Let’s establish right off the bat that I’m no fan of the phrase “personal brand.” It’s been overused by people who don’t know a tenth of the work that goes into establishing a brand. Specifically, the effort that goes into identifying one deceptively simple point: What will this brand mean to people? It would take a week to unpack all the elements that go into answering just that one question.
Instead what people usually mean when they say “personal brand” in the age of social networks is “public persona.” This is the face we put on when we’re posting to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and elsewhere. It’s made up of the kind of image we want to curate for ourselves. The personal pictures and stories are those that present us and our family in the best light (literally and figuratively), the other news and information we share all designed to achieve the goal of making us look smart, well-read, employable or something else.
In short, there’s a goal in play. For the average person on Facebook that may not be any more specific than “look good to my friends and family.” For one of the many “influencers” who have built up a million-strong network of fans it will be a more specific “make money.” For brands and companies it will be even more granular, involving achieving defined network growth, sales and other milestones.
With individuals, their social media persona may bear little to no resemblance to who they are in real life, though. Someone may be verbally abusive to their spouse, but gosh darn if their kids aren’t smiling as they hold up “Last day of third grade” signs while standing outside a nicely landscaped suburban house. It’s not always that extreme. We all put on different faces when we go to work, go to church, order burritos at the drive thru or interact with other people in different ways. We all have our own version of Chandler’s work laugh.
So lately I’ve been wondering if my own public persona needs an overhaul.
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll find a mix of PR/advertising/marketing industry stories, political commentary, movie marketing news and other random thoughts that float through the transom of my mind. On Facebook I generally just link to my own blog posts (either from here or CinematicSlant) but pepper in a few photos from my life as well. On LinkedIn it’s just blog post links.
In other words, I’ve tried to curate a public persona that’s more or less professionally-oriented. My Twitter posts might be a bit more personal and sometimes goofy, which is something I go back and forth on the appropriateness of. I usually justify this exception to the rule I’ve otherwise established by saying it provides a more well-rounded picture of who I am. That’s in-line with the guidance I’ve given clients for their own content marketing programs, mixing in the askew with the tactically-sound.
That’s more or less in line with my goals for that public persona, namely: 1) Get a job, 2) Get more freelance work. I want to show off how informed I am in the industry, highlight my own writing and otherwise present myself as a smart, talented person who would make a great fit for a team or project.
The issue I’m having, though, is that I can’t point to more than a few minor instances of work coming in that can be directly tied back to my social media activity. Those handful of exceptions have been limited to LinkedIn, where people say they’ve looked not at the stories I’ve posted but the items making up my professional experience. So is this working? Is it hurting?
The truth is there simply isn’t enough data to make assumptions as to success or failure or provide strong directional guidance for making changes. Lacking that, I go back to using the examples of others in a similar position as myself and try to do a version of that which works for me. I’m not going to copy someone else’s approach, but I can pull elements from a few different sources and use what seems to make sense for me.
There may not be a day when I do a drastic about-face on anything I’m doing here or on my personal social channels. But lacking big data telling X is resulting in success and Y failing spectacularly, I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing all along, which is make small changes here and there. I’ll tweak how I post to Twitter or think about how I could do this blog differently. Like rain wearing down a rock, you won’t see changes overnight, but over time it makes a big difference.