Personal branding and brand management aren’t the peaches and cream they may first appear to be. Climbing the corporate ladder is a challenge. But so is an attempt at entering the social and digital media fast lane. This is because building a brand for yourself online requires you to expose yourself in ways that may not always work in your favour.
There is a lot at stake: your reputation, appearance, your social capital, perceived estimations of relevance, self-marketing, and how all of this affects your sense of self worth. Not to mention how we’re always being told that ‘Big Brother’ is watching – in the form of fellow professionals, prospective employers and business liaisons.
Noah Berlatsky of Quartz Media writes about the obsessive nature of personal branding. He claims that it may just negatively affect the future of work.
We’ve already seen how the world of the web has opened up spaces for internet users to create, share, explore, express and experiment outside of what they are used to. But this is a tricky and risky little navigation that does not guarantee success or longevity. Especially when it comes to careers, and the humdrum of the job-seeking process.
Unemployment rates show a dim picture, especially in developing countries. The digital divide is only getting wider. This has resulted in young people having to try new and exciting ways of entering the job market.
Social media has provided another avenue for unconventional ways to seek work. Yet more and more we’re being warned that it depends on how you can ‘package’ yourself to and for the average employer.
Berlatsky quells a bit of the hype that has been created around personal branding. He writes that branding “doesn’t help people get jobs. But it does make us more accepting of an increasingly dehumanised job market that treats workers as products rather than people”.
Sounds pretty harsh! But these words do have some truth in them. Berlatsky uses Ilana Gershon’s book, Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (Or Don’t Find) Work Today, as a reference for research.
From Gershon’s work, Berlatsky concludes that the main advantage of a personal brand is making people feel like they have control over their working lives in what is a hostile new job landscape.
Berlatsky’s views go against what I have been learning is a gains-friendly way of elevating one’s visibility and social currency online. It’s a bit conflicting to think that the very thing that enhances exposure and reach, is also part of a cut-throat contemporary industry where ‘product’ is valued over the actual person.
The Recruiter writes that the more successful job seeker is one that is original, creative, honest, relevant, consistent and passionate. But how does this translate into being valued online if everyone is trying to build a brand? How many original, creative, honest, relevant and consistent brands can there really be out there?
It doesn’t seem fair that one-of-a-kind ‘packages’ of experience are expected yet “workplaces are demanding more time and offering fewer protections and stability”.
For Berlatsky, the main issue is the imbalanced and exploitative nature of the relationship between employer and employee. He sees the danger of personal branding as the hand that forces people to become their own “individual businesses”.
With that kind of perspective, Gershon might just be introducing a new and less glamorous side of personal branding. “It’s a way to reconcile oneself to an economy that provides less and less security”.
To be and have your own personal brand means being ‘at work’ or being ‘on the job’ all the time, anywhere. Depending on what you’re actually ‘selling’ – of your skills, experience, relevance and influence – you have to accept that you can’t exactly do or say as you please.
Think of Twitter and Facebook controversies, of people getting into trouble over the things they say in their personal capacity. There’s also Instagram and the can of worms it may open when someone is being seen to live in a way that is even slightly contradictory to what their professional personas usually suggest.
Where is the line supposed to be drawn? Who is responsible for what? Is there a bit of selling-out or a moral dilemma in personal branding?
I don’t actually have the answers. I’m genuinely asking because I’m also trying to find out if personal brands are worth all of the time, energy, money and risk it takes to establish them.
Gershon says “instead of thinking about people as property or businesses, we could think of people as craftsman. And that way, people in the same kind of work could see themselves as facing the same structural issues.” Berlatsky adds to this by prompting a move towards “group organizing, rather than self-packaging”.
While Gershon and Berlatsky are a little more pessimistic about brands, I still see the usefulness behind them. As long as personal brand builders remain self-aware and flexible enough to be able to switch gears when things aren’t quite working out so well.
*Feature Image sourced from: https://www.inc.com