It is NOT personal branding – it’s Just living your life online.

I was on a panel this weekend at UC Berkeley’s J-school. I am often the youngest person on panels and get pigeon-holed to speak on behalf of my age. Okay, fine – i’ll be the “young outspoken new media entrepreneur” because it is a voice that needs to be heard and sometimes is left out in journalism spaces. Besides, it isn’t a far stretch from where I am anyways.

One question that came up (and often does) was the issue of “personal branding.”

The logical flow goes like this….

  • “Journalism will survive the death of its institutions.”
  • This leads to the conclusion that we will have lots of independent journalists.
  • Which means independent journalists will have to create “personal brands” since they can’t rely on institutions to warrant a readers trust.

This is true – but I think the word “brand” is loaded and as such “personal brands” are being mischaracterized.

The response I hear from reporters is.

  • I don’t want to be a brand.
  • I am shy.
  • Isn’t branding just selling out? “Damn the man, save The Empire”

(10 Journo-points to whoever can name that quote).

So here is what “personal branding” means to me.

Being a “brand” doesn’t mean anything. What we really mean is: Live parts of your life online.

  • Be findable online
  • Show your personality – whatever that is (you can be shy….online)
  • Just be yourself.

Journalists don’t need to do “personal branding” but they do need to live their life online. In fact, that is what LOTS of people are doing anyways.

Young people live their lives online naturally (Facebook). Journalists will have to do so with a bit more fervor and transparency, because readers will want to trust them. To do that you must show who you are through various means using tools (blog, twitter, flickr, etc) to make your life accessible online.

Personal branding doesn’t mean slapping a logo on yourself. It just means being exactly who you are right now (yes, you… the one reading this) but doing that online.

How to start from scratch and make it feel natural.

  • Start a blog (wordpress?)
  • Do daily videos. Just you – talking to the camera (YouTube).
  • Talk about one news story a day, what you think and how you might have covered the story differently.

Try that for two weeks. You are now living your life online. Congrats – you have a “personal brand.” (I really hate that phrase – but it is the accepted terminology).

My personal narrative in this.

I am “Digidave.” I was 23 when I started building this online persona and it literally is just me ….. except online. These are my corny jokes, thoughts, dreams and occasional real life stories.

I do wish I had come up with a more mature name, but alas – I chose Digidave and now I feel somewhat tied to it. I’ve seen worse names.

Yes. I live parts of my life online. I keep some of it separate. My nomdeplum has served me well. People remember and recognize me. I’ve built a strong presence online that shows consistency in my strengths and dispositions. While this seems somewhat ego-centric, it is MY blog about MY life. I am not an institution and my personal brand is nothing more than me just living my life online.

The dark side of personal branding

â?¢    Having a good “personal brand” is misconstrued as making a flashy website.

Yes, I have a cute little photo of five versions of me (outdone by Alexis Madrigal’s many handed photo) but if we hadn’t produced quality content as reporters or worked our butts off on different projects – our “personal brands” would be empty shells and people would figure it out.

A “personal brand” doesn’t mean slapping a logo on yourself and calling it a day.

You can’t be “DigiX,” photoshop a cute photo of yourself and think you’ve secured the fate of your career.

I see people who try this everyday on Twitter. They often call themselves “Social Media Experts, Guru’s, Consultants etc.” In the past I’ve written about how I HATE social media consultants that are just fake personas. I obviously don’t want to trash everyone doing it, some are great, but there are a lot of snake oil salesmen on the internet.

These characters often rely on personal brands that are pure flash. Which is to say: They aren’t living their lives online – they are creating a fake persona. There is self-promotion which is understandable in a world of freelancers and then there is shameless self-promotion which is unbecoming.

How can I know the difference (you ask).

It isn’t rocket science – decide for yourself who you do and do not like as a person. If you like the persona a person gives off – follow them, support them, comment on their blog and join the conversations they are starting. Over time you’ll be able to determine the real from the fake.

Now go forth and live your life……. and do some of that online.

16 thoughts on “It is NOT personal branding – it’s Just living your life online.”

  1. That quote is from Empire Records, the stoner guy I think.

    And, I don’t think “branding” is really necessary. We just need to find a way to establish trust online. Via friends is working well. I’ll trust someone if someone I already trust, trusts that person (Hmm, I hope that came out right).

    Yeah, I can stand the consultants either. I keep getting friend requests from them through Twitter. They definitely are not living their life online; they’re branding. All they want to push is their product (their special “advice”).

  2. DigiDave,

    This was a great post for me to read at the moment, as I consider going further online to carry out work as a citizen journalist and cultural activist. I worry that it’s an ego-centric thing to do, and that I would have to ‘create’ a persona. This post made me realise it’s not ego-centric if you’re doing it for a cause you believe in (such as quality journalism, in your case), and there’s no ‘creating’ about it – rather, it’s just an electronic representation or extension of your physical life.


  3. @Ryan

    You got it EXACTLY.

    If you have to fake the funk, then you’ve lost.

    But if it is something you believe in – then let that show. It is “personal branding” but really… “it’s just an electronic representation or extension of your physical life.”


  4. Digidave: Good thoughts. The internet still instills enough angst (like a live tv camera in your living room) to make us say/present things that are not really reflective of our actual person. The more it becomes a real-time conversation (like what Twitter is doing), the quicker and more obviously we can recoil from posers: defriending, unfollowing, disengaging. (the stoner guy is Marc. I love that movie)

  5. Comments left out from Digidave's old typepad migration

    * Dave Earley

    I hadn't really noticed the five Daves before. Very nice. I didn't tackle the “personal branding” issue too much, but just put up a post linking the “individual journalist” to Clay Shirky's “Unthinkable” post the other day.

    Definitely more thought has to go into the issue, but excellent post, and exactly what a lot of journalists are scared of doing – living their lives online.

    And maybe in MSM there's just a bit too much dwelling on the perceived awesomeness of Rex Manning Day.

    I'll collect my 10 Journo-points on my way out 😉 Ah, missed the “intensedebate” comments below. Damn.



    Great post. Totally agree that brand is too static, too inflexible. I prefer to talk about building online identity rather than brand. An online identity is genuine because it is me, more flexible than brand as people grow, change have ups and downs, for brands such natural parts of life are much harder. I can build an online identity on projecting who I want to be as well of course, useful for journalism students, but then I have to support it by consistent behaviour for it to be cerdible.

    In many ways I've “inherented” these thoughts on identity vs brand from my friend Adriana who's very passionate about this, but the more I use social media, especially for my work, I see more and more how impoartant and useful they are. A recent post of Adriana's on this:

    As a journalist I find all the time that it's so much easier to interact with people on my blog, where I'm only representing me, than on the site of my employer(s) where I'm supposed to represent the brand with all its connotations and history

  6. People need to realize that we are all living online now anyway. Even if you aren’t on Facebook, your friends are and they might take a pictures of you that goes up there. An ex-lover rants about you on their blog, if you aren’t living online you never know that your reputation is being harmed. We need to be here in order t keep it under control.

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