Thursday, August 24, 2006

Personal branding: how mediators can use blogs to define their identity online

Personal branding through bloggingThis post constitutes Part 3 of a series of essays on blogging for the conflict resolution community.

The series began earlier this summer with Part 1, "Getting to yes with alternative dispute resolution blogs: time for ADR practitioners to join the conversation" and continued with Part 2, "Getting in touch with the whole world through blogging".

In this day and age you have to care what the Internet has to say about you. For better or for worse, clients, colleagues, and competitors are googling you. You also need to distinguish yourself from others in your field. After all, you are but one of many in a heavily populated online world.

What can you do then to influence what the Internet has to say about you and to make yourself stand out from the rest of the crowd?

Think blogs.

Take my own case. Unlike, say, "Bob Smith", "Diane Levin" is not an especially common first name/last name combination. So I was surprised to learn that I am not the only Diane Levin out there. There are in fact quite a few of us on the web.

There is of course me, the Diane Levin who is an attorney and mediator. There is also Diane Levin, a well known professor of early childhood education at Wheelock College. There is also Diane Levin the Texas Holdem champion--who frankly sounds like a way more fun Diane Levin than I am--and a Diane Levin in the wholesale fashion business. There's even a Diane Levin who is vice president of a Great Dane club in Minnesota (definitely not me, I have a yorkie).

Before I started blogging, and despite the fact that I had a pretty healthy web presence, with my own business web site, online articles, and listings in any number of web-based directories, anyone looking for me on the web would have had a very hard time figuring out which Diane Levin was in fact me.

When people searched online for my name, search engines often mixed us all up together or, worse, gave first-page ranking to another Diane Levin, even if the search combined "Diane Levin" with "mediation". It was enough to give even a self-confident mediator an identity crisis.

What made things confusing, too, was the fact that the Wheelock College professor Diane Levin lives and works in Massachusetts like me. To make things even more confusing, much of her work concerns conflict resolution and violence prevention, not so different from the work I do as a mediator. People were always mixing us up.

Being confused with that Diane Levin, however, wasn't necessarily the end of the world. She is a nationally respected authority on the effects of violence in the media on children who has testified before the U.S. Congress--who wouldn't enjoy some of that celebrity?

But it was soon apparent that people were confusing me with other Diane Levins as well. I knew that I was in trouble the day a client asked about the secret to my success at poker tournaments.

People were definitely getting the wrong impression.

The fact is that we all google each other. It’s an easy way of doing a fast background check. Employers do it before making an offer to that prospective new hire. Clients and customers do it before hiring a consultant or a service provider. Savvy competitors google each other. So, too, do colleagues.

Blogging can give you control over what the Internet has to say about you. It allows you to shape the impression the world has of you and to create and market your own personal brand.

Today, largely thanks to this blog, when someone googles me, there is no mistaking me with anyone else. What's cool, too, is that my blog posts enjoy favorable search engine rankings for search phrases relating to topics in my practice area. My work is much easier to find, and along with it, me.

For a series of articles on blogging's benefits for ADR professionals, visit my friend Tammy Lenski's blog, Mediator Tech.

At any rate, thanks to blogging, it's nice to know that my little identity crisis is behind me.

(Although I sure wouldn't mind just once winning a Texas Holdem jackpot.)