Here’s To The Death Of “Personal Branding” On The Internet

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I’m not exactly sure who made being a “personal brand” a thing on the Internet, but I’d really like to sit down with them and ask them why they thought it was a good idea. You see, an entire ecosystem of people looking to make money has cropped up around this notion of helping people become a “brand.” Honestly, it’s bull, and I’d like to see it stop. Why is it bull? Because unless you’re Kim Kardashian and have a line of clothes or stinky fragrances, you are not a brand. You are a person.

What is personal branding anyways? Here’s what the always trustworthy Wikipedia says:

Personal branding is, for some people, a description of the process whereby people and their careers are marked as brands. It has been noted that while previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging.

Got it? Personal branding is all about the person, as in it’s an extremely self-centered thing that doesn’t help anyone but yourself. I’m totally fine with self-help tactics, and I’ve used some myself over the years, but not in such a public way that projected douchebagness.

Using your own Twitter account isn’t “work,” and if you feel like it is…I feel sorry for you.

Are You A Brand?

If you’ve ever asked yourself “Am I a brand?” then the answer is no. You are a person. A person who breathes air like the rest of us, uses the Internet like the rest of us and maybe tweets some awesome stuff. You are not a brand, don’t need a brand management team, don’t need to take personal branding classes and surely don’t ever need to become a “personal branding expert.”

Personal branding has become a topic for every other South By Southwest session and for a zillion e-books that sell for $4.99 a piece. It’s fake, it’s not productive and it’s actually holding all of us back from being actual humans. A book can’t teach you how to be yourself, only you can do that. Once you’re comfortable in your own skin and expressing the lovely thoughts that are in your head, you are not automatically a brand. You’re just you.

What’s happening right now is that people who have found a way to get a bunch of Twitter followers, make a fancy website and write a book are preying upon people who are self conscious and shy. You know who I’m talking about: it’s the “social media gurus” and the “experts” who have this fantastic brand and you don’t know who they are, but you feel like you should…because they’ve built that illusion. You don’t need a fancy website to get the job you want and you certainly don’t need a personal branding expert to help you set up an Internet profile to assert that you are indeed a worthy member of society. It’s all bull.

Who IS A Brand, Then?

Look, if your job is really about being you, meaning you’re in movies or have a clothing line, then you probably have PR people and a “team” that handles your image. That means keeping you out of trouble, shushing you aside at the bar when you’ve had too many, and otherwise making sure that everyone in the world thinks you’re the bomb. That’s a crappy way to live but that’s why “celebrities” make the big bucks. You’re not a celebrity, I’m not a celebrity, so we don’t need a personal branding expert to tell us what to do, right?

What has happened over the past year on sites like Twitter is that celebrities are breaking down the walls between them and the “rest of us.” Ashton Kutcher tweets his personal thoughts, and just about everyone who has ever stepped foot on TV has a million followers. I think it’s a damn good thing, even if their “handlers” are still involved. We’re all people, we’re all here on this earth to make a difference.

Coke is a brand, JLo’s butt is kind of a brand, but you are not a brand.

Be Yourself

Being yourself might just be one of the toughest things to do in the world. People want to be friends with everyone, have everyone like them and otherwise be who they’re not. It’s honestly the people who figured out one day that being them was fun who are successful in life. They’re weird, odd, loud, quiet, sexy, ugly, bald, rude, or funny and they don’t care what other people think. I don’t think that Box’s CEO Aaron Levie took a class in “personal branding,” I just think he’s cool with being himself.

Folks, you don’t need a “handle” on the web and a tagline to get noticed for the things you have to say or share. All you have to do is be consistently you, as difficult as that might be for you. Don’t let other people tell you what to be, how to act or what to share. Also, don’t be a purposeful contrarian to get attention either, unless that’s really how you are.

People are like snowflakes, but by making yourself become a “brand,” you’re turning yourself into a nondescript pile of dog poo. Don’t do it. You’re worth more than that.

Be you. Be real. Please.

Make your own difference, not someone else’s. The book on “personal branding” isn’t for you; it’s for someone who hasn’t read this post yet.

[JLo's Butt Credit: JLo and Flickr]