The Myth of the Personal Digital Brand

1261-756630464_112d4af7a0_m.jpgI wrote on Saturday about The Fight Our Youth Face, discussing the problem that too much choice for our young people has a paralysing effect, and that there isn’t a strong focus on transferable skills.

We talked a while ago about ‘building the kingdom’ – looking at how a strong team is made up of individuals who strongly compliment one another. This is the type of thinking that I’m saying our youth aren’t getting so much of. It requires putting down your ego, and making others kings instead of yourself – being a kingmaker. Contrary to this, most young people want to be the king. Hey, I did, you probably did too.

My concern is, however, that the ‘be the king’ message is way out of hand, and I think it most subtly appears in the whole personal digital brand movement.

What I mean by this is that there is an inordinate emphasis on image and being ‘the social [insert area] guru‘, complete with logo, branded blog, branded avatar, slogan – and then complete lack of actual work. The idea of beefing yourself up is something that Jim Connolly is actually debating right now and is well worth getting in on the discussion.

Again, I’ve been here and made this mistake MANY times. For years I had the issue of having a better logo than actual business, and for years I made myself look bigger than I was. Thankfully, I’ve grown and balanced out somewhat through the mentoring of you guys and others.

But many young people lack this mentoring, and to be honest, we so focus on content online that it makes sense that it would be there starting point, rather than actually creating substance. It seems following is more important than delivering.

What Young People Say About The Myth

I want to share two good pieces on this to get our mind juice flowing a little. The first is from Daniel Agee, who wrote “Make Me King” recently:

I have a photographer friend who is determined to be the most well known photographer on the face of the globe. He is underselling workshops and speaking at as many conventions as he can. He is getting his name out there with abundance. He’s been turning down actual photography work to speak about his photography.

The problem is, his photography is mediocre at best. Where he shines is the experience his studio offers. While he is fighting to show how great he is and how much he can help others, he’s killing his own studio. By no longer walking the walk, he’s become an annoying bastard that must likes to talk about how great he can make your studio. His priorities are shot, and if he’s not careful, it will kill his business.

Instead of being the best, he’s trying to show he’s the best.

These people are too concerned with being king. One day, they’ll realize being king isn’t what’s important. It’s about making a kingdom worth being king of, not making yourself king.

Then, Annie Syed said this in a comment:

Moreover, I am discovering that the internet is really round and there is almost an incestuous circling of the same old people, again, and again, and again. Like really? How about you (not *you*) step out of your comfort zone and perhaps change the flow. I do see it happen here and there and it is refreshing. I see you in that line of creating a new momentum. And when I do, I am a religious zealot trying to “convert” others unto these humans. But for the most part it is disappointing.

And you know what is most disappointing is this masquerading of “I can help you” which is really another way to sell your services, product, book, etc. Now, you may be saying, “Well, Annie, people have to make money. We can’t live in a free-for-all society.” I agree. But just keep it authentic. And if you “truly” have no desire to connect with another beyond the talk of the product (or “work”) then state that too. It’s okay.

I guess my biggest realization is how rarely people tap into the humanity of one another. This doesn’t mean one has to spill all their personal stories. Not at all. But here we have a medium like the world wide web, shouldn’t it be beyond a reflection of how “business as usual” is happening on Earth? Or am I right that it is just a reflection of how we function on Earth?

Your Leading Thoughts

  • Where, culturally and historically, do these false images come from?
  • Rather than trying to modify behaviour, what are the roots behind this thinking, and how do we shift those mindsets?

Photo courtesy of francistoms

Archived Comments

  • http://ivanhernandezonline.wordpress.com/ Ivan Hernandez

    Excellent post Scott. I totally agree with the fact that many people think that building their personal brand is all about creating a strong image and “being seen”. Some of my clients actually get surprised when instead of focusing on the logo, the website, the image, I suggest them to have a foundation by identifying and defining three elements:
    – what is it that they do
    – how they do it / deliver it
    – how they can add-value and help others
    Yes, communicating and expressing the personal digital brand is important, but is just a tiny fraction of the process. Besides, it is worthless if there is no solid (and truthful) foundation.
    Cheers,
    Ivan

  • http://emmens.co.uk tobit

    great writing Scott.
    It reminds me of my complete failure to get a job (this is about a year back) because I *couldn’t* (maybe that should be wouldn’t) describe what we achieved as a department as my own work. The interviewers were so fixated on what I did, but what I did and shared was that I built a team or in your words a kingdom.
    OK, I get that they wanted to see if I was worth giving a job too, and in their eyes I wasn’t. TBH I am glad I didn’t get the job!

    As an aside, and for those inclined, check out a Bible version of this issue (Luke 12:16-21)

    Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
    “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
    “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Tobit

    Very good thoughts.

    Firstly, on the job front, I can relate. I always had a struggle with communicating what I did. While I’m glad it didn’t get the jobs too (!), it is nonetheless a vital skills to be able to clearly communicate.

    I always say the best branding is building something people know about.

    As for the parable – (always so good!) – it does speak strongly on this issue. We can’t be so self focussed. As Christ and Zig Ziglar say – if we help others, we will be helped ourselves

  • / Scott Gould

    Very good stuff Ivan

    The best branding does come from a clarity of who you are – not the image that you want to project.

    I did a branding seminar years ago and realised how un-focussed I was, and lacked clarity into what the product really was – not just what the marketing material said!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1341154669 Codi Dillon Spodnik

    Thanks Scott. This post is very timely for me.

    I don’t comment here often, as your other commentators so often cover what I wanted to say. But I always greatly appreciate your position and am so relieved to find a business/marketing/public voice that is consistently in alignment with Biblical principles. I am re-entering this space after a 5 – 6 year stint as a stay-at-home-mom in a small metro area. I do want to start my own consultancy, sharing the experience I gained before motherhood, helping clients find the right fit for executing their products, helping them articulate their needs and strategize solutions….. still working on the details.

