interests; considered commentaries on news and other blogs; and your new discoveries and learning.
  2. Create a slideshare account and publish your presentations and papers (make sure you have permission to publish material that may belong to your customers). When you publish on slideshare make sure write a corresponding blog post (e.g. http://alecthegeek.wordpress.com/2006/12/08/slides-and-example-scripts/)
  3. Get a LinkedIn account and make sure your profile is complete and up to date. My objective when creating my profile was to have something that could be printed off and used as a CV
  4. Add the URLs of your LinkedIn account and blog to your business card and email signature
  5. Update your LinkedIn status when you are doing something new (professionally) or publish a new blog entry
  6. When you meet people professionally try and connect with them on LinkedIn straight away
This online brand needs however to be part of a larger activity. You should network actively (get used to drinking a lot of coffee!) and seek opportunities to present at local groups. If there are larger conferences then make sure you submit a paper proposal as well -- it's all grist to the mill.