Anyone who uses the term "personal brand" with a straight face is an asshole, everybody knows that.
I always thought it was because it sounded vain and shallow.
"How will I be remembered when I die?" asked the social psychologist Robert Levine, who died last month. "Will there be an iconic Bob Levine—the guy who looked the way I did at some flattering moment when I was twenty-one, or when I was forty-one—who somehow stood out in people's memories? Or will I be some kind of average me, as if all the people I've been were thrown into a blender?"
That's a tough question in death—and it's just as hard on LinkedIn!
Do I want you to see me as:
• A professional scholar of rhetoric?
• A colorful commentator on communication?
• A publisher and entrepreneur?
• A closet family guy, whose daughter and wife are his life?
• An adventurer who occasionally risks his life (and thus his daughter and wife)?
"My personal brand is large," Walt Whitman said. "It contains multitudes."
No, he didn't. Because he was not an asshole.
And because a personal brand can't contain all the dimensions (some of them contradictory) of a real person. The molding and the maintaining and the promotion and the re-shaping of one's persona is a creative cover-up operation: Don't show them this, don't show them that, give them a glimpse of the other—and try to seem a bit edgy.
The exercise is either all-consuming and ultimately bland, or it's fucking hapless. Usually it's both.
Because you never have any idea who actually reads what about you, or whether it rubs them the right way or the wrong way. (For one infinitesimal instance: For every longtime friend and colleague who might celebrate my recent motorcycular ramble about Ecuador, a newly connected PSA member might naturally conclude that I'm an overpaid, underworked reckless jackass who shouldn't be in charge of a do-it-yourself car wash, let alone an association of professional writers.)
Short of never doing or divulging anything the least bit objectionable, how would I possibly calculate the effects of all my activities, opinions or poses—let alone the combination of all of them!—upon my "personal brand."
Aside from not posting my very most personal stuff on LinkedIn and not bothering my Facebook friends with strictly work-related stuff, I sort of let it all hang out, and hope for the best.
Actually, I don't even bother hoping for the best.
The benefit of the doubt, more like.
My personal brand is one emission nebula in your head, and another one in another person's head, and now perhaps a little different in everybody's head for my having emitted this little essay.
Corporate branding is difficult.
Creating a personal brand for a corporate CEO is dicey. (How about a persona?)
Creating a personal brand for yourself is tying yourself up with twine, and slip knots.