By Georgina Scott
In a world where everyone is online, the pandemic has only driven consumers to become more digitally present than ever before. On average, employees have 10 times more followers than their company’s social media accounts and content shared by employees receives eight times more engagement than content shared by brand channels. With that said, now more than ever there is a requirement to become more aware of who we are online and what our profiles say about us, to employers, clients, peers and strangers.
In all honesty, I have generally been against the idea of personal branding. Until a few years ago, I never liked what I thought was its definition: strategising a contrived version of yourself in order to attract, inspire or entertain online audiences. Which to some extent, it is. I felt, in order to apply a personal branding strategy, you lose a sense of authenticity i.e. being your unapologetically true self, without having to overthink what caption to write or whether your post aligns with your pre-identified personal brand values.
I used to hate the concept that says we have to apply a strategy to our online profiles that represent our human persona. In truth the digital and social media world had shifted its identity and moved on, and I had lost sight of why I was online. I thought, goodness only a few years ago social media was where uni mates pulled pranks on each other, sent out house party invites and there were no ads to ruin the user experience by being perpetually sold to. In those days no one seemed to know or care about using their personal profile influence to help achieve business objectives... but of course this was a naïve assumption.
I didn’t think many people could see the cliff edge of self-absorption that as a society we were all about to drive off. But of course, they did. These people are today’s mega influencers and digitally sophisticated entrepreneurs, who rode the early wave of personal branding, before it was a thing, and intelligently navigated towards online stardom. In truth, I came to realise that everyone is at it. We all have personal brands. There is a spectrum on which we all sit, where to at least some degree, we all analyse when and what we post. Some people use filters and editing programs, some save holiday photos for later to post while bored at home. Some give their professional opinion on panels, at events or in TV interviews for national press, and reshare them later to promote their own professional credibility. We all have an in-built management system for handling the content of our online stories, some people are just more sophisticated, business-minded and consistent than others.
I came to learn that whether or not an influencer’s post looks set up or contrived is actually a stupid question, because of course it is. And also, why does that matter? They are capitalising from working with aligned brands and entertaining their audience of followers. It’s how they make a living. I hated to admit it, but I too had overthought posts on my personal accounts before hitting share, only to delete them a few minutes later. I was already subconsciously applying a form of personal branding based on whether or not my ‘audience’ would engage, just without the blue tick or change in income.
Rather than fighting a losing battle in the name of truth and authenticity, I came to accept that everyone online isn’t fully who they are in real life and yes, everyone is a sell-out. If you don’t want to be a sell-out to at least to some degree in today’s digital world, then that would mean deleting everything and having no online presence at all. But as companies hire not on resumes and cover letters but increasingly on info they find online, new challenges would present themselves when looking for a job. If you really committed to no online presence, then you would possibly have to go join a commune on a remote island somewhere with no phone or internet. Even then you’d probably still appear in a Google search. Although this all might sound tempting, it’s basically impossible to avoid appearing online, because from your pre-commune days there would still be some remaining evidence of your past digital existence.
I’m the all or nothing sort, and after a long while of going around in circles with my fear of possibly being inauthentic, I finally began to see the value in spending time on good personal branding. As a professional marketeer, I have to say that personal branding strategy is not a want, it’s a must. And importantly, having a personal branding strategy doesn’t automatically make you inauthentic. For example, one of your key values might be honesty and transparency, where you don’t only share content about the highlights of your world, but on hard days too.
Personal branding strategy and awareness should become part of current education, if it hasn’t already that is. My generation could have done with it in school, but then no one, millennial or otherwise, could have predicted just how crucial being aware of our online presence and its messaging, personal and professional, has now become. Ongoing digital development means that our understanding of online media and how we consume content will continue to evolve, and we will continue to adapt as we go. But the priorities are clear: owning your online narrative (by hiring someone or an agency to help you), staying relevant to what your community and audiences want and keeping consistent.
As a professional whose career is in public relations, I can’t be voiceless in a conversation to do with online presence and public perception, and my former opinions about personal branding, before it was a thing, were short-sighted. Get to know about personal branding today or get left behind – like I was.