A Personal ‘Brand’?

With the emergence of social media, the ChatBox era discourse on the ‘online persona’ evolved into a discourse on the ‘personal brand’. The issue was not about projecting a set of transient characteristics anymore, or an online ‘temperament’ that could very easily change with every login. It was about constructing and maintaining a single, stable and consistent online identity.

Between blogs and social networks with different currencies, some (rare) users chose to keep their personal brand positioning across platforms. Most others simply chose to keep their unrelated activities, characteristics, or interests as independent persona ‘silos’ over different platforms. Most of the time a platform’s social currency guided the construction of this silo, for your audience, and consequently the kind of information you share on professional networking sites is fundamentally different from what you share on more personal, more casual sites. As long as these platforms were disconnected, it was all too simple.

The case is not the same anymore. The post-Facebook Connect era changes the rules of the game. Inter-network linkage challenges the mere concept of the ‘personal brand’. Here’s why. The fundamental quality of brands is consistency. Brands can and should offer different products to different audiences or targets, but fundamentally they remain bound by their core values. If an online persona is to qualify as a ‘personal brand’, then it has to follow the same guidelines. Some –mostly highly visible public profiles- do it. Queen Rania of Jordan does it. She’s a philanthropist in her public life, and a mother on Twitter. That’s a consistent brand with the umbrella positioning ‘human’. Richard Dawkins does it. He’s a rationalist and a humanist on RDFRS.org, in his public speeches, publications, and (again) Twitter account.

How about us, mere mortals, not propelled by online PR strategies? As it happens, the cases are very few when a real life persona is consistent. A hardcore rationalist can also have a thing for astrology. A total pacifist can cultivate an interest in weapons. A philosopher might have a penchant for kink. A racist can also be a philanthropist. A chamber jazzist can have a taste for Kitsch.  Most real-life personas are constructed on dynamic interplays between opposites. Note that I am not talking about multi-interest people who are happy to advertise their personal richness as part of their online brand. I am talking about thoroughly inconsistent traits with regards to public perception. If your blog is about rambling in existential angst, do you really want to share it with potential employers or business partners on LinkedIn? If you use your Facebook account mainly to stay in touch with family and friends abroad, do you really want to link it to a YouTube account infested with bondage video favorites? Yes you can, in principle, if you’re somehow nuts, or if you belong to the vanguard of users who are re-defining the very meaning of the post Web2.0 online (and offline) persona. Most people on the other hand will not. They will only do so when perceptional norms have changed and inconsistency is assimilated in mainstream values. Just another regular adoption graph really. But even if and when they do, they cannot be a ‘personal brand’, for the mere fact they are inconsistent. At best, they are super-personas, grouping antagonists and exercising them in interests, activities and communication that is open to everyone over the Web. Meanwhile, we have selective sharing, with a central and predominant ‘personal brand’, surrounded by a satellite of ‘private matters’ that will most likely remain private. No, thank you, I do not want you to know that I played at least 10 games of Goo Deluxe while writing this.

P.S. Thanks to @aymanitani for the inspiration during his presentation at #GeekFest.

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