For me, “ah ha!” moments are rarely flashes of brilliance, but rather flashes of dorkiness when I realize that an answer has been staring me in the face all along, but I've been too distracted to see it.
I had one of those this week while reading an article in this month’s Wired magazine on social media and personal branding.
For me, the topic is pretty straightforward. I very deliberately use social media to build my brand image. And, since I am my business, that brand image has very porous boundaries. Whether it’s me saying that my dog did something funny or me retweeting a post on analytics, I am aware that it all goes into my brand hopper.
For most people though, social media is a place to simply be, well…social. Maybe they socialize as part of their job (and infuse that content with a sense of their personality) or socialize for fun (and infuse that content with mentions of their profession), but few seem to try to juggle both at the same time.
My assumption had always been that the former was in service of building a brand image, while the later was not.
The author of the Wired article, Erin Biba, has me rethinking that. She proposes that all social media engagement serves to build a brand.
“Each carefully crafted 140-character message that goes out into the metaverse fills a publicly accessible database that defines you to people you’ve never met. In the end, it isn’t really who you are. It’s the hilarious, adorable, fascinating, intelligent, so-worth Friending version of you. Social media isn’t about having a conversation with people you know. It’s about advertising yourself. It’s not social; it’s media.”
In other words, your dad is building a brand image with his Facebook account, just as much as Pepsi is with theirs.
Agree or disagree, for me this was an "ah ha" idea that I needed to hear right now.
Lately I’ve been struggling with the overt and inherent glossiness within my own social networks. I realize now that much of this struggle has been because I have mistakenly bought into the notion that people who appear to be just hanging out and being themselves are well…people just hanging out and being themselves.
No branding involved.
As far as I can tell -- especially within my Facebook network -- everyone’s selves are pretty much awesome, pretty much all of the time...
(Screw Lake Wobegon. Facebook is actually the place where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.")
All this Stepfordesque blissfulness, glee and self-actualization has been bringing me down because - (I'm going to go out on a limb and share something reeeealy personal here) my life is not always awesome.
(Shocking, huh? Yeah, I know...we're totally in Maury Povich territory here.)
But there is no place for the reality of "not awesome" in public, branded conversations. There never has been. As Biba reminds us...
“Real conversations don’t happen in public. You don’t go to a party and loudly tell strangers about your recent bout of crippling depression. Or the fact that you just can’t seem to trust people enough to make a true connection with a partner. No, the kinds of conversations you have in mixed company are edited for content. You tell people what you think they want to hear.”
Disagree? Then Biba asks us to think about how often we run a "should I say this?" monologue in our heads while we're sitting in front of our computers with our fingers hovering over the "post" button. Do you do the same when you're sitting and talking to your best friend?
Reality doesn't flourish in social media, but rather builds long weedy roots within it and then blossoms in the back channel of email, DMs, IMs and phone conversations.
We need to remind ourselves of this from time to time. And, more importantly, we need to remind our children, who are even less adept than we are in understanding the blurry line between reality and a branded reality.
When it comes to social media, the Emperor often has no clothes on. But I guess I need to accept that it's easier for the people using it to just avert their eyes than to be totally honest about the view.
I’m a consultant, strategist, author, educator, and speaker with more than 30 years of professional experience. I’m passionately curious, fairly sassy, kinda dorky and seriously good at what I do.