This Wednesdays for Women is another article in the “Lessons from Leaders” series featuring ideas from JDA leaders on topics of interest to anyone seeking insights and experiences that can help them grow their own leadership skills. In today’s blog, Dianne Bender, Project Manager on JDA’s Documentation team and member of the JDA Winning Leadership program, shares what she learned about having a personal brand.

I had a conversation with Jennifer Cook, Group Vice President – Chief HR Strategy and Operations, on personal branding to get her perspective on what that means, social media’s impact, and how to evaluate your personal brand. Jennifer has been a JDA associate since 2006, and she has spent her career in the human resources field. What follows is a summary of our conversation. Jennifer and I also put her advice to the test as she had me do a quick check on whether my personal brand is what I want it to be.

A personal brand is about you. Your brand reflects your character, your uniqueness, and who you genuinely are. It comprises those attributes and skills that make you stand out from the crowd. Perhaps your brand identifies you as someone who has innovative ideas, has a great deal of influence, or is an effective strategic planner. Whatever makes you unique is the personal brand that might get you selected for a special project, included in a leadership program, or identified as a good fit for an open position or career advancement.

Is a personal brand something that just happens based on who you are? Is it built through traditional networking? Is it something you can strategically define using social media? The answer: It can be a result of all these methods.

Before social media, your personal brand evolved only based on the you that showed up every day for work and in other activities that you pursued. Now, consider how social media has an immediate impact on your personal brand. Your brand may be out there for the world to see. If someone does a simple search on your name, there you are, personal image and all. Whether it appears on LinkedIn or Twitter, or other social media platforms, they instantly see the factors that tend to matter most to you.

Today, having an online presence is expected. If you do not have an online presence, it likely hurts your personal brand. Minimally, you should have a LinkedIn account. Companies, leaders, and peers look at LinkedIn to get to know you, and to see how active you are, how large your network is, and how you give back and help others learn. This can be an avenue to promote others and share feedback that helps make others successful. Twitter can be used to develop and promote others as well. For example, the JDA Wednesdays for Women blog series is something you could retweet as the journeys and advice available could be valuable to those in your network.

Obviously, what is available online can tell us a lot about a person and their brand by showing what they like and dislike, so you must be cautious and conscientious of that too.

If this has you thinking about what your online presence says about your brand, or you are thinking your social presence is lacking, it is never too late to build your personal brand. First, step back and do some self-analysis. Answer the questions: What is it that makes me, me? What do you think your personal brand is? What do you want it to be? Consider performing a brainstorming exercise with yourself to get a clear picture of who you are, how you see your character, and how you want to be seen. Next, consider what others would say about you. You can even ask them. Do those lists align?  Type your name into a search engine like Google; what do the search results say about you? Are the results an accurate representation of your personal brand? There are plenty of online resources that explain ways to help build, or correct, your personal brand in case alignment is needed.

In putting this to the test, Jennifer asked me to search my name online. When I type “dianne bender wisconsin” the results include links to the Milwaukee School of Engineering University where I teach part-time, professor rating sites, and a JDA’s Wednesdays for Women blog in which I participated on the topic of continuous learning. Based on those results, Jennifer immediately branded me as someone who likes to help others to learn. She then asked me whether that statement was an accurate description of my personal brand and how I want others to see me. To a certain extent, it is. What I felt was lacking from my personal brand in this quick exercise was enabling others to see the breadth of my communication skills specific to writing. Now that I know that, I can continue to develop my personal brand online.

So now it is your turn. Search yourself online. Ask others to describe your brand. Compare that to the you that you know. Then adjust and continue to grow.