How to Find Your Digital Self

Guest post by Chris Brogan

You are probably reasonably good at your job. I know this without knowing you, because you’re reading articles and blog posts that might offer you insight into how to up your game, how to improve your results, and this means that you’re already better than all those people who know what they know. Because of this, I want to offer you some thoughts from someone outside of your game.

You know how to be you in person. Translating that into your digital self is the next step. I don’t mean this in any weird video game way, or maybe I do, but let’s talk about that.

First, accept that everyone is connected

Doug liked Mitch Joel’s book, Six Pixels of Separation. He knew you could take advantage of it. Jonathan and Doug also read my book, Trust Agents, with Julien Smith. We talk about that, too, about how you’re nothing without your network. But now that we accept this, let’s realize that how we conduct ourselves online is every bit a reflection of how we are perceived, and that most people don’t have the first inkling of who you are offline, so they won’t realize your motivations, your nuances, and the like, without a bit of work.

Your digital self has to be human first

You can’t lead with a pitch. You can’t lead with a pounce. Instead, you have to take that step you know so well from the real world: get to know your prospective client. How do you get to know them? First, listen. What do I mean? If you Google the phrase, “grow bigger ears,” I’ve set out the steps for how to build a free listening station.

Listening is at the heart of all things that are worth a damn in the social web

It’s a way to find new prospects. It’s a way to help other people out long before they become prospects. It’s a way to keep your community warm. For instance if you spent 25% of your online time here’s what I’d do: search via Google BlogSearch and find out when people are blogging about starting a new job in that company in your town that’s hiring. If you scan Twitter Search, you’ll hear the chatter of someone scouting out a new neighborhood. It takes a little bit of tweaking, but finding out what people want is the best way in the world to help them. Think about it: you’re not pushing people to check out your listings or even visit your site. You’re listening to their needs and gently/politely responding. Piece of sweet cake.

You could do well to spend about 50% of your time on line connecting

And when I say this, I mean comment on local area blogs, spend time talking with folks on Twitter. Answer questions in LinkedIn that pertain to your locale or your special niche. Use these social web tools to connect and build relationships before you need them. Then, you’re top of mind when people are thinking about making a move. Connecting with people about themselves, on their turf, and not always about you is the “hamburger helper” of social media. It stretches out relationships and makes them more filling.

Finally, spend about 25% of your time on line publishing

By this, I mean consider posting blog posts, photos from Flickr, YouTube videos, and whatever else you think might help people achieve their goals (theirs, not yours). Make sure folks know how to work with you. Make a page about it. Make all your contact information visible. On your blog, make sure your “about” page has a photo of you: not that weird “Glamour Shots” photo they use on your signs and newspaper listings. Take a nice new candid photo. Not used to this? Get used to it. People want to see who they’re doing business with, and even more so on the web. You’re old? Who cares? You’re fat or toothless? No worries. Work with what you’ve got, but do it.

You might not have a decent blog. You might not have the first clue what to do next. You have a few options: look for a REBarCamp in your area. Put up a simple ad in Craigslist requesting help getting a blog set up. Work inside your network to figure out who can help. They don’t often cost much (unless you get all tricky with your design). Why? Because this can be a home base. It’s not always your selling space. But it’s always the place where people will get a better sense of who you are. That’s why you read Jonathan, right? Same thing.
By thinking of all this as an extension of who you are in the day to day, you’ll get closer to the mood and mindset required to do business with people via the social web. We’re not there to be sold to, but we do love when people help us buy. See the difference? To me, that’s the whole opportunity in a nutshell.

What do you think? What other advice would YOU add to this? How can you pitch in and extend the learning process of others in your space so that they can catch up to you?

Chris Brogan is the New York Times bestselling author of Social Media 101, available at bookstores everywhere. He is president of New Marketing Labs, LLC, and writes daily at

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  • Great post, Chris! Couldn't agree more. In fact, I wrote a very similar post on my own blog after giving a talk at my college alma mater on this topic.

    The Art & Business of Crafting Your Online Self ::

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  • Commenting on other blogs is an easy way to work on your writing skills, and understand what works and what doesn't work. A lengthy rant is pretty boring to read, but a few well written/crafted sentences may add humor or depth to the post.

    Before I started blogging, I spoke with lots of friends and was surprised how much they knew about what works, is fun, and where to learn about the topic.

    The REBarCamp suggestion is good and go with an open mind, ask questions and participate!

  • I like the 25/50/25 breakdown quite a bit. I find the people I'm the least interested in keeping tabs on are those who post and publish and tweet ad nauseum, but don't take the steps to read and communicate with whatever ecosystem they're broadcasting to.

    @DougFrancis: Yes, brevity is so key! and often something I struggle with. Having a lot to say feels great, until you're reading someone else's unedited thoughts.

