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Craft an online persona that’s personable and professional

These days, your virtual persona is arguably as important as your physical one and, in many cases, it’s your online personality that you’ll be judged on. Whether you work on a remote team, freelance, have a side hustle, or simply call customer service for help with an online purchase, chances are you’re regularly interacting with people you’ll never meet IRL. These interactions will be impacted by your photo, handle, out of office message, and the words you choose.

One of my couple-friends met on MySpace, and he still calls his partner by her handle, as a nickname. It’s adorable, but it’s also “real”—it’s part of their relationship and how he came to know her. As the digital and physical world continue to meld, it’s important to curate and craft an online personality that can do double duty: Is it friendly? Will it impress employers and colleagues, or ensure that your digital interactions go as smoothly as your IRL interactions?

Taking small steps to use creative language, emojis, and focusing on design can go a long way toward telling someone you’ll never meet in person a little about who you are.

The OOO message

One of my favorite ways to add personality to my online persona is something I learned from an editor, who always adds a spark of creativity and personality to her autoresponder with quirky quips and personal details that create an image of where she is or what she’s doing. No one likes to receive an out of office message when they need something from you, so the least you can do is craft an OOO message that is surprising and adds value. If you need inspiration, there are some really funny examples out in the blogosphere. Here are a few tips for crafting your own:

You do you. The message may be automated, but you are human. We humans are creative, weird, grammatically playful, and downright funny, so whichever of these things you are, use that voice in your OOO.

One of the easiest ways to make your OOO human and relatable is to tell people why you’re away from your desk. Some office cultures in the U.S. shame us for taking time off, but we all do it. It’s okay to let people know you’re attending your niece's college graduation or sunning in Bermuda. It’ll give them something to ask you about the next time you speak.

It's okay to let people know you're attending your niece's college graduation or sunning in Bermuda. It'll give them something to ask you about the next time you speak.

Create surprise. Adding a twist is the best storytelling technique for creating surprise. Instead of writing an OOO that says you’re at a conference, let your colleagues know what you’ll be learning and how you’ll be improving your skills. For example, when I attended a conference last year for freelancers, my OOO explained that I was honing my writing and brand management skills to become a better contractor, while also trying not to freeze in a typically over-cooled conference room. By making your OOO something worth reading, you’ll mitigate their disappointment at not being able to reach you. If you need some inspiration, there are templates you can use. Another way to “surprise and delight” is to throw in a GIF, or emojis, a link to a favorite article or something interesting you recently read. Or even just a picture of an adorable baby animal.

Include something useful. What’s the goal of an OOO? To tell someone trying to reach you that you’re not available. Ugh. So, don’t forget to let your colleagues know who can help them in your absence. Or, if you’re available but just won’t have access to email, give people the option to call, text or send a message on Slack, for a quick response. Just be specific about where and when you’ll actually respond.

Your email signature

What does every email include? A greeting, a sign-off, and your signature. Each of these elements can work to give the reader a clue to your personality. You might have a favorite greeting or personal sign-off, so don’t be afraid to use it. Here are some things to think about:

Find your one-liner. No, I don’t mean an inspirational quote. Gandhi has said a lot of great things, but I want to know what you have to say. Also, consider how annoying it is to read the same quotation every. single. time. you email someone.

Think of your one-liner as your “call to action.” That’s a CTA in marketing speak. If you’re a creative, include a link to your latest article, photos, or to your portfolio. If you work for a company, add a link to a recent social post or another piece of content someone might find useful.

KISS—keep it simple, stupid. According to a ReturnPath study, over 55 percent of business emails between May 2016 and April 2017 were opened on a mobile device. Make your email signature too complicated or cumbersome and it will be hard to read and respond to.

If you’re going to use an email signature that includes an image, make sure it’s embedded and optimized for mobile so that it doesn’t appear as an attachment. When including links, be sure you’re directing people to a link that will actually be useful. Just because you have a Twitter account doesn’t mean you need to include it in your email signature, especially if you’re not active on Twitter. . And even better than a social link? A clickable icon.

Don’t let “Sent from my iPhone” be your one-liner. Many emails are sent from mobile devices, too. I’m not a fan of letting business contacts know when I’m not at my computer, so I choose not to include a “Sent from my phone” sign off. But if you do, perhaps as a way to denote a shorter message, or when you might be in a rush, make it creative. Research shows that letting people know you’re on your phone makes them more sympathetic to typos and grammar errors, so it’s up to you.

Don’t include your email address. Okay, I hate that I have to say this, but I see it all the time. Seriously, if you’ve had an email exchange with someone, they know your email address. All they have to do is hit Reply.

Your LinkedIn profile

When you meet someone for the first time, they intuit ideas about your personality from your clothes, how you shake their hand, your accent, and whether or not you smile. We don’t have this opportunity online. The digital space can be equalizing, as gender and skin color aren’t always obvious, but grammar, spelling, and sentence structure become more important. Not to mention, most of us write in professional speak—AKA speech that’s too formal and lacks personality.

When it comes to the workplace, personality matters. In a 2012 study of 20,000 job applicants, researchers found that 89 percent of those fired were let go because of personality clashes, not a lack of skills.

In a 2012 study of 20,000 job applicants, researchers found that 89 percent of those fired were let go because of personality clashes, not a lack of skills.

Offer employers some personality on your LinkedIn profile so that they can get to know you before you sit down for an interview. Here’s how:

Tell a story. The summary space on your LinkedIn is the most important element of your profile. Instead of creating a list of your past jobs and education, make it a narrative. Tell potential employers your story, what you’re passionate about, and highlight past successes. Write it the way you speak to make it conversational and readable.

That said, consider length, and the value of white space, for keeping eyes reading down your profile. You should also strike any jargon or buzzword and keyword phrases, as they never sound natural.

Get rid of the boring headshot. Not every industry can get creative with headshots, I get it. (This tip would make my friend who graduated with a law degree from Harvard cringe.) But if you’re looking for a creative position, this is important. Don’t let the lack of a good photographer stop you from taking a shot outdoors, or from adding in humor with props. You should still be recognizable, so no giant sunglasses, but let the photo tell something about your personal life. Do you paint on the side? Take the photo in your studio workspace.

Your bio

Every social profile across the Internet needs a bio, and Your bio should relate you to your work, but it doesn’t have to be too direct and simply list your title.

Relate it to your work. When I tell people I’m a writer, they shrug. When I tell them I’m a banisher of the Lorem Ipsum, they either laugh cause they get the joke or they ask me a question. Either way, I’ve got them hooked.

Word choice matters. When you’ve got a limited number of words, each one counts. Go for the simplest, most accurate word you can you use and don’t try to impress with big words you don’t normally walk around saying. Take your time crafting a bio and test it on friends or family.

Your online persona isn’t a chance to be someone you’re not. Instead, it’s an extension of your IRL personality and a chance to show your human side to those who may never meet you in person. As digital communication becomes the norm, don’t be afraid to inject a little personality into your prose. Use emojis, be creative with industry speak, and share your particular brand of weirdness. I’m a writer and a Texan y’all—as everyone who receives an email from me or reads my bio will certainly know.

Page Grossman became an entrepreneur at 22, knowing that she never wanted to settle down in a cubicle. With a degree in journalism, some money in a savings account, and Millennial-spirit, Page founded her own freelance writing business. Page writes about creating an intentional lifestyle through travel, finances, entrepreneurship, health, fitness, and nutrition. Depending on the day, you can find her writing for various blogs, slaying SEO, researching grammar questions, banishing the Lorem Ipsum, fostering kittens, and traveling the world on Instagram.