Personal Branding: How Not to Become a Box of Soap

There are two big shifts happening in culture as we transition to digital – the move from individualism to being viewed as an individual, marketable data point, and the move to becoming a collaborative society.

Beyond Tocqueville’s Telescope: The Personalized Brand and the Branded Self, in the Fall 2011 issue of Hedgehog Review (article not available online) got me to thinking about another dynamic occurring as people establish their online identities. Marketing has effectively taken over the data behind the scenes in Social Media with every permission and access given. Now it is moving to the front and center of the stage as people begin branding themselves – using all the techniques of marketing to push and shape their digital identities for maximum exposure and connectivity, higher Klout scores, and improved social reputation.

The authors, Arlie Hochschild and Sarah B. Garrett, point out this reflects a major shift in our culture – from a society that prizes individualism to one that prizes marketing of the individual. Media has been utilized to bombard us with advertising. It used to be a 20th century survival skill to be able to ignore TV and radio ads – you could change the channel, turn down the volume or just shut it off. In the 21st century, marketing permeates everything. As more of our attention shifts to screens, it is far more difficult to turn off. We are tracked every time we open a page, grant a permission to a new app, click on a link. It is pervasive in the shift to digital. The first rule of marketing is “own the data”, and we give ours away all day long.

Now the shift is subtly moving to the other side of the equation. It is no longer just marketing targeting each one of us, we are beginning to treat our identities as simply one more piece of data to be marketed. Personal branding is the new big thing – just google it. Vanity sites, profiles, avatars and icons, posts, tweets, shares, +1′s, favorites, likes, etc. all serve to promote and define our identities. Klout, PeerIndex, and new metrics serve to measure how you are doing compared to other folks, areas of influence, trust and authority indexes; of course YOU are just a data point. You might as well be a box of soap, and the sooner you see yourself as such, the sooner your scores will increase.

It is what it is. I’m not sounding the alarm, only pointing out what we are up against as we homestead on the digital frontier. We need to take care as we define and represent ourselves. As human beings we are marked by growth and the multiple facets of our personalities and how we wish to present and represent them – we change and evolve, we are more than a new and improved box of soap to be re-branded or marketed.

Along side all of this another big shift is occurring all over the world -we are becoming collaborators. It is no longer knowledge that is king and all the “me against them” thinking that goes with it. It is who you know, your networks, who you collaborate with – and how you are known among them. It is one big US with a shift of consciousness to follow.

Be more than a box of soap!

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3 Responses to Personal Branding: How Not to Become a Box of Soap

  1. Pingback: Dealing with Austerity – Commodity or Individual: Personal Branding: the Next Frontier? – Part 2 « Dr Alf's Blog

  2. nukem777 says:

    You are right about commodification, as well as the silos and walled gardens. Part of our digital literacy and understanding of Doug Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed is to understand the forces at work. We are certainly much more that a marketable data point. We must see ourselves as a “point of presence” as well as we find our places in the digital landscape.

    As to Klout, it was very easy to game their algorithm – I increased my score by 20 points in one month. Their new algorithm is much better, in that in has corrected my score down by about 13 points; but that can be “gamed” as well. What’s interesting to me is that my PeerIndex score has remained high and constant. I think they are a much better measurement of true Net activity. Klout is very much tied in to marketing and reinforcing the “data point” model. PeerIndex is much better at reading the “point of presence” model.

    In the end, it all comes down to trust within networks, not scores.

  3. Thank you for this analysis – I guess what is at stake here is ‘commodification’ – how we are turned from human beings into commodities and how we turn ourselves into marketable goods.
    There is of course another take on this, a more conformist one I guess: thie reason we can use platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter is that somehow someone is paying the bill. To be honest: if I can get these services for free, and if those services have such a following because (among other reasons) they are free, I’m happy to be targeted by marketeers – especially if their knowledge about my interests makes their offerings more relevant.

    About marketing ourselves: I think their are several ways to deal with
    metrics such as Klout. The better way to deal with them is to consider them as one feedback system among others. A low Klout can be indicative of a lack of conversations (and too much pointless broadcasting). What would definitively be ridiculous is gaming the system to get a high Klout – because it’s not by manipulating the feedback that you’re helping yourself.

    What worries me more however is the fact that Google and Facebook are nudging us to stay within their very own environment. They also impose their rules (identity) – even though we still have some choice (Twitter rules about identity differ from Google and Facebook). So maybe open source efforts for building a truly open social network would be interesting – for those who want to escape commodification and for those who want to promote openess and a Commons of online conversations.

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