I bought the first book in the traditional way - while browsing for books at a major book store. But I bought the second directly from Garr's recommendation on his blog. I subscribe to his blog and follow him on Twitter because he delivers high-quality content regularly. So when I saw him announce his new book, I jumped at the chance to buy it. I clicked the Amazon.com link in his blog and bought the Kindle version to read in my e-book reader.
I bought the book because Garr Reynolds had built up such a strong on-line reputation that the decision was a "no-brainer". In fact, even if I hadn't read his first book, I would have bought the second, because of his reputation - in his blog, on Twitter, in YouTube videos, and from what other experts say about him.
Thanks to broadband Internet access, easy publishing platforms, and better software - ordinary people can, and do, publish on-line without needing Web design skills. As a result, many people will hear about you on-line before they ever meet you or visit your company's Web site. A few might stumble across it anyway; but many more will expect to find you somewhere else first. This means you have to establish, build and nurture your on-line reputation in a number of places.
Before you start, I'll share this message from American basketball player and coach John Wooden:
"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."
Replace "character" with "expertise", and this reminds us that although this is primarily about your on-line reputation, remember it always builds on your value and expertise.
Don't spread yourself too thin. Choose a few networks that seem the most relevant, and focus your energies there. By all means, join others to explore them; but be ruthless in cutting your ties if you find they are not giving value.
Some networks are primarily for business; others are primarily for social use; and others can be for both. If the network allows you to choose how you connect with different people, choose carefully. Broadly, there are four groups:
· Personal connections (family and friends): If you invite only family and friends, then you're using this purely for social reasons. There's nothing wrong with this choice, but be careful about later extending it to business contacts, in case you're exposing too much of your personal life.
· Business colleagues: If you invite professional colleagues, you're building up your business network, so you do have to be more appropriate and professional. Your brand and reputation are on show, so don't post pictures of drunken parties or other potentially embarrassing personal situations. However, you can still share things you wouldn't discuss with customers.
· Customers: Now you're including customers in your network, so you have to be even more careful about what you share.
· Strangers: The broadest choice is to invite and accept strangers into your network. Although this increases your reach, it also gives you less freedom. For instance, you might think twice about telling people you're enjoying a holiday in Europe if it means you're telling burglars your home is empty.
This might seem obvious now, but it's easy to make a careless mistake in practice, and that can damage your on-line reputation.
Joining a network isn't enough to build an on-line reputation; you have to participate in it as well. That's obvious, but this is one area that worries some people, who think they need to spend all day on these networks to build their reputation. Instead, note this quotation attributed to Benjamin Franklin:
"It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it."
This is usually quoted as a warning about the one bad deed; but I'm using it here to emphasise the many good deeds. Your goal is to be a valuable member of the community, not to push your products and services. Focus on helping, not promoting, and your reputation will grow.
Let's look at 20 easy, practical ways to participate in various on-line communities. Each of these takes less than ten minutes to do, so they only take discipline, not a big time commitment.
1. Expand your LinkedIn network by connecting with somebody you're not currently connected with but would like to be (whether you know them personally, or not).
2. Look through your LinkedIn connections, and write a recommendation for somebody you know. Be sincere, specific and brief.
3. LinkedIn groups are for members with common interests. Join a relevant group and contribute to a discussion. Be positive in your comments and build on existing comments in the discussion, especially if you're new to the group.
4. Browse the "Answers" section on LinkedIn, and answer a question in your area of expertise. LinkedIn shows these questions and answers to people beyond your direct connections, so this is a good way to demonstrate your expertise to more people.
5. Promote somebody else on Twitter - an award they have won, an event they are running, a book they have written, a sale they are offering, and so on.
6. Check Twitter right now, find something you like (for example, a link to an interesting Web site or blog post), and re-tweet it to your network. This helps the original tweeter, because you're sharing her insights with your network; and it helps you, because you become known among your followers as a source of valuable information.
7. Find an interesting article, blog post or Web site, and send it to your Twitter followers.
8. Thank somebody publicly on Twitter. Include their Twitter name (e.g. @gihanperera) so they see it, but the main purpose is to tell your followers why you're grateful to that person.
9. Look through your friends' recent status updates, find one you like, and click the "Like" link next to that update. It's a simple way to give a small note of encouragement to a friend, customer or colleague. It also helps them spread the word, because this appears in your status update, which means your other friends see it.
10. Look through your friends' recent status updates, find something you can comment on, and add a comment. Facebook is primarily for connecting with family and friends, so you don't have to write anything clever or profound. Just something simple and sincere will do.
11. Search for interesting groups or business pages on Facebook, join one that looks relevant, and contribute to a discussion.
12. Connect with somebody new on Facebook (somebody you know personally, but isn't already a Facebook friend).
13. Write a review on Amazon.com for a book you read and liked. You don't have to write a long review - just a few paragraphs will do. This not only boosts your own Internet presence, it also helps the author promote their book, and helps other customers learn more about the book before buying it.
14. What are your favourite apps on your smart phone? Pick one, and write a positive review for it in the iTunes App Store or the Android Market. App developers rely on these reviews and ratings to encourage more people to download or buy their apps. So help them by praising the apps you like.
15. If you enjoy listening to a particular podcast regularly, take a few minutes to write a positive review for it in the iTunes Store. This helps the podcast author, because it makes them feel valued, it boosts their ranking in iTunes, and it encourages other comments as well.
16. Many podcasts also have an accompanying Web site, so visit that site and leave a positive comment there as well.
17. Find a blog post you enjoyed reading, and write a positive comment on that post. Bloggers love comments on their blog (it makes them feel valued, it gives them valuable feedback about what they wrote, and it encourages others to comment as well), so they will appreciate you taking the time to write a comment.
18. Find a video you like on YouTube, and add a comment. These videos don't necessarily have to be work-related, but of course they can't be inappropriate. YouTube has a handy option to automatically notify your Twitter and Facebook followers every time you comment, so use that for greater leverage.
19. Comment in an on-line discussion group you've joined. If possible, add to the discussion in your comment, rather than just saying, "I love it!" or "Thank you". If you can't think of anything new, simply explain why you liked it (how you applied the idea, what insights you got from it, and so on).
20. Think of two people in your network who don't yet know each other - but should - and introduce them to each other. All you have to do is send an e-mail to both, explaining briefly what each other does and why you think they should connect. They now have each other's e-mail address, so leave it to them to follow up if they wish.
That gives you 20 ideas you can use immediately to build your on-line reputation - and that's just a small sample of what you can do. I've limited this list to general ideas anybody could use, but of course you might find more specific things as well, based on the on-line communities you participate in.
Gihan Perera is an Internet coach who helps thought leaders and business professionals use the Internet for e-marketing and e-learning. This article is an edited extract from his new book "Fast, Flat and Free: How the Internet Has Changed Your Business". To find out more about the book, and to subscribe to his free webinar series "The Internet Business Revolution", visit www.FastFlatAndFree.com.