Personal Branding

There’s a hyper focus on personal branding, and it’s become especially present on social media sites such as LinkedIn. Career coaches and “experts” tell us left and right that we need to make ourselves into brands. Through this process, we dehumanize our complexities and condense ourselves into masked individuals seeking a clearly-spun outcome.

I expect that personal branding is a thing of the times of social media, and that people will stop cornering themselves in like this once the needs for privacy, authenticity, and interpersonal transparency overcome the need for public showmanship and calculated exposure. In long-winded cases of personal branding, I see many factors that unify the act of personal branding. While individuals try to differentiate themselves to the point of creating their public and online lives as a spectacle, they render themselves undeniably within a specific category of people who seek outer acknowledgement as an entity.

In personal branding, individuals use their names and a carefully manipulated version of who/what they want the public to see. Through this, they build a following based on specific notes that they want to accentuate, leaving out anything they would rather not be part of their personal brand. The thing is, people are not brands. They can advertise themselves under the guise of brands, but in doing so, they limit the range of reach they have. All too often, we see that people remain fixed on singular tones. People are not brands because people are not salable. However, we currently live in a society wherein their talents, endeavors, outputs, and abilities are.

mountains photo by samsommer

The issue is that people aren’t able to distinguish their names on a social media website like LinkedIn, with the person that they are off of it. In this, I mean that people who are very active on social media seem to make a false, and internalized connection between their interactions on there with their in-person interactions. They get offended when others do not abide by their internalized protocols. Social media is dissociative and altogether dependent on arbitrary connections, assumed or blatant tactics of false resourcefulness, and heightening of self importance. With the invention and propagation of the personal brand as it is currently, people come to create more fractions in their already muddled identities. This is especially pertinent as conversations about mental illness, health, ethnicity, and more open up and we liberate some of the deeply engrained, malicious ideas we have held onto for so long.

In personal branding, individuals attempt to sum up the most succinct, regulated, and neutrally-provocative version of what they think will appeal to others.

By this I mean that people adopt a foreign sense of themselves within the terms of what is deemed socially acceptable for their circumstance. Those actively looking for positions at a company turn their personal brands into a tale of unwavering loyalty, displayed results, and minimized self-expression. They pawn themselves off as salable figures to already established cultures and environments that may not be conducive to the individual’s real goals and persona. But through personal branding, the brand trumps the persona. The brand rules and holds the reigns. It does so even if it misrepresents the actual person behind the brand. This incongruence between the two hosts an altogether different set of implications that are not thoroughly discussed here but are worth consideration.

Personal branding is focused on singular aspects, without so much allowing for the intellectual and evolutionary human-level practice of change and alteration. We cast ourselves the roles in this society that we want to play, and we do so by branding our appearances. And these appearances hold presence on social media. The personal branding narrative is fraught with the idea that we need to make ourselves outwardly appealing to an audience. This in turn continues to diminish the growths we have claimed in our society through individual expression and the journey of growth. We have come so far as to tell children that they do not need to worry whether or not others like them, while hopping onto Facebook for a quick rush of approval.

Personal branding has turned us into stale mock-ups that are designed, groomed, and maintained under particular pretense.

Attempting to meld some personality attributes (“hey girlies”,  “Mountain Dew addict”) into personal branding also comes off as sheepishly inhuman or outlandishly irrelevant. Displaying normalized “quirks” on a professional platform is one of the trademarks of personal branding. Another avenue of personal branding is claiming and aiming to satiate a niche group. Blog and news outlets regularly advise that those seeking to make an impact or begin a business must find their niche. This principle lies in antiquated ideas of callings and remaining at your station. We are told to become experts in a singular arena of our choosing, and to ensure that there is a market there for the information we are going to formulate to sell.

mountains photo by Nathan Dumlao

The outcome of so much personal branding is the selling of impotent information. We buy information from personal brands, believing that there is something proprietary, easier, faster, and more effective about the content. But the information we buy often holds little to no more power and pertinence than that which we could have obtained through purchasing a book or doing some independent research.

We are being sold on the idea of personal branding, when many of the existing personal brands take advantage of their sales formulation to repackage otherwise free, cheap, or easily gotten information.

Personal branding is an unfortunate ideology that is clinging on through the turmoils of our existences on social media. We had better come to terms fast with the fact – we are not our social media selves. That self is no closer to our true selves than if we were to make a bobble head figurine in our likeness. Perhaps the reason why personal branding has gotten so popular is the social power that individuals harness through these means. Some people find it rather lucrative to sell the idea of their online selves – oiled, toned, and trim on the beach sells a workout DVD.

Others take too personally the online happenings, getting high off likes and comments. The attention feels good. They claim expertise at the slightest indication that someone has benefitted from something they have posted. Still others claims that their lives have changed as a result of a single post, video, or song. If this is true and that incident has indeed changed their lives, they see it not as part of a series of catalysts that have lead them to make change, but as an isolated moment of reason or encouragement.

We need to begin to see personal branding as a function of hiding. We have come to believe over the past few years that we are safe if we are behind a company, title, monetary worth, or other. And with personal branding, we feel safe behind an outer-facing persona. All criticisms are funneled through this entity, and in this, we can dissociate the criticism from reaching our core selves. Instead, we can calculatedly reposition our personal branding to accommodate for the inadequacies that are proposed by our audiences. We can say that others do not indeed know what we are really like, and the wall of branding can serve as an easy barrier mitigating the  slights of the outside world versus our vulnerabilities.