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12 Comments // Filed in Branding / Business / Design / Web

Internet Personas and Self Branding

Freelance Switch looks to be an awesome new resource, but one of their recent posts raised a few hackles through the comments and summarized succinctly by Matt Brett’s recent post

In essence, FS’s post, Taking Care of Your Internet Persona goes through the dos and don’ts of how to present yourself on the web. At first glance, all the points seem rather reasonable, but when it delved into censoring personal expression, it reached shaky and uncertain ground. In Cyan’s follow-up to the original post she mentions that the subdued presentation of their company is made up for during actual client interactions. However, there is a danger of inconsistency with this approach. In the best case, one can come off even better than their online persona. In the worst sense, one can be viewed unreliable or untrustworthy. But why bother with a disconnect if you can create something more consistent?

The point that seems to be lost in the these arguments is the fact that a lot of us are telecommuters: that is, we work with long-distance clients almost exclusively on the web. Often, we never meet these people. It’s only sometimes, and usually emergency-related, that we even bother with phones or teleconferences. Therefore, our biggest strength lies on how we portray ourselves through our website and blogs, in the best — and most importantly, authentic — way possible. At times, that means revealing more personal ideas or thoughts that may not even relate to web design, business, or even the industry in general.

Why does this matter? Why does anyone care?

Because it humanizes us. In an industry where we don’t or can’t meet our clients, and our everyday interaction is with a screen and a keyboard, the ability to exhibit human characteristics is often viewed as genuine and approachable. It taps into empathy in branding.

It answers the question, “Why do I want to work with you?” with, “Because you care.”

And does it work?

For those who attended Kathy Sierra’s excellent talk on SXSW, did you grin when you saw the “gratuitous puppy shot” during what is actually a very thoughtful and serious slideshow? Yes. You did grin. In fact, your brain released some happy chemicals that made you briefly associate positive feelings that carried through while listening and watching her presentation. It’s a classic psychological tactic. It also helped ease some tension. It also humanized her (the entire point of her presentation) and also provided brief entertainment. This is the equivalent of taking a look at Matt’s cute kitties or reading Jonathan’s story about adoption in the midst of his Javascript tutorials and other industry musings. Did we think any less of these gentlemen for these brief glimpses into their personal life? Was it related to the industry or the betterment of design or the web? No. But it made me like them a whole lot more. And while not a blatant or even intended sales tactic, it nevertheless works towards the psychology of persuasion.

We don’t always have the luxury to show every facet of our personalities. As I wrote in the follow-up post on Freelance Switch:

The key here is consistency and balance. At the end of the day, we are different professionals to different people in different situations merely because we cannot control how people think — we can only alter what they know and hope what they perceive is the truth. However, to help have some semblance of control on that, we need to brand and present ourselves in a way that is true to ourselves, and most importantly, consistently. People consider inconsistency dishonest, and who wants to work with someone they feel they can’t trust?

That being said, I think there’s a danger to a subject like this where we end up stereotyping businesses and clients and freelancers alike. Just because one’s major target market is “artsier”, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing something more corporate. And just because one’s company is more corporate, doesn’t mean they can’t do something innovative or deal with people that are open-minded and warm. We all aren’t one type of person or professional. Deal with each as individual cases but always present yourself honestly and consistently.

12 blabs to Internet Personas and Self Branding

Add something to the conversation!

I’m not depending on freelance, so I guess my opinion isn’t as relevant, but I have to agree with the “be yourself” camp all the way. Part of the reason I got the last two jobs I’ve held is because of the whole “not a sausage” thing. It’s my personal brand, and as odd as it is, it gets me remembered and is unique, just like me. I think it’s best to be yourself in most situations, that way if things go well, you know it’s a good fit.

Picture of Barce

Name Barce

Date Apr 20
04:06 AM

FS’s post is really interesting to think about. Let’s say that you are a liberal politician running for office, and you followed the “Taking Care of Your Internet Persona” advice.

1) You wouldn’t swear.
2) You couldn’t discuss your politics.
3) You couldn’t have a personal blog, even though being personal has helped many a politician.
4 & 5 definitely are something a politician should follow.
6) Awww, c’mon this is political bread & butter. :)
7) Ya, I guess as a liberal politician you can’t join the liberal website.

What’s interesting is that what FS sees as a liability for a free lancer is actually a necessary part of building a political career.

The real question is this: “Why is what’s good in the political arena is so divorced in the work arena?”

You nailed it on the head with being genuine and approachable. That’s how we conduct our business, in general, so I feel my online persona should reflect that, yet as I wade through rebranding our business, it’s not the easiest task to accomplish.

The most challenging issue you raised, I think, comes down to how clients perceive us and our industry. If a designer positions herself as “artsy” does she alienate herself from more corporate jobs? Although you and I know that designer can likely very well do corporate work, does the end client perceive this, too? Are end clients savvy enough to look beyond the initial style/tone and consider a designer for a project? My experience has been that SOME do, and some most definitely do not. How can we quickly and effectively educate the client on our various skills?

For many of us, word of mouth supersedes most else. For others without the strength of word of mouth, they may worry that their unique brand will appeal to only one type of client. In response to this, we see an ocean of designers who water down their brand to ‘appeal to all.’ So many play it safe, but in doing so create, as you said, a disconnect.

I noticed that the well-known web design “rock stars” shares with us not only professional information, but personal ones, too. This way they become identifiable by their personal particularities.

Today a successful business needs more than cold and service-oriented information and communication.


By doing a little freelance on the side you can learn a lot about what being a full-time freelancer is really like. You might think it’s crazy when you read get-rich-quick advertisements claiming to give people everything they need to open their own profitable business in thirty days or less. It?s never that easy. Being self-employed is not for everyone. If you can not manage your own time or your part-time freelance clientele, or you have trouble with self-motivation, then starting a freelance Web design business may not fit you.

I think online identity and maintaining it the right way is a bit of a challenge as if it is not done correctly, it can cause bit of difference between online and offline identity so it is a bit of challengwe.

FS is gaining in popularity on another note.

Yes, there has to be a balance between the profession-related information and the personal information we post as otherwise we can become ridiculous, easily.

I find it is always best to get the customer on the phone. Sure, sometimes things go faster when email is the only communication. Nuances are easier to pick up over the phone than in an email. Customers who receive phone consultation usually get the best work done because they more than likely communicated their idea well. Plus it helps in relationship building. It brings someone into your clients family more than an email could.

Great post!

I used to be a webdesigner before I switched to wedding photography.
It took me a lot of rading to get better. I was really amazed at first how there are lot of freelance photographers who would post blogs and talk about their private life,etc. That was 5 years ago. Now it became norm. I guess it’s a part of branding. To show that you are real,you have family and you care about your clients

Yes, I think it is really important for a photographer to think about the own person and tell some people about your thoughts. From the reactions you can learn a lot about your “models”.

Good article, thank you!

Picture of Dhamphy

Name Dhamphy

Date Sep 22
11:20 AM

Interacting with clients through blogging really helps in promoting and in a way making a brand that would surely be remembered by the clients.

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