Self-protection vs Branding

January 28-February 3

These blog posts are part of the content for my course in Digital Citizenship at Cape Breton University.

Though the terms “personal branding” and “social media influencer” are recently coined, have we not always created a personal brand? By putting ourselves out in the workplace, through creating a resume and applying for positions we are already crafting our personal brand. We don’t reveal all on our resumes and in our cover letters, we reveal only that which we want to have our potential employers to see – in effect creating our brand geared to the position for which we are applying. But it starts earlier than that. When we are applying to universities, if there is an application process such as an essay, letter of introduction, or interview, we craft ourselves to be the kind of person the university desires. I know that when I applied for my Masters degree (M.Ed. in Sustainability, Creativity and Innovation), I emphasized my post-baccalaureate courses in sustainability, my work in my classroom with my classroom garden and the different creative endeavours I undertook in my teaching career. I crafted my brand.When I recently updated my resume to apply for the vice-principal posting in my school division, I emphasized my leadership skills both in my school and in my community, crafting my brand as someone who would be an asset to school administration. Does doing this make me narcissistic? Why, then, when people craft a brand – a public face – for social media do we suddenly see this as an act of narcissism?

However, this particular set of self-branding I’ve gone though is based on actual legitimate qualifications. It does seem that anyone with a social media account can set up their own personal brand and parlay it into a marketing tool. I’ve seen it happen with teacher accounts I follow on Instagram. They start out as teachers sharing their tips and tricks in the classroom and after a few years and a ton of followers are amassed, suddenly posts start appearing that seem more like ads. If you look carefully in the millions of hashtags in the post, one of them will be #ad which is the only indication that they’ve made a sponsored post. Now, I do all kinds of cool and creative things in my classroom, but I’ve never thought I could post all that and turn it into a revenue stream via my personal brand. Does that mean those that do are smart or narcissists?

I really started thinking about this question, especially with regard to the “teacher influencers” I have been following. I like their posts. I use some of their ideas in my classroom. Is it wrong for them to find a way to turn some of their creativity into advertising income?

Thinking about this made me think about my own personal brand. I realized that back in the 1990s, long before personal branding was a trend, I had created a personal brand. In 1997 I started working for Excite.com as a chat room host under the name Ninian. I hosted a once a week poetry chat called “Ninian’s Poetry Cafe”. Thursday nights, I’d sit for two hours in a chat room while teens and young adults shared their writing – some good, some not so good. I built up online friendships with these people. It became apparent after a few weeks that one evening a week wasn’t enough. People in the chat program wanted more. So other hosts were recruited and they hosted poetry chats, but all of them under the name “Ninian’s Poetry Cafe”. I was hired by Excite.com to be an assistant community manager. The poetry chat expanded to seven times a week and a message board under the title Ninian’s Poetry Cafe was started on Excite’s website. In 1999, the chat users who frequented Ninian’s Poetry Cafe organized a real time gathering in St. Louis, Missouri to share our poetry. I attended and while the others shared real names and connected them to screen names, I did not. I was only Ninian to this group of people – my personal brand. While the chat grew, Excite.com was slowly losing income and began the process of closing their message boards and dismantling their chat program. At this point I bought the domains NiniansPoetryCafe.com and NiniansPoetryCafe.org (no longer valid) where I established my own message board separate from Excite.com. I also set us up as a non-profit organization with a board of directors. This was followed up with two other real time gatherings, 2000 in Burlington, Ontario where we added writing workshops to the poetry reading sessions, and 2001 in Dallas, Texas. Throughout these events I maintained my brand of Ninian. At the high point of these years, I had the website, an online journal (which is still archived in the Library and Archives Canada), message boards, merchandise, writing awards, and other related things. I had become a brand carefully crafted and presented to the public.

When I went back to university to obtain my teaching degree in the mid 2000s, I closed my website and let my ownership of the domain lapse. I no longer had the time to devote to it and my brand slowly faded. For the nearly ten years I ran the Cafe, I loved doing it. I spent a lot of time working with young writers, helping them to develop their craft. Did I like the attention? Probably. It’s hard now to get back to that person. Do I think I was a narcissist? No. I think that if it was narcissism, I would have struggled to keep it going over the years.

I think that among the people who are establishing a personal brand there naturally will be some who are narcissists, but for the most part, I think they are people trying to make a living any way they can. If they have a service to share and can promote it by way of a personal brand I say more power to them!

In establishing my personal brand as Ninian, I don’t think I am a narcissist. However, I did practice self-protection. I kept my real self separate from the online persona. And, vestiges of that persona can still be seen in my online life now, though I have blurred the edges a bit.

References

Glutenfreeness. (2017, February 16). Self-branding – The ultimate narcissism! Retrieved from https://minimalistexposure.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/self-branding-the-ultimate-narcissism/

Parker, J. (2010). Social networking: Protecting your information and personal brand. Inquiries Journal, 2(6), 1

About Erin Thomas

Writer, poet, teacher, mum, M.Ed. candidate, erstwhile book reviewer, and MUFC fan!
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