You Are Not a Brand — You Are a Person
I have something to say, and I am not sure how to say it without sounding grumpy. Come to think of it, I am grumpy about it. I know many of you will not agree with me. And that's okay.
It seems like everywhere I turn on Twitter, there's someone giving advice to “leverage your personal brand” or “engage your audience” or “engage audiences by leveraging your personal brand.” It's a lot of strategic talk about developing a consistent message, following and talking to the right people about the right things, and being useful to others in whatever wheelhouse your personal brand dictates you to have.
For a while, I really bought into it. I have a blog about wooden pencils, and a lot of my friends and peers know me as “that pencil guy.” I was going to dive into that and make it my personal brand! It was going to be great — I was going to do strategic Twitter searches to help people with their writing instrument problems, I was going to give out personalized pencils as business cards: the works.
But maybe I wanted to tweet a picture of my cat. Or maybe I wanted to rant about some political thing I had an opinion about. And maybe I wanted to use the word “fuck” in a blog post.
How does that fit in? Wouldn't that muddy my personal brand? Drew Olanoff said it best in his (admittedly rather ranty) post on TechCrunch.com on this topic:
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.” [Link]
You can't imagine how incredibly freeing this was, to lift the pressure I felt to be consistent, to not be so dryly corporate all the time. I could get in some Twitter fights about politics again. I could tweet that meme that uses that f-word. I could write about something other than pencils.
In Glenn Llopis’s Forbes.com article, Personal Branding is a Leadership Requirement, not a Self-Promotion Campaign, which is actually really non-douchey for a post about personal branding, he acknowledges that “personal branding” has become commoditized, and as such has lost its true meaning and relevance. The main argument is that you should develop your “brand” as a consistent voice for those you lead:
Your personal brand should represent the value you are able to consistently deliver to those whom you are serving. This doesn’t mean self-promotion — that you should be creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories. Managing your personal brand requires you to be a great role model, mentor, and / or a voice that others can depend upon. For example, when I write a blog or an article — I am extremely mindful that my community of readers expects a specific “experience of thought” from me. [Link]
I understand what Llopis is saying, but my point still holds: You are a human being. You aren’t consistent. Personally, I often hate something until I like it. (Case in point: Ke$ha.) Sometimes, I like something until I hate it. (Facebook.) Sometimes these likes and dislikes change on a daily basis.
And sometimes, it’s not superficial inconsistencies like those, but more fundamental, personality-driven inconsistencies. I generally stay away from talking about religion on Twitter. But the moment an atheism hot topic comes up, I’m all over it if I’m in the mood.
Does this make me a “bad leader” or — worse yet — does this damage my “brand”? Maybe. But I think inconsistency is part of human nature, and what are social media users but human? Heck, even brands on Twitter and Facebook are run by humans.
Don’t dehumanize yourself, people. Don’t self-censor because what you want to say doesn’t jive with whatever you decided your brand is supposed to be about. You’re selling yourself short.