The Person Versus Personal Branding

Man alive, I really have been neglecting this place. Previous claims of neglect didn’t know what they were talking about.

Anyway, branding: personal, professional, online: these days they’re all the same. I apply one general rule of thumb: don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to your mother. That sort of works for me.

[...]

And it may not even be possible to opt out. A Stanford CareerConnect seminar echoes a common personal-branding mantra: “You already have a personal brand, whether you know it or not.… The question is, are you going to manage it or not?” The more that your reputation is understood to represent the larger self, and the more our private lives are seamlessly disseminated by new technologies, the more our real lives become delimited by market demand.

If you’re serious about managing your brand, then, you shouldn’t say anything unprofessional that someone in earshot might attribute to you in a tweet (better dial down the irony, while you’re at it). Think twice before you make Facebook friends with radicals of any persuasion—you never know what the leanings of prospective hirers or clients will be. And for God’s sake, don’t make rude hand gestures, don’t show any skin unless you’re a model, and don’t go anywhere seedy. “Be conservative when cameras are around,” NBC News advises.

The philosopher Jean Baudrillard worried about the crisis of meaning that emerges when perfect simulations end up displacing whatever they simulate: “present-day simulators attempt to make the real, all of the real, coincide with their models of simulation.” This speaks to the program of personal branding: to create the mold of “your best life,” squeeze yourself in, take a photo, and endlessly reproduce the resulting image online. As one branding coach puts it in a blurb praising another coach, “What you look like online is actually what is real.”

Even with the knowledge that our communications are being monitored by the government, it’s still premature to declare the “death of privacy” in a strict sense; we can, if we choose, carry on conversations that are forgotten, have thoughts that go untweeted, leave the house without our phones. The more immediate threat may be the surrender of private identity: to perfect the total image of an impressive life, we prune off the parts of ourselves that can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t be seen.

Rest:  The New Yorker