  • Absolutely LOVE this article. Couldn't agree more. I get inboxes on facebook from people who describe me as inspirational, dynamic and motivated based on my status updates! I spend time engaging them EVERY day: Comment on their photos, like their status updates, wishing them happy birthday. We have a “relationship”. They feel like they “know” me and they like that.

  • stevestaples

    As a manager of a real estate office in Albany NY, I really connected to this blog. So thank you! I passed it on to my agents… They range in age from 24 to 74!!! And some really struggle with the newer technologies… Not necessary! So You've helped me today! Thanks!

  • Steve,

    Too many people get caught up in the technology, Myspace was the king 5 years ago, Facebook is the king today and who knows what will be the king in 5 years. It all comes down to using the tools to enhance your communication.


  • Location and location based technologies are another facet of social media that are going to have a direct and immediate impact on our industry. If you haven't read 1000Watt Consulting's “Eve of Discussion” post, it's worth a quick read —>

  • Chris, this is exactly what I've been looking for… A concise strategy for time management and maximum effectiveness. Going now to google “grow bigger ears”!

    P.S. Miss ya Jonathan, but great job finding a pinch hitter!

  • Nice post. When it comes right down to it, doing any job well is about helping somebody. Social media gives us the ability to help people we don't even know, and maybe more effectively, because we have to take the time to listen and evaluate the situation by… reading, mostly.

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  • I think this is all fab – and i pretty much do it all (well except for the candid photo on my blog…hmmm, they are on facebook i guess) AND I have a good amount of success, it's pretty much how i've found the me in my job and i love it.
    The one thing i would add is to bring the connections and interactions to real life. I make a huge effort to attend tweetups, make coffee dates, go to talks and social media club/breakfast events and meet and hang out with the twitter connections i make. I make real friends and people remember me and what i do even MORE. plus it's fun 🙂

  • To tell you the truth Doug, a thoughtful comment is just as valuable as a well written post. Sometimes the conversation after a post is more fun than the post itself.

  • I love that you said, “Broadcasting.” People using New Media as if it were there own news station about themselves don't get it. The good news is that smart marketers have a big advantage over these broadcast types.

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  • There's no doubt you're engaged Nancy. You always provide good value and I know your network appreciates it.

  • Hey Steve, I'm thrilled you liked this blog so much you shared it. As the old real estate saying goes, the highest compliment you can give me is a referral 😉 How many agents do you have in your office?

  • We're doing some in debt studies and testing on location and mobile marketing as we speak James. I'm with you, Mobile = Web 3.0

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  • When I marketed this post I didn't emphasize the time management part enough. Thanks for the little reminder how important that part is Steve. Yep, it's definitely cool that we were able to get the “Trust Agent” himself to pinch hit 😉

  • At some point wasn't helping people the whole idea behind business? Your horse needed a shoe you went to the Blacksmith. Somehow in the golden era of marketing we lost sight of this and just started focusing on making them want things that didn't necessarily help them.

    Today, with the changing climate of the economy and the golden era of the information age people have more choices than ever. If you're not out to truly help them, they will know and they will click off and away from you.

  • Excellent point Nanette. When it comes down to it Social Media is only the first step to creating the relationship. If you want to turn that open door into business you're going to have to take it to the “Real World” offline and solidify things. Thanks a bunch for adding that!

  • i'm excited about that! I've been thinking and playing with how i can use this for my biz but, well, i'm just me. can't wait to hear the results

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  • Keep an eye on this blog, I'll be posting a video on how I created my first mobile site in about an hour.

  • did i miss the video??

  • LOL, you didn't miss it. I havent posted it here yet, but here's a sneak preview

  • I think listening to what your clients needs are very important . Many people are so apt to tout themselves and try to convince people why they should use their services that they forget to listen to what the client actually wants. If you listen and generally care about what they have to say they will come to like and trust you, and we all know what that means.

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  • garrethwilcock

    Luckily in my candid photos, my ears look pretty big. I got them from my mother's side of the family. Now I just need to use them

  • Thanks for spamming our conversation JACKASS!

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  • PRFlipside

    Nice post & I think Chris offers some valuable tips. I just think spending 50% connecting online and 25% publishing is a bit much. People still connect better in person. Doing the math here, that means one only has 25% of the time to do this, which IMHO just isn't enough.

  • I guess it's just about how you frame it. I'd say that 75% of the time you spend online is a filtering system making the 25% your most powerful networking time.

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  • There’s a face behind every brand and as a shy small business owner, I’ve had to learn how to open up on-line. I have yet, to this day, to add a video of myself on-line, because well I’m a round and not thin.

    I guess the point that I walk away with is that everyone had hang-ups and it’s as simple as mind over matter. . .

  • I couldn’t agree with you more- maybe you can start out with putting your voice over a video or slide show and then step up from there. Truth is, not every medium is for everyone –

    My preference is Radio (audio) above all others.

    I say find your comfort zone and ride out.

  • to clarify (I think), I believe Chris was dividing up online time specifically, not total time. The post is specific to the Digital Self. I could be wrong, I am way more often than I am right!