Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blogging as Personal Brand Management

A question I'm often asked, or would be if anyone gave a shit, is: "Hey man, why are you blogging?"

There's a talk by Scott Hanselman called "Social Networking for Developers" on Hanselminutes On 9. The gist of the talk, indeed the title of Part 1, is that every developer needs to have a blog. Recently I've come to agree with this more and more. Now, with time on my hands, I've actually started to do something about it.



Yeah but why does a developer need to have a blog? One point made by @shanselman in his talk jumped out at me: "Personal brand management is becoming a fundamental part of being a developer." Personal Brand Management. Sounds a bit heavy, but all it really means is that everything you do online, if it's under your own name, affects how others see you. That's very obvious but worth paying a lot of attention to.

If you don't manage your online identity (I hate the word 'brand'. And 'impact', though only when used as a verb. Not wild about 'engaging' either, while we're on the subject) somebody else might. Somebody you got pissed with on facebook, or some imposter with the same name as you, or it'll be some embarrassing medical stunts forum on which you post far too frequently and didn't realise would surface (verbing, I know) your posts quite so efficiently. You can't get rid of those, but you can at least try and crowd them out by getting accounts on Flickr, YouTube, Google, Twitter, all the usual stuff.

Actually, I recommend Quora too. For a site not that well known to the general public it seems to punch above its weight, SEO-wise. In the first page of results for a vanity search (undertaken purely for research and of course self-gratification) Quora sits alongside such heavy hitters as Facebook, Twitter and Google Profiles. Not a bad return in terms of managing my online identity for a few lousy questions on Entity Framework and RSS.

As an example of feckless online branding, when I signed up to Stack Overflow, the programming Q&A uber-site, I did so as 'Rafe Lavelle', adopting the phonetic version of my name. Somewhere during the last two years, probably around the time they started to incorporate Careers 2.0 with StackOverflow, I wised up and changed my profile to reflect my real name. Stack Overflow is one of those sites where your activity should definitely accrue to your actual name, or your programming handle at least. I don't have one of those but if I did it would be RSSn8Tr. (Actually, because of the way the Stack Overflow URLs are MVCed up, I could give out stackoverflow.com/users/48791/the-one-theyve-been-waiting-for as my profile address and it'd still work. That's because I actually am the 48791.)

If this all sounds a bit Tom Peters (the 'In Search of Excellence' business guru), like developers should turn themselves into brands like Beckham or Trump and launch their own fragrance like Karl Lagerfeld when all most working stiffs are trying to do is fix up some bugs and go home, then all I can say is: you already act as your own brand, and you already do a lot of the work involved in having a blog, or should be doing if you're a dev.

Your tweets, your facebook updates, your Google+ posts, the stuff you say in front of other people in the office, the points you make in emails at work, your questions and answers on developer forums and sites, your podcast recommendations, all that stuff adds up to a certain perception of your quality - or "Qua", as they say in Jerry Maguire - that you may as well manage in a coherent, holistic way. Be your own ambassador of Qua (warning: link contains a nekkid black guy in a shower room).

Anyway, around August 2010 I started blogging at raftus.wordpress.com. That was when I thought I might maintain a separate blog for non-tech stuff, and stick it on Blogger, or Squarespace. That was before I came across one of the hidden gems in @shanselman's canonical list of blogging tips:
"Avoid Split Brain - Pick a Blog and Stay There."
This was timely advice. If I did what I was considering doing, "your two blogs will always be fighting each other on Google, splitting your virtual personality". You don't have to be Larry Page to realise the googley mess that would ensue, so I brought it all home under www.ralphlavelle.net.

It all probably doesn't matter anyway. As Jeff Atwood says, for the first year of your blog no-one will listen or care.

Thanks to Coding Pleasure, whose post 'Developers and blogs' brought that @shanselman video to my attention.