Do We Really Need Personal Brands?

Perfect Personal Brand - The Anti-Social MediaWith the addition of Google+ to my daily social media torture-fest, I’ve been wondering why I actually need a personal brand across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and my blog. Don’t I have better things to do with my time?

What is a personal brand actually doing for me?

From what I can tell, the only thing a personal brand does is set expectations of what people can hope to get out of me online. While that is useful for people who are trying to sponge and leech information from me, for everyone else, I just don’t see the value anymore.

The last time I looked at anything to do with personal branding, some chump was trying to sell me tips on things I could do to brand myself better. As if being an award winning blogging asshole wasn’t enough, I’ve already written the most comprehensive list ever on personal branding. I don’t need to pay money to find out I need to pay more money to build a shrine to myself online with glossy head shots and a slick WordPress theme.

What is personal branding doing for you?

Personal branding is great when you’re trying to promote yourself as a job candidate or some other venture that deals all about you, but why else do we need it? Do we want people to stalk us? Do we have to be the exact same person everywhere? Is there no room for experimenting with your personality, or showcasing different aspects of yourself online?

The biggest downside I can see to using multiple sides of your personality in different places would be keeping up multiple “performances” of identity. But at the same time, we’re all human. We present different aspects of ourselves to other people all day, every day of our lives. The difference on the internet is that it is permanent and will last forever.

So, with that in mind, we create an identity built upon two or three of the best aspects of ourselves. We focus on our careers because we want to be known as good worker bees. We show off ourselves as parents so we can look like good people.  And we highlight one or two hobbies so we can look well-rounded and interesting. The personal brand then becomes stripped of the personality that make it personal to begin with. All the while, we focus on building the identity, rather than building ourselves in the three categories we try to show off.

So what is your personal brand actually doing for you, if anything? The benefits aren’t for you at all. They’re for every other person on the internet who wants to stalk you and every person with the same name as you.  They categorize you in a way that forgoes your humanity for a few interesting tidbits and features that sound good.

The brand puts you in a box that you can’t escape. Is that limited persona what you want people to know about you online?

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14 Responses to “Do We Really Need Personal Brands?”

  1. Shannon Mølhave August 8, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Interesting post, and I see your point. Between all the social networks I definitely show varying degrees of my personality, such as posting anything political to FB rather than Twitter. But I have found my personal brand (LeftyDesigner) has help me branch out in my local community network and when I travel to web design conferences and workshops. For someone who’s inherently introverted, like myself, it’s a good icebreaker for people to already have an idea of my interests and the field topics I pursue.

    • Jay August 8, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

      Most people just approach me (or run as far away as possible) because I am so loud. But I can see why it would help an introvert like yourself.

      I’m curious, do you consider what they know part of your personal brand, or just being you?

      • Shannon Mølhave August 8, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

        Good question. I consider them to know a bit of who I am since I’m not fake or put up any front in my Twitter postings, I just post things I find interesting, funny or both. It’s me being me, but more of my professional personality than how I act around friends and family. Anyone can read my Twitter posts, whereas my Facebook postings are not public. I like to “pleasantly surprise” people with those other facets when they meet me in person. ;-)

  2. a person, not a brand August 8, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    I hate the idea of having to have a personal brand. I get the concept, you yourself as a product and you need to have your core value proposition to your target audience, but I still don’t like it. I don’t like the idea that we live in a society that EVERYTHING including yourself needs to be productized and marketed as such. I don’t like that you have to force yourself into being a brand that is a prettier, shinier version of yourself.

    Since a few years ago as people really started to become brand managers of themselves, it became the expectation, (especially in marketing) that you have a well manicured personal brand complete with logo, iconography, website to get a job and if you didn’t, you looked unprofessional, out of touch or not motivated. Today, having a personal brand is no longer a differentiator, but rather a requirement.

    And yes, I have drunk the Kool-aid, but I also want a job and that’s what it takes to stay competitive, however that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

    • Jay August 8, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

      I hate it too. Why does the ability to pull together a crappy website with a logo your brother-in-law with a copy of InDesign matter to a job where you will never have to write code or draw a logo?

  3. Lance Haun August 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Let’s restate this: is having a good reputation necessary? It is certainly very helpful. Of course, the idea of having a good reputation isn’t new so marketers had to remake reputation as “personal branding.” Only it isn’t just reputation they say, it is so much more!

    And the “so much more” part is where it breaks down to me. Does that “so much more” deliver anything (especially to the people who want to hire you or use your services)? It may help them identify you but that’s about it. In the scheme of actually keeping a job or long term client, how does personal branding help?

