So what is "personal branding?" Simply put, personal branding is the act of identifying, positioning and promoting one's self. In short, why you?
The earliest worthy acknowledgement of this concept dates back nearly half a century ago. In the 1950s, scientific studies were beginning to find that in order to reinforce and express a conceptualization of the self, individuals often use signs, symbols, possessions, products, and brands. With this support, it was therefore postulated that in order to create a positive image of one’s self, individuals cautiously select and provide information relying upon others’ feedback. While mere common sense now, it was renowned sociologist Erving Goffman who in 1959 coined the term "self-presentation" as the act of “conveying an impression to others, which it is in his interests to convey."
Famously, Goffman proposed that social interactions are just like performances, where individuals manage the impression that observers have of them. Primarily motivated by the acquisition of approval and avoidance of disapproval, the goal of self-presentation is to compel others to accept the features that one claims for themselves, obtain a specific outcome, and evoke a favorable evaluation. Self-presentation is not only a critical factor in everyday life and a key to relationship formation and development, but is also salient in every single imaginable interpersonal encounter.
It wasn't until 1997 that Tom Peters, the author of "A Brand Called You", popularized the concept of personal branding and applied it to business as a mere creative twist on Goffman's earlier self-presentation work. Published in Fast Company, little did Peters know that he was arguing for the establishment of "personal branding" as a legitimate topic that would later be respected and called upon time and time again
Peters wrote, “It’s time for me — and you — to take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that’s true for anyone who’s interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work. Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You."
Fast forward a couple decades, and with the proliferation of digital channels, platforms and content, the ability to develop and promote one’s personal brand has become as equally challenging as rewarding when implemented successfully. In the face of nearly infinite marketing potential thanks to digital technology today, a theory spells out, “Brands are becoming more like people, and people are becoming more like brands." Just as it has been scientifically supported that self-presentation exists in every social interaction, the same scientific support has been found for every online social encounter. This simply means that self-presentation occurs anytime when we log into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn or email today. We are always branding.
According to Google Trends Data, the concept, interest and practice of personal branding has hit its all-time peak. A public web facility of Google based upon Search, Trends show how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages.
With personal branding today, there are three widely held misconceptions. The first is, if I don't like the concept of this, I don't have to participate. This is unfortunately not the case. When one cites, they “don’t want a personal brand”, that in itself contributes an image in which one would prefer others to have of them. By definition, this is contributing to Goffman's work on "self-presentation." Today, everyone is a brand, like it or not. We can buy into the concept or not, but that participation or lack thereof implicitly builds upon that image we so desire.
The second misconception is that self-promotion is personal branding. Here lays the difference between personal branding and personal advertising. Imagine the billboard on the side of the road or banner ad own your favorite site. Advertising is only effective when there is prominent branding to back it up. Our focus here is to develop a brand, not to annoyingly advertise. Granted, the two go hand in hand, but we can only advertise when there is an image constructed one desires to display. A Nike ad only words when we considered the vast history, virtues, mission and alignments the brand has developed over the years. This is what we're after.
The third misconception revolves around saying vs doing. As it was previously mentioned, it's not just what we say, but how we say it. Personal branding is not necessarily about crafting an effective story, but rather about crafting a more effective way to present one’s story. Granted, this is not just about appearance. Superficialism can only take an individual so far. There’s in fact a combination of content and display, but it’s the importance of presentation that is so often overlooked. The idea of personal branding isn’t about sharing an almighty, exaggerated story, but about telling your story with differentiated style. Your brand isn’t just your story, but the style in which you tell it. So, what’s your style?
The fourth and final misconception is in regards to the actual process of personal branding. Many believe the practice is all about what one shares. However, it's not just what we share, but what we don't share. Privacy, security and anonymity is just as much apart of personal branding as the materials in which one creates to put on display. In an over-sharing culture we have become accustomed with telling all, however this mindset has detrimental consequences. It's only when we become most comfortable with sharing that we let our guard down and let something slip which will ruin prospects. One can build the most impressive professional persona only for it to be ruined by a single Tweet.
Since the popularization of our social platforms today, it has often been over-postulated that we've constructed "virtual worlds" where we merely live and socialize online. However, this is not the case. These "worlds" are as real and physical as they can get. Posting online tangibly affects our lives away from the keyboard, and our experiences away from the keyboard simultaneously affect what we share online. Our on and off-line lives have become synonymous, and because our online profiles never go to sleep, "being offline" has become an absolute impossibility. We're now always engaging in self-presentation online, 24-7-365, every single waking second.
While we already brand ourselves everyday away from the keyboard via behaviors like how we dress, speak and walk, online, this is a much more intricate and delicate process. The internet and digital technology has granted us the profound ability to create our identity in ways that are incomparable to those away from the keyboard. Removing unflattering perspectives of ourselves live, in-person is unfathomable. However, this is commonplace online. Digital technologies have granted us freedoms, but often these freedoms can become detrimental when not acknowledged appropriately.
We've implicitly standardized our online social behaviors to adhere to the conventions of excessive self-presentation. Whether they are current connections or potential connections, our online identity has the capacity to reach the world with absolutely zero geographical or time restrictions. This opens the playing field to all. So that said, why you? Much like any brand, you too must ask, what is it about you that makes your name stand out as the clear choice amongst the competition? There are roughly over three billion people online, making you one in a growing 3,000,000,000. What are you doing to make sure you’re more than just a number and that your personal branding is working in your favor?