Remember when nobody had a "personal brand"? When there were persons and there were brands, but the two never really blended into one of these buzzword-y phrases that plagued conversations within academia and the professional world?
Pepperidge Farms remembers.
So do I. But I also remember that there was a thing called your "reputation." And when this idea of a "personal brand" started getting popular, I thought it sounded familiar.
Today, everyone's being told that they need a personal brand. They have to create it, form it, and nurture it in order to have a career in pretty much any industry at all. And you know what? They're right.
You do need a personal brand. But you don't need to make one.
Let me explain.
Your Personal Brand Is Your Reputation
Personal brand. Reputation. It's the same thing. And it's different.
Before the rise of social media, with everyone plastering their every move online for the world to see, reputations were powerful. As they say, reputations precede you. You did something at a party, it got added to this amorphous permanent record that arrived wherever your name was spoken.
Your personal brand used to be called your reputation.
You had some control over that repuation. But in reality, it was like a game of telephone. (MILLENNIAL TRANSLATION: Back in the day, people would talk to each other on the phone, then call someone else up and tell them the gossip they just heard. Then, that person would call the next person, and so on and so on.) What people told each other, didn't always resemble reality.
Then, social media came along. And with it was the documentation of our lives. An endless stream of photos, videos, and written accounts of what we said, did, and believed was suddenly available for the world to see. Our reputations were supercharged.
Your Reputation Precedes You
Businesses got smart. They realized that this documentation of your life was waayyyyy more accurate than a few sentences from a dude that someone in HR called to ask about you. So, they'd scour social media as soon as you applied for a job. They'd look into your posts, your history, trying to find out who you were as a person. What did you stand for?
I mean, we all did it. We'd look up the cute guy on Facebook before our first date to see if he was an uber dude-bro chugging Solo cups full of PBR. We'd jump on Insta to see if that girl we were interested in did anything other than brunch with her friends. We'd even check out our own potential employers to see if they were as stuffy as they seemed in the office.
Reputations became something that weren't on an invisible permanent record. They became tangible. And we realized something else.
Our repuations became controllable. Thus, the birth of the personal brand.
You're Already Creating Your Personal Brand
What you put out into the world is your personal brand. It's your reputation, not passed from person to person by word-of-mouth. It's a public-facing version of yourself and what you stand for.
The good news is, you already have one. So you don't need to create it. All you have to do is curate it.
Don't create a personal brand. Curate one.
This is easy for Gen Y and the younger of the Millennials. You've grown up in a world where social media is life. But it's the life you want everyone else to see. Instagram is the best version of yourself, in picture form. Stories and Snapchat are where you put things you think are interesting, but not so interesting you'll care about them in 24 hours. Twitter is how clever you can be in 140 (now 280) characters. And Facebook (if you even post on it) is a completely unfiltered catch-all of your life, on record.
You have more of a brand than most brands out there. You make sure that what you broadcast to the world is in your voice, represents your ideals, and puts a clear picture out there of what you want to be.
And just like your repuation, reality doesn't always reflect the perception. But now, you can control that perception.
When Does It Become a "Personal Brand"?
So, you already have the personal brand. But when does it become a "personal brand" that everyone keeps talking about. You know, that thing that celebrities have, that industry leaders reach for, and that you are intimidated by.
Well, that's simple: when you want it to stand for something more. It's not as difficult to do that as you may think. Just curate and create.
You're already curating, but you'll need to be even more particular about whether you really want to throw a photo of you at your friend's dog's birthday party on Insta, or if it's a better idea to keep it focused on your brewery design photo journalism.
Then you just create more. Take more photos of your mid-century modern furniture restoration passion. Post more on LinkedIn about your perspective on gender equality in the workplace. Create more around whatever it is you love and want to stand for.
When you do that, it will create a clearer picture of who you are.
What Will Your Personal Brand Do?
Personal brands will speak for you when you're not around. They'll represent who you are, or whatever you want people to think you are. They'll become what people see when they seek you out. And when they get big enough, they'll become bigger than you. For better or worse.
That's what's happening with me. What I'm doing with my personal brand is sharing the knowledge that I've accumulated over the years, with those who don't even know what they don't know yet. It's allowed me to have one-on-one conversations with a hundred thousand people, without meeting most of them.
Do you need that? Honestly, not everyone does. Most of you don't. But you do need to be aware of what your personal brand currently is. It may not need to reach out to tens of thousands of people, but it will definitely speak to the dozens who are looking for you.
And you can control what it says about you.