As someone who needs to be in control of literally her entire existence, I’m tempted to say I worship the idea of personal branding. On social media, I get to control how people interpret my happiness and my sense of humor. In person, it’s harder but essentially works the same way. I control how people interpret my happiness and my sense of humor through my actions.
But – Jessica – doesn’t that seem, kind of, you know? Fake?
And to that I would say it certainly seems that way. That’s the bad news. A lot of people perceive the idea of personal branding as superficial and disingenuous. But the definition of personal brand, according to the ultra-reputable source Wikipedia, “…is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the minds of others” about yourself. It’s marketing yourself as a brand.
The good news is that nowhere in the definition of personal branding doesn’t say that it’s a way to make yourself look better. Or a way to act like you’re someone you’re not. Basically, personal branding takes the essence of who you already are and makes it the first thing you present to the world. We all have something we want to be remembered for, and personal branding highlights that.
Plus, we need to remember the consequences of branding ourselves online - or the lack thereof. When you apply for a job, most hiring managers look to Google first. In fact, 65 percent of all Internet users see Internet searches as the most trusted source to gain information about any given person - whether it be a potential employee or a new face. As someone who uses the Internet, I can attest to the fact that a majority of my friends (including myself) will hear a new name and then immediately search it on Instagram, or Facebook, or Google, or even LinkedIn. A future employee could hear your name and do just the same.
Social media, I think, is the culprit of the ideology that personal branding is superficial. It’s easy to only show the good parts of your life on social media: your accomplishments, your best hair days and all the fun you had at that actually kind of boring event you went to the other day. It’s a contrived perspective on the life you wish you were living, and I’m guilty, too. But because our future employers are watching over our social media shoulders, the pressure to look perfect online is something we all give into at one point or another.
Personal branding, in a way, helps to make a good first impression. It's the new "you have to dress professionally for you interview because you make the most impression in the first .3 seconds after you walk in." With online presences becoming stronger with every technological advancement, anyone can develop an impression of you before you even meet them face-to-face. This, in part, is why people feel so much pressure to make themselves look better than everyone else (actual superficial personal branding) and forget that personal branding is really just about putting you best Internet foot forward.
In terms of social media, I think a good way around superficial posting is posting about things you actually enjoy. Capture the genuine emotions in your life. An Instagram photo of the time you spent with your family is still a real-life thing that happened to you and made you happy. That’s not contrived. That’s showing the moments that make you who you are.
Personal branding isn’t about being fake so that people like you more – it’s about being fully and unapologetically the best you that you can be, and presenting that to the world. Because that’s who you are and that’s what the world should see.