The Dark Side of Personal Branding

I stumbled upon a post the other day called On Anonymous Blogging, in which the author reminisces about what blogging was like prior to the days of personal branding. We’re going back to the dark ages here — a time when MySpace was bigger than Facebook, LiveJournal was still popular, and dial-up internet access forced you to choose between talking on the phone or being online.

The internet has come a long way since then and so has the way we portray ourselves on it. Due to the massive charge toward non-anonymity online, people no longer feel free to be honest, to show the messy imperfections that make up real life.

I have developed a neat and tidy personal brand for myself that I don’t dare risk disturbing. In fact, I’ve taught classes on how to create and protect your personal brand online. But your personal brand doesn’t really represent you — it’s just a mirage — a sliver of your reflection in a broken mirror.

Where is the space for the rest of that shattered glass? What kind of deranged pressure are we taking on in the real world so that we can be portrayed in a specific light in a virtual one? And how much better could we be as a human race if, instead of hiding our imperfections under impossible standards, we let those foibles loose on the internet and supported one another through them?

What if the mom who posts about making perfect bento-box lunches for her kid also posted about the time her darling daughter drank a bottle of hand sanitizer and she had to call poison control? Or if the guy who posts about successfully climbing his way up the corporate ladder also posted about his challenges with being bi-polar?

Would it humanize the internet again? Would we stop living a staged life, stop chasing an impossible standard? Better yet, would we finally have authentically creative and interesting pieces of writing to read on the internet again, instead of list post after list post?

It’s unlikely that the internet will trend toward a state of anonymity again anytime soon, so we need to be courageous enough to put our true selves out there despite the very reasonable fear of discrimination against our glaring imperfections.

When I teach about personal branding, I tell my students that it involves the 80/20 rule. Regardless of your industry or seniority, 80% of what you do is the same as what everyone else does. The other 20% is unique to you. It’s your personality, your drive, your essence. That 20% is your personal brand. Oftentimes, that 20% exists because of some adversity that we have overcome, which means we need to be authentic if our personal brand is going to stand out in a way that gets us noticed.

I’ll get the ball rolling on shattering the ‘perfect parent’ facade by swallowing my trepidation and telling you that it was my kid who drank the hand sanitizer and me who had to call poison control. And I don’t even make amazing bento-box lunches to counter-balance this! If you’re wondering…your call to poison control is anonymous. They are very nice and will tell you that you are not a terrible mother and that a mouth full of hand sanitizer won’t poison your child, but the alcohol in it might lower his blood sugar so you should give him some apple juice and watch him for the next hour.

I look forward to reading about your imperfect lives in the future!




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This post was inspired by today’s daily prompt: Glaring

10 Replies to “The Dark Side of Personal Branding”

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, there are definitely some advantages. The major disadvantage is, of course, that it is more difficult to drive traffic to an anonymous blog because you post to your network and say “Hey, you should follow my anonymous blog!”, but for many people the advantages may outweigh that challenge.

  1. I didn’t even realize how much I agree with everything you mentioned until I read this post! And especially now that so many people thrive on public social media profiles, it perpetuates the pressure of personal branding and showing the world only the good and none of the bad.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Angela! It will be interesting to see how the trend of personal branding plays out. I predict that over the next decade or so it might become popular to have a personal brand of imperfection so that others can relate to you, follow you, and identify with you, instead of feeling like you have set an impossible to live up to Gwyneth Paltrow / Martha Stewart standard for yourself.

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