When was the last time you typed out a cover letter; attached it to a résumé; placed it into a stamped, hand-addressed envelope; and mailed it off in response to a job posting or potential employer? When was the last time you sent any paper correspondence on letterhead through the mail?
We learned how to write effective memos in school and how to rely on a well-crafted résumé to completely capture our professional image. Other professionals and potential employers were unlikely to know anything about us until we actively communicated with them by telephone or via paper correspondence. But this style of communication has imploded during our professional lifetimes and, as nurse leaders, many of us have had to “catch up” with the rest of the business world.
Many of us began or completed our formal education in the preInternet era when the first stop in a library was at either the librarian's desk or the card catalog. Finding CINAHL and INDEX MEDICUS was as easy as finding the 20-foot rows of green and red books. Times have certainly changed with respect to information access and retrieval, and with all levels and dimensions of communication within the electronic world. Not only do we have unprecedented access to all kinds of information, others also have equally unprecedented access to information about us.
We now communicate synchronously via voice calls and text messaging, and asynchronously via e-mail and text. We communicate one-to-one with individuals and one-to-many using e-mail distribution lists, list serves, web conferencing, and social network tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Our professional and personal worlds are intertwined in ever-evolving ways as Internet technology is further enhanced to support contemporary communication.
In some ways, the world we've entered is similar to the Wild West with a lack of explicit rules and guidelines that many of us have negotiated using common sense and feedback from others along the way. For example, the correspondence we sent in the past was either thrown away or filed. In stark contrast, our sent e-mail sits in countless inboxes within our organizations and throughout the Internet on unidentified servers and computers waiting for someone to pick up and either respond to us or resend to others. Documentation of our professional contributions and accomplishments is archived on our employers' cached web pages, available and visible to anyone searching for our names.
This article provides guidance on communicating within the electronic world for professionals in general and nurse leaders, managers, and executives in particular, addressing how your e-presence impacts your brand as a nurse leader and how you can better portray your professional brand by effective use of e-mail, websites, and social media.
What's in a brand?
Our Internet brand, or e-presence, is defined as the electronic trail that we leave behind, sometimes purposely and sometimes as an unaware participant—as employees, professional organization members, or as we spend time in our personal lives on community service and leisure activities. Understanding your brand as a nurse leader is the first step to taking greater control of shaping and crafting your online image. In the eyes of your entire professional network, including current and potential employers, you're defined by information sent by you and collected by others.
Brands are well known and accepted in our economy as important assets for conducting business on many levels. We're surrounded by brands and have formed bonds and attachments to products and services based on brands and their promises. When we make purchasing decisions in our personal and professional lives, we have certain expectations related to a brand that are either reinforced or diminished each time we follow through on obtaining a specific product or service. We develop preferences for branded products and services as we're influenced by past practice, advertising, and other marketing strategies. Companies invest significant time, money, and effort to develop, maintain, and increase brand loyalty.1
Most of us can readily state for which items we demand a brand item and for which items and services we would accept a generic or commodity item. We probably have a definitive stated preference for which car we like to drive, which coffee we like to drink, which clothing stores we like to use, and which computer to buy. We've also probably developed strong brand preferences for our primary physician, dentist, hair stylist, and other services that we utilize. Strong brands are defined by their relevance and distinctiveness.1
As nursing leadership professionals, we also carry a brand. Our brand defines us and our attributes in a way that other decision makers can identify and differentiate us from others. Whether we're hired for a position, selected for a promotion, recruited for a volunteer opportunity within an organization, or asked to author an article depends in large part on people's predetermined knowledge, perception, and expectations of us.
What goes into your brand?
As nurse leaders, our brand is built internally as we develop our reputation among colleagues, superiors, and direct reports. It may not be uncommon for someone who reports to us today to be our boss at a future time, either within the same organization or at a different one. Reputation provides the foundation for what others expect from us. We build onto the foundation of our reputation by adding education and certification credentials that carry our own brand message.
As a college graduate of a specific school or program, you acquire the brand promise that people have grown to expect. We often make initial decisions about others based on where they worked, where they went to school, or if they've served in the military. As we gain experience with these individuals, our expectations are either reinforced or diminished and we're left to decide how much to trust the brand the next time.
Your e-presence consists of everything that connects to you in cyberspace. This includes every reference to you on your or your employer's website; your sent e-mail and everywhere it has been copied and forwarded; your personal Facebook page, your Facebook friends' pages, Twitter feeds, and other social media; professional organization websites; and publications that you've authored. You aren't in full control of the content after it leaves your keyboard and, in some cases, you aren't in control at all as others post information about you. You often don't own the copyright to content that you've written and posted. But all of this content—some of it live and some of it archived—is fully accessible depending on the skill of the person conducting the search.
Conducting a brand assessment
Just as with everything in nursing, start with an assessment of sufficient depth and breadth to identify your brand's current state and highlight any issues of concern. For example, you may find incomplete and possibly erroneous information that should be corrected where possible. The assessment starts with gathering your data and then searching specific areas online to determine how complete and accurate your personal information is aligned with the content in cyberspace.
Start your initial comprehensive search with Google. Effective Google searches start broad and are then narrowed down. Start the search using your full name in quotes because Google automatically includes the Boolean operator “or” between all words and your results will include every item with your first name and every item with your last name. By using the quotation marks, you narrow the search to focus on your full name. If you have a relatively common name and you see many irrelevant results, add your credentials or additional terms such as “nursing” or “nurse.”
The Google search will return paid advertisers on the right-hand side of the screen. These generally include fee-for-service background checks with very limited information available for free. Click on one or two of these to see what information about you is available for free. Your current age, previous addresses, and possible relatives may be viewable. These services automatically gather information from public sources, such as real estate transactions, arrest records, court cases, marriages, and divorces. If this is a concern for you, other companies offer tools for consumers to use to control the information that people see about them online.
The main search results will include web pages that reference your name. Identify the ones that pertain to you. The search will usually identify your social media pages and other social media pages on which you're prominently featured. Ensure that the information within these sites is accurate and portrays you in a professional manner consistent with the image you want to project. Change your pictures as needed and delete any potentially embarrassing or personally revealing photos. Update your school alumni information and any other affiliated professional organizations.
Google offers a web alert feature that can be used to track Google searches with your name as the search term. Google alerts can be used to identify updated and current information on you, your company, or anything else that may be of interest. You can tailor these alerts by setting up the search terms, indicating how often you want to receive them, and applying a variety of advanced features that help increase the relevance of your results.
To continue positively building your brand, consider guidelines for e-mail etiquette (see Table 1) and the American Nurses Association's Principles for Social Networking (see Table 2).
Brand in demand
Take control of your brand as a nurse leader by first determining what's important to you professionally and then assessing your e-presence. We're defined by the e-mails, websites, and social media pages that we create and that others create about us. By understanding your brand as a nurse leader, you can then exercise greater control over your personal and professional image on the Internet.
Part 2 of this 3-part series will explore how to use the social media site LinkedIn as a professional networking tool.
© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. All world rights reserved.
1. Clifton R, Ahmad S, Allen T. Brands and Branding
. New York, NY: Bloomberg Press; 2009.