Being a rambling meditation on the way personal branding has become a necessary result (and not a contingent possibility) of social media immersion. Or how grad school deprived me of the ability to speak to the twitterati.
One of the more inescapable outgrowths of the proliferation of social media has been the effort given over to personal branding. Branding, once the exclusive preserve of corporations and their legion of products, has more recently been extended to the individual. Turnabout here is fair play I suppose: if corporations can be granted personhood in the eyes of the law, why can’t persons tear a page out of the corporate branding playbook.
Young creative professionals are encouraged by circumstance to actively manage their personal brand through their involvement in social media in order to better leverage the social capital derived from a careful cultivation of messaging via tweets, instagrams, posts and LinkedIn endorsements. And blundits (that’s apparently an awkward mashup of ‘bloggers’ and ‘pundits’, not ‘bludgers’ and ‘bandits’ as I’d initially surmised) ask you to consider what your Facebook profile pic says about you.
Note that I call blundits a ‘mashup’ and forego the old school and literary ‘portmanteau’ because that would be snooty and undermine my credibility amongst other creatives (but I include this aside to let you know that I’m capable of being snooty any old time I choose). What does that say about my brand?
In some ways, this emergent attribute — the personal brand — is a more intensive and abstracted version of the social networking that has gone on since humans first gathered on the savannah to hunt, gather and hatch plans for conquest. But it is also something new.
I’m temperamentally inclined to think of this development as a bad thing, a sign of an age of hyper-superficiality in which all personal attributes are reduced to calculated and depersonalized surfaces and projections, perhaps as justification for the fact that I find Facebook a yawn, can’t be bothered to tweet to save my life, and only blog under extreme duress. (You see! It’s not that I’m not with it, man: I’m just too deep to tweet, damn it!)
But that offhand assessment is mostly self-delusion. Probably because I didn’t grow up with instant messaging and Youtube…or even email, video games (unless Pong counts) and computers smaller than my bedroom. I simply arrived a generation or two too soon. Ok, whatever: yes, I am aware that your grandmother is on the Facebook day and night. I secretly follow her under an alias and think her potatoes-that-look-like-Obama posts are awesome.
Much has been made of the democratization made possible by the ubiquity of the web in general (where the distinction between knowledge production and consumption is said to break down) and of social media in particular (where one’s location in the brick and mortar world is not destiny). When it comes down to it, though, I think the upheavals of the social media maelstrom obscure not a fundamental realignment of social relations as much as they do the modes through which those social relations are expressed.
I presume we are fast approaching a time when it will become fashionable for academics to make the claim that there is no outside of the social media metaverse in the same way poststructuralists of the 80s claimed there is no outside of the text. Is the space between identity and personal brand collapsing like a waveform once it is observed, or does the personal brand merely redefine an identity always already mediated by contesting semiotic systems?
My training inclines me to the latter view, but that doesn’t mean this change is without consequences. In a world where brand becomes identity, the personal brand will not be an affectation, it will simply be an attribute of everyone cast in the net. Which means that, if you are unlucky enough to be relegated to the social media sidelines through cultural, economic and/or technological marginalization, you will have been rendered brandless, faceless, invisible.