Personal Branding & You: A Bitter Take

Let’s go back to 2014, a simpler time, free of Clemson National Championships and other orange oxymorons.

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That was the year I finished my undergrad and the year I started churning out job applications in earnest. It was also the year that I was warned by professor after professor to ‘watch what you put on the Internet,’ since everyone had a story about an employer not hiring someone based solely on a tasteless Tweet or inflammatory image. It was good advice, and I was careful not to say or do anything online that might come back and bite me in the ass. This was the same story for most of my peers.

Professionally, we – young adults – are in an unprecedented time. It’s a time when your prospective employers do more than just judge you based on your resume and an in-person interview; they also pad their opinions with research from the Internet, mostly collected from your very own social media accounts. Some, like LinkedIn, are tailored specifically for this purpose, and loaded with strategic features that help both employers and job-seekers alike to better understand one another professionally. The majority aren’t quite as streamlined.

I think most of us have had that frantic moment of realization where we finish our cover letter, clean up our resumes, and confidently send both off into the void, only to realize afterwards that some HR rep is going to be googling your name which could yield all sorts of less-than-flattering results. I definitely did. In a moment of sheer panic, I wound up outright deleting my Facebook since untagging all of the photos from my Hooters/functioning alcoholic days would have given me carpal tunnel. It was always a danger, what you put up on social media: how you captioned things, how you updated statuses, how you presented photos of yourself.

it425HbSixuw-WMlOnanBzGsTOY.jpgI dunno why they brought Dido into this. She doesn’t deserve to go down with this ship.

Fast-forward to 2016. I’ve been in the workforce for a couple of years now, most of which has been freelance work, and the attitude around social media has changed drastically. There is still very much a call to be ‘smart’ about what you put on the Internet, but a lot of that is common sense. Even louder, though, is the desire for a brand. This doesn’t apply to more traditional fields, those where expectations and deliverables are measured by hard numbers. But for me, a copywriter, and my colleagues who are in similar ‘creative’ positions, it has almost become a requirement.

Employers’ interest extends beyond a proof of basic social media savvy and carries over into what can be measured, most notably your platform. It’s important to prospective clients and employers that they can quantify how much ‘reach’ your work will have, and comparing your number of followers to that of your competition is an easy, quick way to do this. That’s not to say the quality of your work doesn’t matter, but it’s no longer the only thing that matters.

When I realized this, I felt a surge of potent rage and bratty indignation. I’ve long adhered to Steve Martin’s advice, “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” and strengthening my writing to the point of ‘unignorability’ already seemed a pretty mammoth task. And now, what, they wanted me to curate an interesting online persona, too?! I didn’t sign up for this. The entire point of being a writer was so I could glorify my weird reclusive eccentricities through my ‘creative’ line of work, not shine a spotlight on them.

I’ll admit that social media and I have a pretty terse relationship. I’m active-ish on it; I have an Insta, a Twitter, and a Facebook account, though I’m really only busy on Instagram. Even that, though, is limited to a post or two a week, because – and I’m going to be very honest here – my life is fantastically boring. To me, it’s super interesting, because I read lots of cool books and talk to neat people on my writing forums and hang out with my fun husband and kid. Did you fall asleep halfway through that sentence? I thought you might. Imagine if I spread that excitement vacuum across my social media accounts.

I also have a weird problem with self-promotion. It’s one thing to post on my instagram once a week that it’s ‘Wednesday Blogday’ (or in this case, Friday Blogday) but for me, even that is pushing it. I’ve had too many randos from high school message me being like ‘Hey, girl! Long time no talk, your little family is so beautiful! Also, have you heard about this fun new Ponzi scheme I’ve been sucked into? Please help me by hosting a party/wiring me cold hard cash, they won’t untie me from this radiator until I get at least one sale.’

2461099300000578-2896482-The_average_household_is_likely_to_have_their_thermostat_turned_-m-22_1420482548757.jpg“When will my Scentsy overlord release me from this prison?”

Flooding anyone’s feed with nonsense content for the sake of exposure and maximum hashtags seems disingenuous and skuzzy, not to mention that, as I said before, I simply cannot come up with that much interesting stuff. I much prefer to crap out one decent-quality post a week and plead for your attention just as infrequently, like any self-respecting blogger. Plus, I have a full-time job, which can be a real timesuck. (That was a joke. Please do not fire me.)

So here I sit, on my Steve Martin-endorsed high horse, young and fresh and optimistic that I will eventually be so good that they can’t ignore me. It will be interesting one day to go back to the date of this post and calculate just exactly how long it took my spirit to break. Because for all of my hopeful talk about simply catching the attention and eventual adoration of editors through the power of my written word, I also really, really like money.

I give it til the end of 2017.

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