Personal Branding Defamed!

I’ve read a few posts recently on student blogs expressing paranoia about online transparency and personal branding  (see Rebecca Caddy’s, Adam Lewis’ and Michelle Allison’s posts) and I’d like to add my views to the debate.

People’s worries about keeping their professional and recreational profiles seperate as social media becomes a part of both are understandable. Facebook seems to be the the main cause of concern because for a lot of young people at university their profile consists of in-jokes, childish banter and tagged photo’s of boozy nights out (mine included!). However, this doesn’t mean that I would behave like that in a professional environment.

People play different, often contradictory, roles in different circles: thats just how it is.  So I don’t think should feel uncomfortable keeping things seperate. My facebook is generally for people who I know personally, but I would consider accepting a friend request from someone who I’ve talked to through my blog, which is why I’ve put the  badge there.

This brings me on to the issue of personal branding. Now some people see personal branding as simply creating a consistant voice for themselves, or building up a good online reputation. I see the importance of both these things, but can’t help but take issue with consciously cultivating a brand for yourself.

The idea strikes me as being conceited, narcissistic and contrary to what social media is all about. Surely people don’t want to talk to brands online, they want to talk to other people. Once you start thinking about ‘brand you’ and letting that dictate your actions online you start saying the ‘right things’ rather than what you really think. Goeff Livingston at the Buzz Bin makes a number of arguments against personal branding as a marketing tool and has sparked an interesting discussion about it.

Brands communicate coherent sets of values to products or organisations and they’re often worth more than tangible assets, but for people? Come on…

Anyway, this is just my gut reaction: personal brands clearly do have a place for certain people and I’m possibly missing the boat completely. I’d really like to know what other people think: students, professionals, personal branders – all comments welcome.


About Tom Craik

Senior Account Executive at Finn Communications, a PR and Word of Mouth agency based in Leeds. Baby face. Northern Monkey. Attention junkie. Space man. Fake tan. Dancefloor dreamer. Analyser. Deliberator. Wordsmith. Book worm. Head in clouds. Telecaster. Dance floor master. Closet rasta. Free love. Fresh jokes. Old gear. Naff beard. Existential. Influential. Left of centre. iPod. Math rock. Psych Folk. Dropping dubstep. Chicken Balti. Laos. Berlin. Bass bin. Circle pit. Guggenheim. Baltic. Cabernet. Globalised. Wired. No house. No car. Going places!
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9 Responses to Personal Branding Defamed!

  1. I tend to agree Tom.
    ‘Brand you’….it sounds ridiculously self centred!
    But I wonder if in this era of selling ideas and products to an often sceptical audience/publics, the only way to sell yourself is as a product. And products need branding. Sounds awful, but look at politicians and political parties. I frequently heard/read about ‘brand Obama’ during the presidential campaign, and the strength of his personal brand gained him much success.

  2. postmodernpr says:

    Too true Michelle,

    Obama’s personal brand is one of his biggest sucesses, and look at Richard Branson in the corporate world.

    I think there’s a time and a place for it.

    Obama has the eyes of the whole world on him and, as an elected president, has to have a coherent brand which communicates the ideas of the whole party.

    To have a personal brand, you really need to stand for something in particular. However, not everyone is the face of a political party or the CEO of a multinational. If you don’t have a coherent vision and your’e branding yourself because you feel you have to then your brand will be confused and artificial.

    I just don’t think its necessary or even beneficial for everyone.

    I suppose like you said though, you’ve got to get heard somehow!

  3. Dan Schawbel says:

    Great post Tom. It’s a scary future, but transparency is inevitable, whether we like it or not. Anything on the web is public and your your personal and professional life will become one soon, without question. It’s your decision who you want to let into your world. Do you want to use your social networks to network or to communicate with your family and friends only?

  4. postmodernpr says:

    Thanks Dan,

    It is inevitable like you say. Personally I’d like to become more transparent than I am now by integrating the social with the professional.

    Nowadays, we expect full transparency from businesses, the governent and other organisations. As professionals we should probably try to do the same

  5. BOKE says:

    First, quick applause for your blog title!

    Second, (longer winded:) … disapproving noises about category fuzzies around “brands” and persons (names) — i.e., mixing:

    * celebrities (existing/famous brand “names”)

    * “unknown” “artists” (who must achieve some level of “fame” for their “signature” or they can’t eat, much less date supermodels:)

    * professional service practitioners (whose name should come to mean quality in that kind of service) (solo-shop)

    * professional service name-figurehead (their company is bigger than its head, but it’s head is the public face of the business)

    * employed professionals (sequentially work for organizations — who prefer positive Google hits … to embarrassing ones … to maintain employment mobility)

    * yada yada yada 🙂

    Cheers! (Love that blog title:)

  6. BOKE says:

    P.S. Just saw/clicked your Facebook link (on the left) … NOTE: link error

  7. laura610 says:

    I think you pointed out an interesting topic, Tom. I’d like to get into the discussion on your first comment and complete the idea of CEO branding: I gather from your comment that you think that a personal brand could be justified for a CEO who stands for something – to express it more precisely: who stands for his company. I’m of the same opinion. I just read a very interesting book on that issue. It’s called ‘CEO Capital: A Guide to Building CEO Reputation and Company Success’ by Dr. Leslie Gaines Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at the PR agency Weber Shandwick ( The point she makes in her book: The reputation of a CEO and the company he leads are deeply and inextricably linked. “The manner in which the media, investors, analysts, employees, and even the general public perceive a chief executive has tremendous influence over the company’s prosperity, standing, and destiny.” That’s why it is very important to reflect and manage CEO reputation. Gaines Ross does not talk about the CEO as a brand at all but about building a positive CEO reputation. Anyway, I think that takes up your point because in the end it’s all about a good standing in the online AND offline world! By the way: Gaines-Ross has got a great blog: You can find interesting posts in versatile categories linked to reputation e.g. Personal Reputation or CEO Reputation! It’s worth reading it!

    • postmodernpr says:

      Thanks for the insight Laura,

      Seems like you have been doing quite a bit of reading on the topic. Ill make sure I check out those sources

  8. Adam Lewis says:

    Cheers for the link Tom.

    I agree that people shouldn’t feel like they have to keep these ‘profiles’ separate but unfortunately sometimes it’s a necessity. If a recruiter was going online to see my presence and found pictures of alcohol fuelled nights, would that potentially stop them from hiring me?Potentially so.

    There was an example recently of some fool who posted his facebook status as “I is missing work n dey tink i iz ill, bt jst got a massiv hangover innit!” or something close to that, his boss subsequently found out and I think the fool got sacked.

    Good post though, will be adding you to my blogroll!


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