So flexible, so invisible. New times ask for new career paths. Is online presence a must? Read three perspectives on the topic.
“Probably dead,” says my father and slams his laptop shut. He has spent the last half an hour searching online for a fellow law graduate from 1983. The search engine gave him two pages of suggestions, all of them wrong. My father’s verdict amuses me. Just five or six years ago, our conversations went like this: Facebook? No. LinkedIn? No. Instagram? For God’s sake! For a long time, he did not exist on the internet. Maybe someone googled for him too, found nothing and concluded: physically non-existent. In the new age, with many of us working from home, it is easier for us to disappear. No chance encounters on the office corridor, no spontaneous wave in the canteen, few chats in the coffee room about matters big and small. Is digital visibility the only remaining opportunity for us to exist professionally?
Before the interview with Marina Zayats, expert in digital personal branding, I mull over some phrases that I often hear about online presence. “I don’t need that.” “I’m not in marketing.” “Pure self-promotion, nothing more.” Zayats is convinced that it is more. A personal brand is not a banner ad, but the digital expression of experience and knowledge. “First, I become clear about what goals I am pursuing in my career. Only then follows visibility, in which I share my knowledge,” says the communications expert. Her clients are CEOs and salespeople with an interest in digital personal branding and social selling. That means, among others, interacting with customers online, whether through a comment, a like or a direct message. Apart from CEOs who function as the face of the company, do employees need their brand? “Absolutely. Especially in large corporations with thousands of departments”, states Zayats. Opportunity becomes scarce because people lack visibility. Clever self-marketing helps when changing jobs internally. In interviews, it is often difficult to assess another person’s skills correctly, she says. If the person and their performance are known beforehand, then doors and hearts open unexpectedly.
Change of mindset
How do we overcome our fear of having a life on digital media? “By trusting in ourselves,” says Marina. I immediately think of Elisabeth Gilbert, a bestselling author from the USA, and what she described in her creativity book “Big Magic”: a “fierce sense of personal entitlement to create”. Allowing oneself to be the same online as in the real world. With our personality, our knowledge and also our ignorance. When I uploaded my first YouTube video, I experienced the same effect that Zayats describes in our interview. The uncomfortable feeling that the whole world is watching or reading along simultaneously. On LinkedIn, Zayats’ preferred business communication platform, the usual reach is far shorter than the whole world. “If 500 users see the post, then that’s good for a start.”
The lens through which we view business social media is also key. Online discussions are still discussions. A comment under a post is like a comment in the tea room. “I compare online communication with chance conversations at conferences. You’re standing at a desk and talking.” Personal contact and interaction remain, with online media offering an additional platform, and a virus-free one, during corona.
How much time does it take to nurture your brand? “No more than 15 minutes a day,” says Zayats. That should be enough for community management (likes, comments). For your content – experiences, observations, recommendations – you should set aside an hour a week on average. Visibility is not a gift; it involves an editorial plan and discipline.
Strong, both online and mentally
There’s a title on the shelves of German bookshops at the moment that roughly translates as “Only those who are visible also happen”. Does this permanent presence also create pressure? “For some people, certainly,” replies Sabine Scheibling, a sociotherapist from Düsseldorf. There are a number of channels for self-marketing. Without focus, you quickly spread yourself too thin. Scheibling, who typed her dissertation on a typewriter, stresses the personal differences in using online media. “It can be fun or it can be work.” Those who have grown up with all things digital and consider them the norm often navigate social media effortlessly. I smile: my niece could operate FaceTime and send hearts at the age of two. If online activities are not very intuitive and mean more effort, they become an additional burden.
Our brain registers every scroll and wipe. It embeds every new piece of information in a context. If this function is used excessively, information remains unprocessed. Sabine Scheibling explains, undigested. According to ancient Chinese medicine, this leads to brooding. This can pave the way for further imbalances, from mental exhaustion to burnout. She advises you to ask yourself: which medium suits me and how often can I realistically use it. The therapist concludes: Online presence is necessary today for professional success.
Changes of values
I am fixating on the word “success”. Before corona (or B.C., as The New York Times calls it), I would not have specified: professional or private. Success was the same as work. Nobody wished someone success before a stroll through the woods or a family gathering; this being the privilege of a career.
Now, the boundaries of the word seem to be expanding. In a private WhatsApp group of ambitious female managers (I landed there by chance), I saw an event where corona hobbies are discussed. It used to be all about business! This time, the conversation involves full walkways. Queues in the craft and hobby store. Revamped, fresh-looking gardens. The discussions cut across traditional professional boundaries, too. According to the Chinese Consumer Value Index, a new mix of values has emerged in China. In 2019, “success” was uppermost; during the crisis, “peace of mind”, “health” and “family” moved up to the top. Are we now experiencing a change of values worldwide? Are we changing our list of priorities? Our idea of what we want to achieve in our professional life and what we want to achieve in other areas of life? I have the feeling that success is now becoming more personal. As is the decision about whether someone wants to be an influencer on LinkedIn. The change is already visible.