Last month, Fred Wilson wrote an article on the importance of online branding for young people, especially those of us prying our way into the job market. He agrees with David Karp that the best way to secure a positive online presence is to sell yourself well and market yourself frequently. Examples include posting copious flattering pictures on Facebook to overwhelm the unflattering shots and spreading links to your LinkedIn profile so that unrelated flotsam doesn’t get a higher search ranking than your professional profile does.
I completely agree that pains should be taken such that when the prospective employers google your name, they never find unmentionable content before they find your homepage. When I google my own name, at least the top four results and two more of the top ten are actually about me, and moreover are pages I’d be comfortable letting a recruiter see. While I haven’t secured the domain for my full name, I do have a versatile domain that I like and that I’ll be able to use for my future portfolio.
I didn’t go about domain shopping until halfway through college. Wilson, on the other hand, brags that he bought the domains for his children’s full names a few years ago, and his daughters maintain photo blogs under theirs. He doesn’t mention how old his children are, and while a quick scan of the girls’ blogs shows that they’re probably college students, one might get the impression from Wilson’s article that he advocates kids begin to build their brand as soon as their early teens.
I’m all for building positive content, but I remember the kind of content I created when I was a teenager. No, I wasn’t a wild party girl, but in high school I did have a website dedicated to obscure and decidedly dorky interests. Sure it helped me learn HTML and CSS, but it’s far too embarrassing to showcase to potential employers. While I was proud of it at the time, I’m very glad I never promoted that website under my real name. Kids who start branding in their teens will be stuck with cached content that they probably won’t want associated with their names when they want to impress someone with their online presence. For this reason, I disagree with Wilson that kids need to start their branding early. I don’t think kids need to worry about self-branding until they know what they want to showcase. Until then, anonymity is a kid’s best Facebook friend.