    • Jay August 8, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

      Good questions, and I appreciate your perspective on this. But does one build a reputation through cheap branding tactics across social networks, or through one’s actual work? And how does that actually help your clients is right. Many of my clients have read my blog, but they know that I’ completely different in person and outside of this space.

  4. Ashley Sue Bullers @AshleySue August 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I completely get it. As my old boss used to say over and over, “You are ALWAYS selling something. And selling yourself.” She’s right.

    Nonetheless, so are you. What is up with the flat persona we self-impose with a personal brand? Be authentic and who you are, set your boundaries for what you will not share publicly, stick to that, and presto - that’s your “brand” as the true you, right?

    One time, I had a guy on Twitter ask me, “So what’s the deal with you? Your tweets are all over the place - you don’t tweet about any one subject in particular.”

    - Uh, duh? I am not a bot, I am not a droid with tunnel vision in one subject, and I AM a human with a LOT of different interests and concerns. why would I NOT tweet about all of that?

    Thanks for saying something I’ve been thinking for months now!

    • Jay August 8, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

      But can we really be authentic with a personal brand? No matter what we do online, write, podcast, or pictures or video, we have the ability to edit and re-compose our content until it fits the persona we want it to.

      Good thing we’re human and slip up from time to time. ;-)

  5. Claire Wagner August 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Anybody in corporate marketing will tell you that branding is much more than a logo — and for them, it has to be. Corporate branding is about trying to establish a personality for a company, along with a visual system for easy recognition of that personality (logo, tagline, typefaces and other design elements, etc.). People already come with personalities. Ergo, we don’t need a whole lot of “branding” unless we are trying to act differently than we are. But since I’m not, my brand is pretty much reduced to a business name, WagnerWrites, and a logo, both of which I really like and relate well to my profession, freelance writing. I’m just trying to put that name and logo everywhere on the web that makes sense for my business and my limited time. 80% of life-and business-is showing up.

    • Jay August 8, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

      I agree - my “brand” here deals with how I write, the cartoons I draw, the fonts I chose. It’s all a part of my song and dance.

      I’m only as much of an asshole on here as I am in real life. ;-)

  6. Phil Buckley August 9, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    I think the phrase “personal brand” can be used as a pejorative by people who don’t see the bigger question. In my view it’s a long-term view of yourself and where you want to go.

    If you can get past the term and just view your current life and your future life as points along a line, caring for and cultivating your personal brand is the only logical thing to do. People do not get to where they’re going without a vision, effort and some breaks along the way.

    I’ll use myself as an example. I was a marginal web developer working in a dying industry. I was reading a lot of books that were stoking the fires within to make both internal and external change. I started blogging. I started connecting with new people. I made a conscious decision to expand my network so that I could attain what Chris Brogan brilliantly termed “escape velocity”.

    One night I wrote Chris a long email talking about my internal struggle. He responded with his own long email that I have since forgotten most of, but one part has always stayed with me. He talked about how we can all get pigeon holed where we are and sometimes the only way to really move on is to leave. It rang true to me because it made me recall how I could reinvent myself when I went from a small middle school to a large regional high school and again when I went to college, and then after I flunked out, when I went to another small college, and finally when I went to a college in Boston where nobody knew me at all.

    When I think of how the Jay Dolan brand has changed over the last few years it is a beautiful thing. From a disgruntled, under-appreciated clerk to a highly sought after social media thought leader. That doesn’t mean you have changed on the inside, although I’m sure you have. What it means is that you have decided that it makes sense to take some control of how you are perceived in an increasingly small, global world.

    When I think of my personal brand today, it’s much better than it was 5 years ago. Is that because I’m a much better person than I was 5 years ago or because I have expended some effort to make sure that I treat my reputation as any intelligent adult would?

    If we change the word “personal brand” to “reputation” in the post, how would anyone answer no to, “Do we really need to worry about our reputation?”

  7. Rimu August 12, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    This is the first time I have encountered the idea of a personal brand. The concept disgusts me on a a very deep level.

  8. Chris Ferdinandi August 16, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The best way to build a personal brand is to do stuff worth talking about.

    Make something cool. Help others do the same.

    Being an armchair philosopher (a la your blog, Twitter, etc.) is a waste of time if you’re not talking about stuff you’ve actually done and/or helping others solve their problems.

    You don’t need to be on every social media site. I think the ones that require you to join to see others’ stuff are the weakest for “branding” yourself. Anyone can read a blog. Not everyone can read your Facebook status update.

    I deleted my Google+ account last week. I don’t need another social network distracting me from doing things that actually matter.

    - Chris

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