I started my second personal blog the other day. I won’t shamelessly promote it here, but my friends have been inundated with requests for support. I received an interesting response from my good buddy Joe. After reading a few posts he wrote to me, “Impressed how easily you put yourself out there to the masses. I find it easy to present a character for audiences, but feel less comfortable broadcasting myself. Brave.”
Although brief, I was taken aback by his commentary. Was I really wearing my heart and soul on the sleeve of this blog? Was I laying it all out there for the world to see? Surely I wouldn’t be so stupid as to be one of those people who just say whatever comes to their minds, right? You know the type. The blogger who thinks the world gives a damn about the mundanity of his or her life: “Today I bought shoes and already I have blisters. Wait, hold on a second, need some water. Okay, I’m back. Anyway.” Or someone who shares inappropriate confessions, driven by insecurities and the need for drama: “My boyfriend isn’t romantic and often looks around the room when we kiss.”
Is this who I’ve become but in a less exaggerated sort of way? The answer, I’ve come to discover, is maybe. If some of the things I write about come from a place of truth, then maybe I really am broadcasting myself to the world. The thing is, it doesn’t feel like that. For years now I’ve considered these public displays of personality to be fiction.
I’m talking about personal branding. I’m talking about the line, which has become incredibly blurred, between who we are and who we pretend or act like when we participate online, particularly in social media. When I think about the message I put out there for the world to view, I wonder if it’s really me. And again, the answer is maybe.
Personal branding is not a new topic. In fact, it’s become our way of life. Today, people can obtain or lose jobs based simply on the way they brand themselves online. What I wonder is, are we even aware we’re doing it anymore?
I’m reminded of my Facebook page from 2005 (Ah, the gloriously elitist days when you needed a .edu to get in). The page allowed you to fill in fields about your personality: favorite songs, books, movies, etc. They still exist today, but they’re certainly not as exposed and important as they were back then. I remember all the clever things I’d post: Favorite artist—post-mortem Tupac; Favorite activity—avoiding death; Interests—onesies; Favorite quote—“Sometimes I question your dedication to Sparkle Motion.”
It became a persona—a way for me to make fun while having fun. It was also the loss of my creating-a-personal-brand virginity (and just as experimental). It was me choosing to show the world, “Hey, I want you to think I’m funny!” And this has carried on for years. We all do it. Every time we post a Facebook status update or send out a tweet, we’re communicating something about ourselves. We’re making a choice, cognizant or not, about who we are or who we want people to think we are.
Larry Kimmel of the Direct Marketing Association recently said to our company, “Kids today begin branding themselves at the age of 16.” In fact, he’s right. The millennials today learn very early on how to portray themselves in social media. I think it’s going to become harder and harder for future generations to recognize the difference between this online community and the community of our neighbors.
Thanks to my pal Joe’s insightful observation, it made me realize that maybe we’ve all gotten a little too comfortable with our pen names. We ought to step back and think about the content we’re putting out there for the world to see. Whether it’s for privacy concerns or some other reason, unintended vulnerabilities could come back to hurt us. And if I get hurt, you may end up reading about it in my blog.
Author: Eric Swenson