    But I have found this space to be cluttered with this talk of “personal branding.” To me, it has the appearance of a cult of Self. After perusing my local “experts” and similar consultants all over the web, I am finding the same talk and catch phrases, regardless of their level of actual experience or competence. I was really struggling with finding a way to create my own genuine identity without engaging in this practice or having that appearance.

    I think I’m getting a handle on it now and following your talks and writing has been so helpful. My identity is genuinely a desire to be helpful – not to talk about myself at all, but to talk about and connect others. That has been the common thread in all my previous jobs, friendships and other experiences. Rather than “drinking the Kool-Aid” and following this herd of “personal branders” I have a desire to just strike out and find some problems I can solve.

    I am so grateful that you are calling this out, because to me, entering this space over the last 6 months, this dogma of the personal brand, had all the appearance of a sham. Keep up the good work. (I will make a greater effort to comment, despite the toddler in my lap).

  • http://twitter.com/so_you_know Annie Syed

    Scott,

    I am so humbled and honored to have had played a small role in shifting the focus. Even if not personally for you or anyone but in terms of sharing the authenticity of *my* voice in this big madness of social media.

    Something I have admired about you from the beginning (beginning being I found you via Luke at Isca Media when he tweeted spreadability article–which remains as my top 5 posts EVER, more on that later) is YOUR ABILITY TO CHANGE, LEARN, RE-ALIGN WITH A HIGHER PURPOSE, AND INTEGRATE WITHOUT PRIDE. It is exactly that which has kept me connected to you, despite my lack of comments as of late (trying to sort and balance my own bearings as I do creative writing).

    Prior to your leaving for that like-minded Helenski conference I mentioned I had perceived a shift in your focus. You agreed and we decided to chat about it later. Of course, still pending! hehe Thereafter, I saw your presence on twitter a bit differently. So I knew you were upto reorganizing. And voila!

    You have no idea how much respect I have for you–no, not because you decide to share my thoughts, which some dismiss because I am not a social media monger–but because of your integrity to honestly stay: hey, this is what I was doing, it doesn’t work and here is why, and now this is how I am doing it. It takes a lot. But I guess when your focus is to assist others ‘build lil kindgoms of their own’ then this is how it should start.

    I am grateful to be connected. I too am learning from you. And I am grateful for your energy that has allowed me to be part of the process.

    Sincere gratitude and respect.

    Annie

  • http://twitter.com/so_you_know Annie Syed

    Oh in re that “spreadability” article of yours… As I stated before (and lost followers): if you are NOT applicable on EARTH in some form–any form–then you are a puff of air that shall vanish. Seth Godin works even for non-business folks, even for my mother who is not going to start anything of her own any time soon, etc. etc. That spreadability article is kind of like that. It wasn’t about social media. It was applicable for all. It was helpful to whoever read it—I shared it with my friends in South Africa to those in United States. My mother has it printed out because it is so right on about “connecting” and “sharing.”

    And finally—something to think about in re “digital branding”. I was having a discussion with a former law professor of mine and he said that if people are using twitter to DEFINE themselves they are going to present a very fragmented version of themselves, a product, etc. Twitter is a mirror. You have got to fix yourself up on Earth and define via experiences on Earth and then say…aha….look how look through this mirror called Twitter. Just a thought in re: how can one use twitter for digital branding when one is using twitter for defining!

    cheers,

    wait. i want to say this instead: cheers, mate! hehe!

    ~a.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Codi

    Thank you *so* much for sharing some of your story with us and getting us involved!

    Firstly, I’m glad you agree with me that too much of this personal branding thing is the “cult of self”. I totally agree that it is a sham, and is all about image over substance.

    The reality is that I’ve wasted too much time over image and not put into time in substance so, so many times, so finally I feel I’m able to catch out which is which.

    Secondly, thanks for sharing your struggle as you re-enter consultancy. I haven’t really got the consultant thing down to be honest (the best person for getting tips on that is Robin Dickinson – http://www.radsmarts.com) – but I have learnt about what I call “Pulley” – the right balance of push and pull.

    I have the privilege that a fair number of people now come to me, rather than me going to them, and I think the keys lie around building something of substance more than anything else, and then also providing a platform for people.

    So, in practical terms, if I was to restart this blog, I’d focus on writing targeted content that has very clear takeaways, and then ANYONE who interacted with me, I’d help at the level at which they are participating with me.

    Finally, thanks for the kind words. I’m blessed that I can share a gospel message to the people that I have access to, and don’t take any of it for granted!

    Best,
    Scott

  • / Scott Gould

    Annie

    You have contributed so wonderfully to the community here, it is MY honour to engage with you. You comments the other day were exceptionally, so I immediately got them ready to re-post, and today got it together.

    Thank you *so* much for these kind words. It really is a vital to be humble enough to change and willingly accept your mistakes. I also find that in order to really help people, you need to be able to share these mistakes too.

    Sharing successes creates a skew image of someone. Sharing mistakes rather let’s me know what *not* to do, and gives me encouragement to keep going.

    I’d say most bloggers are writing about success and giving little regard for sharing mistakes. This of course is both a picture of their insecurity, and unfailing egos!

    Sincere gratitude and respect too,

    Scott :-)

  • / Scott Gould

    Annie,

    So love that the article has “spread” itself! Which one are you referring too BTW? I have a problem in that I often don’t refer back to my previous ideas, so I’d like to repost this one.

    Cheers, mate,

    Scott

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    This is excellent, Scott. Great feedback for Codi. I will help her in any way that’s useful.

    Best, Robin :)

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