Personal branding on social media

In Twitter’s earlier days, we used to tweet about things that, although safe for work, were a little on the naughty side. One person would tweet something slightly dodgy, and another would tweet back “there goes your brand!”

Yes, I know, we were hilarious.

But there was a grain of truth to those tweets, which is why so many high-profile social media people in NZ are now upping their Facebook privacy settings, retreating to locked Twitter accounts, and taking old YouTube clips down.

There’s a cultural issue in New Zealand around what we expect of heavy digital users – and you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. I’m talking about taking charge of your digital profiles: Branding YOU and making sure what you present is the way you want it.

The other day, social media consultant Courtney Lambert published this blog about online personal branding. In a nutshell, while the concept of personal branding is widely accepted and expected internationally, in New Zealand it’s often looked upon with derision or suspicion: Personal branding is for celebrities, and if you think you’re a celebrity, then you’re a dick.

Here’s the rub: If you are online, you need to take care of how you appear online regardless of your [lack of] celebrity status. You need to take ownership of your actions, know your boundaries, and have a bit of a plan – you can bet potential employers, lovers, and friends are googling you if they want to know more!

Nothing is secret, really. Trolls can be found, workplaces googled, last names attached to first names on seemingly anon Twitter accounts. If you’re doing something online that would make you embarrassed offline, you probably shouldn’t be doing it!

Transparency issues aside, New Zealanders tend to have a problem with Kiwis saying they’re good at something, let alone able to offer advice to others. We have performance anxiety. We don’t like tall poppies. We like to think we live in a society without classes, despite making fun of “white trash”, “westies”, “people from Gore”, or “dole bludgers”. We also tend to think that if someone’s putting themselves out there and trying to build a profile for themselves, then they are “asking for it” or “deserve everything they get”.

Yet we don’t think the same way about Americans, or Brits, or Canadians, or Scots. We nod enthusiastically and gobble up their wisdom. It’s the old “expert from out of town” syndrome.

The other issue is the way we think about each other in relation to where we work, to our jobs, and how much accountability or personal opinion comes from that. Where is the personal/professional boundary? Sure, we are not our workplaces, but how much of how we behave online is a reflection on our ability to do our jobs?

Some New Zealanders assume that because someone works somewhere they:

  1. Love and support everything their workplace does,
  2. Hate and deride everything their work’s competitors do,
  3. Are massively biased because of their job,
  4. Must behave to a certain standard because of where they work, regardless of what crap people throw at them. I’ve seen trolls bait people, trying to get a response so they can run off to that person’s employer. But it’s not just trolls running off to employers – I’ve heard about a NZ company approaching someone’s employer over a tweet about a bad product/service.

Please note, the rules don’t apply to those who are calling others out on them. That would be hypocritical.

There is a thorny issue in there – can you publicly talk about things your work’s competitors are up to that you like? Would you go on the radio and say that? Or is it a case of knowing what “good” looks like, and simply acknowledging it? Keep in mind, it sometimes makes the national paper when workers from one company congratulate their workplace’s competitors via social media.

As a country, we’ve got some growing up to do.

Owning or .com is commonsense in this day and age. Having a blog for your thoughts, opinions, and digital curation is a good thing. Positioning yourself as helpful or knowledgeable about an area where you’re educated and/or experienced is not uppity, it’s fact – and good business sense!

It’s time to think about this stuff, or find yourself overtaken by people who are.

4 Replies to “Personal branding on social media”

  1. Hi Cate.

    I agree — these are real issues.

    And they’ve multiplied in their potential to blow up on us as our own and others’ participation in social media has increased.

    The boundary between work and private life is getting thinner … not helped by some news organisations’ willingness to breathlessly report a ‘Twitter storm’ as if it were a real thing of significance instead of the (frequently) No.Big.Deal it is.

    As a publisher I work with authors who ARE the brand. They have to get over themselves and embrace the ‘celebrity’ aspect of their role since being self-effacing doesn’t work. They *have* to let go of the ANZAC resistance/reluctance to be ‘visible’ you and Lambert refer to.

    But an author’s brand isn’t the same as a business ‘brand’.

    It is objectively fraught at times having a ‘profile’. Being visible attracts unwanted attention and trolls, not to mention the danger of an online persona leading one into ill-advised or badly-expressed interactions.
    As you say — sometimes quite innocuous discussions end up reported.

    I’ve blogged about the ‘stalker-types’ and agents provocateur who track politicians or other public figures on social media to goad them into biting back. (see: ‘Drunken yobos spit in MP’s face, then skite to their mates like idiot schoolboys’ )

    Amplify those risks by the competitive pressures you refer to and a silly expectation of monolithic ‘group think’ just because one works for a firm in the marketplace … and the pressure comes on.

    I’ve had someone respond to online criticism nothing to do with work by referring to my then-job as if it was relevant. Just trying to cause harm.

    I can’t see a solution for it though. Can you?

    The scaling back and dialling up of privacy settings you describe will only be effective up to a point.

    Google’s Eric Schmidt suggested the only way to escape ‘online shame’ will be to change your name and said: “I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.” see:

    Well, gee. That’s no good.

    – Peter

  2. Good comment Cate. I hadn’t thought about it in that depth because I don’t really care personally. I am what I am. But your comments about NZ culture and perception are spot on. Thanks for sharing.

  3. They are interesting points. Since my entry to Twitter (and a little before) I have become my own brand. I use my real name almost everywhere online, as opposed to my first ten years online where I used one of a number of aliases.

    When I started working in the TV industry I realised that I needed to brand myself. It’s a small industry and having people know who I am is helpful for my professional advancements. Twitter has given me an opportunity further develop that brand by becoming known as being responsive and knowledgeable.

    I very seldom talk directly about my work – I almost never directly name the show I work on and tend to stay away from discussions of it. I don’t want to become associated with it in a way that would be likely to cause people to associate my comments with the show or my role on it.

    However I talk generally about my work and the industry. But I take care in what I say not to disparage others in my industry or say things that others are likely to take offense at.

    In a moderately amusing faux pas on this issue though I made a pretty big error of judgement when I first accepted my current job (before I started) – I tweeted something like: “Excited about the new job! Only drawback is I will have to watch [the show] every day…” – It was a joke and played on commonly expressed views about the show, but my new producer saw it and emailed me to let me know he wasn’t impressed. It was a pretty dumb thing to do and something I’ve been careful not to repeat.

  4. I have to say that I’m awful about branding myself online. My Twitter is full of silly thoughts and musings that I come up with throughout the day, and it’s mixed with things I post for/about work (probably not a good thing!). Also, I love this quote: “Personal branding is for celebrities, and if you think you’re a celebrity, then you’re a dick.”

    Great post and great ideas. Keep up the good work.

Comments are closed.