We’ve heard it said for ages it takes just one-tenth of a second for us to be judged when we meet someone new. A myriad set of experts on first impressions each have their own suggestions, tips, and formulas on how to make a positive and lasting memory: from the way that you dress to your posture, from the way you talk to the way that you shake someone’s hand.
Speaking of shaking hands, we are in the midst of COVID-19, so we aren’t currently allowed to do that (or really even to meet in-person at all). And that’s the point of this piece: If you aren’t meeting in person, what’s the next best way to make a great impression? Fortunately, this is something I’m an expert at: digital branding.
Today, the first impression that you will make on a person is your online brand. Let’s make sure you’re ready.
Many individuals will interact with your digital properties before they ever meet you, and they may never meet you at all. As we’re practicing the art of social distancing, it’s time for you, as an executive, to lean into finding your brand and your brand voice for yourself. Screen time is increasing, and it really is a new digital world.
There’s a positive side to presenting yourself poorly in-person for the first time: at least you’ll be able to see the wrinkle in the individual’s nose or the slight air of being brushed off. In most cases, you can get a read on a room full of people as to what they think about you. This isn’t the case for your digital presence. People are judging you, constantly, from around the world. You could be getting written off without you even realizing it.
Malcolm Gladwell says that “we don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility.” Write this down: your online presence is fragile.
But there’s a solve. I recently wrote a piece about why nobody likes your social media content. Too long, didn’t read? That’s okay, here are the cliff notes: most executive social content isn’t authentic. It’s like popcorn: good enough for the executive to say, “okay, this is fine,” without offending anyone in the world (like the myriad of shareholders, stakeholders, board members, staff, clients, and so forth).
We can start now. Here’s how to begin:
- Be yourself. You can’t build a relationship with someone if you’re trying to be somebody you aren’t. Do everything in your power to let your personality shine through in everything you build and touch, whether it’s video, social, or other content. Be human.
Questions here include: do you feel like your bio accurately represents you? Does your LinkedIn tell people who you are as a person? Is your bio integrated across all your social media accounts? Do you even have social media accounts in the first place, and if so, what’s the content like? Is it an accurate representation of who you are? Or is it a stale, cardboard cut-out of what your public relations team said you should look like to “appeal to everyone?”
- Know your audience. If your story and narrative aren’t compelling to your audience, you’ve lost them before you’ve even started. Know who you’re speaking to and what you’re trying to present to them. Be relevant.
Questions here include: do your bio, brand, and content have a common narrative or thread that weaves each of the disparate pieces together? Will that narrative compel the people to whom you want to connect to interact and engage with you, or will they pass you and your content by without looking twice?
- Perfect your medium. You should pick a medium that you feel comfortable and confident with – once you get the hang of it, it should feel natural. The writer Adam Grant screenshots his Tweets and posts them on his much-loved Instagram account. Less is more. Keep it simple.
Questions here include: is the content you’re building by yourself difficult? Or, does it come naturally? It’s not supposed to be easy, but it’s not supposed to feel like a climb up a mountain, either. If you have a content team building it for you, do you feel like you are constantly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole? Does it feel unnatural to you?
And what’s next? Measure your results. Ask your team to give you feedback on what’s working and what’s not working – or take a look at the engagement yourself. Are people following you, engaging with your content, and reaching out to you?
Obviously, for executives, you’re often the person in the organization who’s going to be looked at first. And making a great impression doesn’t just matter externally. It will also internally help set the tone for the rest of the people in your organization.
At Model B, the first thing we do for each new staffer is to get them a brand-new headshot. We then we interview them and make sure they have a bio that they love, which accurately projects who they are. We believe if a company helps an individual to represent their personal brand well, then that individual will represent the company’s brand well in return.
In this new digital era, not being conscious of your digital brand is the same as showing up to your office disheveled. And we know that’s not the kind of person you are.