We all have an online and an offline personal brand, which is the summation of our reputation, what our bosses, and colleagues say about us, our career activities, our writing, the images associated to us, and the comments that we make on other people's work. The personal brand is the essence of who we are when we are not present in the room. Personal branding is vitally important to military veterans and active-duty military because often times it is the first and last impression that we leave with current and potential employers. A strong personal brand is a signal to current and potential employers that we are a person worthy of their time, focus, and attention. A weak or non-existent personal brand means that they should move on to the next candidate.

Social media platforms — Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and a host of others — are incredibly helpful to creating strong personal brands for military veterans. Social media tools are an immediate, personal, and powerful representation of who you are as a person. A professional personal brand on all social media platforms is vital for military veterans and other career changers because a it can support and bolster your resume and demonstrate the strength of your actions and activities in the real world.

Too often, military veterans see social media is seen as a weapon that they have to hide or misrepresent their true selves. Instead, social media must be seen as one of the tools that can help military veterans get a job, get a promotion, or establish themselves as an expert or thought leader within their industry. Social media allows veterans to demonstrate their strengths as real world leaders, problem solvers, and supporters of their communities. Social media posts that show leadership, resolve, ethics, and productivity all make the veteran job candidate more attractive, not less.

Follow these activities to create and maintain a strong personal brand that will support and advance your career aspirations.

Select a cover image that portrays who you want to be.

Selecting a cover image is one of the most vital steps to creating a strong personal brand on social media. A good cover image should be professional — not-a-selfie — and it should show you in a confident, relaxed, happy, and professionally dressed pose. You should have this image in various sizes so you can use it consistently across various social media platforms.

Create consistency across social media platforms.

The cover image appearance, background description, complete real name, and other images should be the same across all major social media platforms. The purpose of consistency is that you do not know if your current and/or potential employer will go to one or several of your social media sites, so you want to have the same look and feel across all of them.

Create industry-specific content on LinkedIn, Medium, and other sites.

The creation of insightful and industry-specific content that offers ideas to make your current industry better or how to meet customer needs better will establish you as an industry thought leader. Thought leaders and tactical innovators are precisely what companies want. When a company looks at you for a promotion or as a potential hire, they are usually looking at how you will fit for other company positions three to ten years away. As a thought leader, you start to differentiate yourself as well as identify key trends that can be used in interview discussions as well as networking contacts. This content does not have to be long. A simple and well-constructed post that is 500 to 800 words long is sufficient to communicate your points.

Write comments that are professional, insightful, and respectful on industry trends.

Writing comments on articles, pages, and posts through social media is fraught with potential and peril. The potential is strong if you have insightful comments on articles and in public spaces. However, comments that are negative, insulting, and tied directly to your name will be serve no positive purpose in your career progression. If you cannot state your comment in a way that is professional, kind, and advances your personal brand, then keep it to yourself. You’d be surprised how one bad comment can come back to you even if you’ve forgotten about it.

Follow and “like” people and companies that you respect. Following well-respected individuals and companies creates a positive, insightful, and dynamic online community. When you read, comment, and learn from industry leaders, this directly supports and advances your personal brand. Following and responding to existing thought leaders is one of the fastest, most insightful, and time-efficient ways to read and learn about an industry while starting to contribute your own ideas to make it better.

Be active on the primary social media platforms at least once a week.

Providing frequent, insightful, and good content should be an absolute must across social media. No one cares what you ate for dinner last night. They care about identification and analysis of a new customer trend appearing in your industry or what are the international markets with the most potential for a new product in three years. People also care about what positive contributions you offer to ongoing social media discussions. Anyone can tear down someone's work. The question for your own social media personal branding is do you want to be known as someone who puts down others’ ideas or helps build and create new ideas and solutions?

Always do a Google search of your name.

The use of Google, Bing, and other search engines is a great way to monitor how your name, image, and brand are used. Staying on top of the order of appearance of your personal search results is essential to ensure that your social media personal branding activities are paying off. When a result is inconsistent with your brand image, move immediately to correct the search result.