Nowadays, there are only two kinds of people: those who are eager to teach personal branding, and those who are eager to learn. We’re knee-deep in how-to’s which unanimously tout personal branding as a “must,” a “should,” a no-brainer. Curiously, the practice has escaped any kind of scrutiny.
Of course, this is the natural byproduct of professional worlds colliding with personal spheres. I don’t deny that it's happening, but I do resist it, especially when it comes to social media. (Fun fact: I met my husband on Facebook, so it's played a powerful role in my personal life.) But online platforms will only change based on how individual users are willing to engage with them. And I'm not willing to become a slave to the "product of me." Why not?
People don’t have a problem with being packaged, polished, and commodified, and that’s a problem. There is no way to convey a personality through a personal brand. Though personality is supposed to be “part” of a personal brand, it necessarily becomes simplified, airbrushed, and over-analyzed so that you "come across the right way." Much like a resume. But I'm not willing to become my resume.
With Whom Does the Control Really Lie?
Personal branding experts urge you to “Take control of your image.” They contend that flooding the web with calculated material about yourself gives you the reins to drive your identity wherever you please. But if we are pressured to promote avatar versions of ourselves … if we feel we can only frequent industry-specific blogs … if we think our personal blog can only be attached to the career we’ve chosen (so long, photo-blog devoted to trees that look like they have faces)... doesn’t the control lie elsewhere – with the audience?
When social media is redefined as a networking platform, the content I post becomes dictated by a narrow idea of what is valuable to like-minded strangers or headhunters (or whoever we’re supposed to be afraid is Googling us). The result is that my thoughts start dressing in business casual. There go the spontaneous conversations and comments that give social media its appeal. Not offensive comments, mind you -- but silly ones, fun ones, lively ones -- directed at far-flung friends and relatives. This is where I socialize, so I bristle at the notion of hiding the less professional parts of my personality. Of course, it would be naïve to have a no-holds-barred approach to posting contentious content online. We've all heard the ubiquitous advice on removing those college drinking photos ... and that is actually good advice. I'm simply asking for a reasonable amount of freedom to be Kinzy, not one-dimensional Kinzy-the-Writer. And that we shouldn't be "punished" (ignored by employers) for being ourselves in our own social circles.
The Motivation to Create a Personal Brand Is Superficial
Personal branding step number one: “Become an expert on something.” The motivation here is backwards. Genuine interest should lead to exploration and learning. Later on, that’s bound to blossom into expertise, which can then be used for profit. Yet it often seems like a superficial journey toward a quota of “likes” or “click-throughs.”
Personal branding experts also urge you to “avoid establishing an expertise that's irrelevant to your mission, goals, and vision. You’ll just be wasting your time.” Wasting my time establishing expertise? I thought a continuous accumulation of hobbies, interests, and expertise was what made life interesting. Why would I hide that from the online world?
The Marketing Effort Is Disproportionate to the Quality of the Product
Tellingly, there's no shortage of advice on how to market that expertise, once you have it. In fact, it seems as though people are paying more attention to the marketing strategy than the “product” itself. And if you're spending more time grooming your personal website (marketing) than you are actually investing in knowledge or skills (the product), that's a bad sign. It’s important to ask, "What is the goal here?" Visibility is not a good enough answer.
My Interests Are Varied, Not Streamlined
Personal branding experts urge you to “Identify two or three personality traits that make you unique, and you’ve identified the ‘personal’ part of your personal brand.” This version of identity is unreasonably limiting, as I suspect most people have more than two personality traits or hobbies that make them unique. I know for a fact that I appear “inconsistent” out there in Googlespace; for a long time when anyone Googled me, they’d see my name immortalized as a third-place finisher in a hometown race. I hardly ever run. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a multifaceted person.
Take this typical Facebook status update of mine: “Heard an owl in the backyard! ... sounded oddly fake, like my grandma's bird clock at midnight.” While it's well-liked by my nerdy, bird-y friends, that kind of post would be indefensible in the eyes of personal branding advocates. I imagine they’d urge me to re-think what it says about me as a person. Unless I’m the director of a nature center, owls are highly irrelevant. But what I say to my friends has never been all that relevant to employers. Why should it be?
Strategy and Klout and Scores. Oh My.
Personal branding experts say, “The most important thing to remember is being tenacious. Your social media brand will be only as relevant as the last time your posted – so post often.” For a personal social media account, how are click-throughs a matter of serious concern? Doesn’t the quality matter more than the quantity? How, then, does a Klout score measure anything worthwhile? If I post memes all day long and my nerdy friends like them all day long, that could mean 1) my friends are heavier-than-average users of social media, 2) my friends are easily wowed, 3) my friends want to make me feel good, 4) my friends enjoy the same kind of humor as I do, or 5) I can craft a punchy sentence. That’s pretty much it.
I imagine most people know how to craft Facebook status posts that “generate a high return" in terms of likes and comments. But the very language I’m using here – likening posts to financial investment – reveals how off-track these attitudes are. I would never use these numbers to measure my professional self-worth or relevancy in my sphere (writing, editing, publishing) – even if I post about these topics. It makes sense that some of my posts would be book- or grammar-related. But I don’t view this material as a deeper reflection of my influence as a writer. That I reserve for my writing itself.
Private Endeavors Are Still Legitimate
A recent Sprint commercial asserted on behalf of the American public, “I need to upload all of me.” We are constantly bombarded by a sense that everything that lives off the grid isn’t legitimate. As it turns out, this is a fundamental problem for perfectionists. At least in my case, I don’t want to uncover my long-term writing projects until they are ready. In the climate of 24/7 media consumption, however, people vote for speed rather than quality. They’d rather I “just get it out there” already. But if I achieve visibility with a rough draft, how does that help me in the long run? The best endeavors take time to marinate. I don't want to spew self-promotion or pretend to be an expert. Instead, I work on my skills privately and share criticism with fellow writers privately, too.
And hey, I think that's legitimate.