Face-to-ace networkingBy Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

In today’s world, we must tend to our network of contacts like we would tend to a garden. Many relationships will grow and blossom, while some will inevitably languish on the vine.

Either way, it’s vital to lay a sturdy foundation of social networking, which can help you celebrate successes and overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable. Where you fall within that network, and in the eyes of the general public, is your personal brand, and the cultivation of that brand is a must. To that end, Google — or “the Google,” as I sometimes call it — has become more powerful than ever before. Your personal brand and your status on Google Search are often one and the same. We call it search engine optimization, or SEO for short.

Those of us who are not digital natives might say that we don’t have enough time to deal with our online reputation, but it’s simply too important to ignore. Google is like Santa Claus — its algorithm knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. On Google Search, success is as much a part of the story as scandals and other snafus.

For starters, you should Google yourself and see what shows up. To enhance your online reputation, your goal should be to create content on your own website and for your social media networks (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) that shows the world what you’re all about. When done thoughtfully, content creation is the best way to explain who you are, what you care about and why you do what you do.

Despite what you may think, people are checking you out online. You don’t have to be a celebrity for people to Google your name. So make sure to show up in the most authentic and meaningful way.

Stories about you in the news media carry tremendous credibility. Leveraging them is one of the most effective ways to enhance your online reputation. That’s why I have devoted my life to helping clients secure positive media coverage, from their local newspaper to The Wall Street Journal or The Today Show on NBC. Despite mounting criticism of the mainstream media, there is still a great deal of value in news stories that are produced by thoughtful, ethical journalists. Google certainly recognizes that value.

But Google is not the be-all and end-all. Showing up on Google Search is important, but you must also show up in person. Your authentic self becomes readily apparent at social functions, networking events or even that daily stroll down the street.

As the famous saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” In other words, you want people to come away with a positive memory after meeting you. That’s why I try to honor each person I meet by giving them a smile and saying something nice whenever possible. Whether you’re talking to the Queen of England or the janitor in your apartment building, it’s important — and, of course, just plain decent of you — to honor each person you encounter, and not to dismiss someone whom you perceive to be “beneath” you.

When you encounter others, think about your personal brand. How you are perceived — online and in person — is your brand! I personally like to be thought of as cheerful and enthusiastic, so even the color of my brand (orange) represents cheer and enthusiasm. Surrounding yourself with the right people obviously reinforces your brand, but so can material things, such as colors. Black and gray, in my personal opinion, come across as dark and gloomy, while orange and other bright colors leave more favorable impressions.

Another way to conceptualize your personal brand is to understand your superpower. We all have one, if not more. Mine is helping people make connections. For you, it might be adding lines of data, cleaning homes or playing a sport.

How do you determine your superpower? Pay attention to what fulfills you. Ask yourself: What would I do even if I wasn’t paid to do it? For me, it’s networking.

But even if you’re introverted, you can take advantage of social situations. My mom always said that you just have to ask others about themselves, and then listen to what they have to say. Really listen. People will grow to love you if you hear them out, acknowledging them as individuals. In my mind, that motherly lesson is the key to success in business, and perhaps even life itself: Grow bigger ears and a smaller mouth. It’s always been hard for me to do since I love to talk, but I learned from my wise mom that listening and remembering details about other people’s lives really makes a difference in the long run.

Make her advice part of your personal brand. If Google, like Santa, knows naughty or nice, then the people around you certainly do. The Golden Rule is gold for a reason: Treat people like you want to be treated, and your brand will blossom.

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in January 2019.