Who are you? What do you stand for? What makes you different from everyone else?
As a marketer, I read those questions and instantly think, “ooh, ooh, that’s your brand! The answers to those questions make up your personal brand.” Or, to put it another way, they make up your identity. Now that’s a heavy and complex term.
Identity is one of those fluid words whose meaning can vary drastically depending on who you ask. There is your identity according to you, and then there’s your identity according to others. Are they aligned? Maybe. Maybe not.
I say I’m sophisticated. Maybe others say I’m stuffy. I say I’m kind. Maybe they say I’m a pushover. It’s challenging. It’s maddening. It’s the world of branding, and that world requires high-touch management of your personal brand. Managing your brand has never been more crucial, or more difficult, than in today’s totally connected, always on digital world.
Once upon a time, it was possible to make a whopper of a mistake, survive it, hopefully learn from it, and likely (with enough time and space) never have to face it again. Only the “really big” news that had to do with “big name” people ever surfaced in the media and, even then, it would have to have been pretty substantial in order for it to endure over a long period of time. Those days are gone.
The evolution of media from controlled channels like newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television networks to social media means that anyone can become tomorrow’s retweet royalty or social scum. Best to remember, whatever you say, post, share, publish or like essentially becomes social cement – the good, the bad and the ugly.
What’s more, your story is being documented, and not just by you. There’s the content you choose to post, share and react to and then there’s the content about you, posted and shared by others (um, yeah, un-tag me now). Our digital lives are pervasive.
Did your teachers ever talk to you about managing your identity? What about your parents? I recall my grandmother saying, “Don’t hang out with those girls honey, you don’t want to get a ‘reputation.’” I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant by a reputation, but I certainly didn’t want one. Lucky for me, and for most of you, my youth wasn’t played out on a massive social stage where my actions could be seen and my words heard on a global scale.
So what is the message we need to be sending our youth? Certainly the message must be far more than just “be aware!” How can we help students understand what identity means and how it transcends into our digital actions? How can we have an honest conversation around digital identity in age-appropriate ways in the K-12 environment? I don’t think this conversation is about data, and I do think it must go further than online privacy.
Digital citizenship that addresses responsible and appropriate behavior online is a start, but establishing and managing one’s identity is much more personal, and is deeply intertwined as much as with who we are online as it is with who we are offline.
What does your personal brand say about you? And based on that brand, what will you be sharing with students? In the digital age, my grandmother’s warning seems even more cogent.