Personal Branding and the Destruction of Social Fiber

In the post social media era, we are in a fight to preserve authenticity, perhaps a losing fight. Commercialization has destroyed many aspects of the once coveted community, including the ability for people to simply be real. A primary causation of this deterioration of real people talking to real people is the personal brand movement.

In an effort to put one’s best foot forward, to win business, to gain higher notoriety, to be liked, conversations have become contrived. Personal branding, a movement flawed in so many ways, has stopped people from being present.

To be clear, mindfully present doesn’t necessarily mean that one needs to air every single defect of character throughout the day on Twitter. But it is a journey.

We saw Ashton Kutcher muff up a Penn State tweet. Instead of hiring his social media agency to program his personally branded tweets, it would have been much more refreshing to see an actual sincere apology and a forward leaning conversation. But in the era of personal branding, Kutcher did what so many others have already done. He sold out.

When people are driven to purposefully maintain an image or a sales proposition, they are no longer there. Often they will drive any active conversations toward their intent, instead of focusing on the other person(s) and the ideas at hand.

Fake Flowers in the Sun
Fake Flowers in the Sun by Orin Zebest

It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who is not there.

Social media is a relational media. When relationships can’t be watered, they wither like flowers in the blazing summer sun. And so without real people talking to each other, the very fiber of social media is weakened. This is the state of the over-commercialized, personal brand-centric social web.

Perhaps the battle for authentic human behavior online is already lost. But real people talking to real people will never stop being desirable, nor will it ever go-away. More likely, it is bubbling under the surface of the commercialized noise, or simply existing separately as individual private sub communities in the underground.

How do you think personal branding has impacted the social web?

16 Replies to “Personal Branding and the Destruction of Social Fiber”

  1. Unfortunately we live in the social MEdia generation, where folks are more concerned with their own efforts rather than producing for their companies. It has also sparked instant experts on topic matter just because someone jumps into a new role. I see this too often with community managers and PR folks…

    1. It is endemic amongst our field. I guess what’s most concerting is that it is being taught by schools and companies to their staff, creating a whole generation of personal branders who really have no understanding about the impact of personal branding.

      1. Call me old-fashioned but I still play by the old sports rally cry of playing for the logo on the crest not the name on the back. My biggest beef is seeing folks coming out of school, hosting chats and offering advice on pushing for their brand being bigger and not giving two shits about the company they work for as long as they can keep moving to a new place with some more greenbacks on the bi-weekly check. 

        This generation who focuses on said personal brand tend to look at themselves as unflappable and perfect and that everyone else should realize it. Many of whom will leave a job because a boss needs them to improve – newsflash you don’t become a CEO overnight and everyone can improve.

  2. An issue I see behind all of this is why people think they need to become a “brand” in the first place. You struck on it in a previous post about being a pundit or wonk (an awesome post btw).

    When I started my first business I thought that I had to have a huge company and made every effort to try to create the illusion that I had one. That didn’t work out too well, as evidenced by my burning out every two weeks from too much work and a complete lack of sleep.

    In the United States we love our celebrities and we love to try to be celebrities. I think personal branding feeds into that. I also think a factor affecting this is an unconscious belief that many people have that they have to build something huge in order to be seen as successful. They feel they need to have a ton of Twitter followers, Facebook fans (and likes), and all that jazz.

    I don’t believe that to be true.

    So I’ll continue having real conversations with real people. I’ve found that when it comes to my business that works really well. In fact it’s an advantage that many small businesses should be using a lot more.

  3. An issue I see behind all of this is why people think they need to become a “brand” in the first place. You struck on it in a previous post about being a pundit or wonk (an awesome post btw).

    When I started my first business I thought that I had to have a huge company and made every effort to try to create the illusion that I had one. That didn’t work out too well, as evidenced by my burning out every two weeks from too much work and a complete lack of sleep.

    In the United States we love our celebrities and we love to try to be celebrities. I think personal branding feeds into that. I also think a factor affecting this is an unconscious belief that many people have that they have to build something huge in order to be seen as successful. They feel they need to have a ton of Twitter followers, Facebook fans (and likes), and all that jazz.

    I don’t believe that to be true.

    So I’ll continue having real conversations with real people. I’ve found that when it comes to my business that works really well. In fact it’s an advantage that many small businesses should be using a lot more.

    1.  Well said, sir. I, too, have been thinking lately about scalability for the businesses of tomorrow, my own included. Do we need to scale to international conglomerate levels to be successful? To be happy? I say no.

      And I think it’s *because* I can say no that I am content to leave the hucksters to their influence and best practices. Big business lets more than enough customers fall through the cracks each and every day to more than sustain my business model for years to come.

      I think we’ll start seeing “the real” go back-channel, where there is greater sincerity and freedom from the ills of sailing the Sea of Sycophants. Both my personal and business Twitter accounts are private now, and much of our community is too.

      Here’s to “the real.”

      1. It’s easier being real. I wonder how these people remember all of their branding elements through a day, or scarier if they think that’s real!

        1. It’s like Mom always said, “If you keep making faces like that, one day it’s gonna stay that way.” Sad fact of life for the shills. Their ability to grasp meaning and authentic value simply fades away over time.

    2. I have had similar issues with past companies I have own.  Now that I am consulting independently, I have elected — at least for the short term — not to build a company, and that includes not branding.  There’s no reason for it.  Reputation is good, and I don’t want to scale.  Even if my reputation sucked, I would simply work on why and network.  So to me it’s about the work and relationships.   A brand is something marketers make to sell something for a company.

  4. Personal Branding in itself is quite an irony. Why would you brand yourself as if a product that sell something? It’s something that breeds egotism in a world that believes you have to be “someone” in order to do or say “something”.

  5. “It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who is not there.” Or one who’s faking it for branding and image sake. I’m ‘social’ because I am. And because yes, I aim to make contacts, develop skills that make me a better professional. No one’s in business completely alone; it takes a network of real people, to live, work, play. I don’t buy into my ‘brand’ any more than the myth of full transparency. Yes I’m as real and authentic as I feel I can be, as a professional.

    I’ve never been a fan of ‘personal brand’ and the way it’s been played about, pushed, marketed. I do good work, serve clients/employers honorably, professionally then my reputation is good; I do crap, then I’m a crap professional looking for work. Think maybe the rest is window dressing. FWIW.

  6. We cannot deny that personal branding was created out of an effort to put forth one’s most appealing image, leaving the baggage in the shadows and promoting our best selves. Ironically, it seems that those with the “worst selves” are the ones branding fake images.  As a student, I have yet to hear the end of what messages are sent out to future employers through my social media accounts.  Although this is true, and I would never want to jeopardize a job because of my social media behaviors, I am not about to hide myself or front a fake image.  I don’t use social media strictly for professional networking, and I’m not about to fool someone of that.I love your wording that “the very fiber of social media is weakened” because people have become a brand from which actions and words come.  Social media ever evolving – hopefully the foundations are strong enough to withstand losing a few fibers to personal branding.

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