First off: I was totes going to call this post “Brand on the run” until I Googled that phrase and learned that everybody who has ever written an article about branding or marketing has had the same hilarious idea – blast their eyes.
Secondly: from reading other people’s blogs this week I know I’m not the only one who felt a bit sceptical – not to say downright icky – about thinking of myself in terms of my “brand”.
But having read Jo Alcock’s introductory post on the subject I can agree that it is sensible to present yourself in a consistent, distinctive yet professional manner in your online communications. And just as in the real world most people would attend a job interview wearing a smart suit and a polite smile – as opposed to, say, turning up in a “Federal Boob Inspector” t-shirt and belching in the interviewer’s face – so on the internet we’d do well to keep some of the more, ahem, “frivolous” parts of our personality under wraps.
Jo asks us to run a web search of our names and see what results are returned. As I expected, there were almost no results related to me, just a couple of links to a directory I compiled in a previous job and a mailing list including my current work email address. Both are work-related examples, but they are buried in the third or fourth pages of results.
This online absence has been a conscious decision on my part. Ramblings of a Trainee Bookshelf Prowler sums up the reasoning behind this better than I can. Suffice it to say that even in the physical world I am somewhat reserved and private; online, just revealing my first name and a potted employment history on this blog has left me feeling unnecessarily exposed. I’ve never signed up for Facebook or MySpace or LinkedIn. I do have a Last.fm profile, which I tend obsessively as though it was my own child, and a LibraryThing profile, which I neglect like an unwanted step-child, but I don’t think you could identify me from anything posted on them.
However, my reading and reflections this week have led me to wonder if maybe I am missing a trick by taking this approach. Among the links to further reading that Jo provides, Danah Boyd and Dave Fleet both suggest that whatever the pitfalls of presenting yourself for public inspection on the internet, declining to do so entirely is not an option – or not an advisible one at any rate. There was also an interesting interview in last Friday’s Guardian with Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, about his new book, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. The author has misgivings about the fact that today’s digital information will most likely hang around forever waiting to embarrass our future selves, but even so states:
I don't like digital abstinence. I want us to embrace participation in digital culture and global networks. Just not at any cost.
The internet is where people live and forge relationships for much of the time now and withdrawing from it is like withdrawing from the world.
The good news is that, if I decide to build my online “brand”, I will be starting from scratch and so should be able to implement some of Jo’s suggestions – choose a meaningful user name and if possible use it consistently across all your profiles; decide how much you want your personal identity to overlap with your professional identity – from the off. The bad news is... I’m starting from scratch. I am going to see how this blog evolves over the coming weeks, although at the moment I am quite happy to use it mainly as a kind of personal diary in which I reflect on my cpd23 activities and basically amuse myself. I also see that a future “Thing” is going to cover online networking, where your online identity is obviously of crucial importance, so I expect I’ll be returning to these issues – and possibly trying out some other profiles and platforms – then.
Although... as a final thought for the time being: I wonder if it is ultimately a bit futile to manage your brand too closely, as you try to second guess (often incorrectly) the impression you’re creating on other people. A case in point: a previous commenter referred (in a nice way) to this blog’s title as “girly”; in the real world, I am as ungirly as it’s possible to be while still being in possession of two X chromosomes. Before you’ve typed a word, every little decision you make about your online communications – what platform or software you choose, your user name, blog title, colour scheme – will say something about you, and usually they say different things to different people. So you may as well just do what you like (within reason) and, in the words of many a tedious indie band giving their first NME interview, “if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus”.