Personal branding is the practice of marketing people and their careers as brands. It’s an ongoing process of developing and maintaining the public reputation and impression of an individual. This used to be something that only corporations and businesses did to uniquely identify themselves and their products. Now, it’s become crucial for individuals to make a living both on and off social media. Everywhere people are encouraged to build their personal brands or suffer the consequences of not getting with the times. We are told that it can do amazing things including help you get a great job, secure the bag, and build a powerful network and reputation. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. What is the dark side of personal branding?
Employability trumps everything else
Everything now is about employability. People are warned about posting certain things on the internet lest they rub employers the wrong way and fail to get gainful employment. These narratives benefit from and take advantage of people’s precarious economic situations and need to survive harsh financial times.
Personal branding is encouraged as a way to get ahead of it and build your own reputation and perception of you. We are encouraged to shape, fashion, and force ourselves into whatever shapes we think corporations will find desirable in order to get jobs. It’s dangerous to give corporations this much power over who we are and what we do even if it’s just online. Changing ourselves for corporations online is still changing ourselves. The internet despite the phrase IRL is real life. It’s also crucial for free speech, so allowing corporations to control what we can and cannot say is ceding too much power for too little in return.
Personal branding is all about shaping people’s perceptions of you. This often encourages and rewards lies. We see this with social media celebrities including influencers who craft an image that is nothing like they really are. Politicians are by far the masters of personal branding and brand management which tells you everything you need to know about honesty and people branding themselves. The lies and scandals of influencers whose bread and butter is personal branding are also revealing.
The purpose of branding is to sell goods and services. Branding is about trade and the marketplace. Personal branding invites and requires individuals to commodify themselves so that they can do better in the marketplace. It dehumanizes people and reduces them to merely their labour power that they’re peddling online to the highest bidder. Personal branding is not just about showcasing your skills but packaging yourself as a worthy person whose beliefs fit those of the corporation. Human beings are not just workers, and we shouldn’t be forced to package and sell ourselves for the opportunity to make money for a corporation.
Personal branding at its core is about cultivating a name and image of ourselves that we manipulate for economic gain. It encourages lies and dishonesty and demands that we package ourselves into what we imagine corporations want. It impedes our freedom to be ourselves and speak freely without fear of not being able to work and support ourselves. It is framed as self-empowerment especially as related to job hunting and networking, but it is not. It costs far more than it confers, seeing us only as a labour force and not as complex human beings with more needs than employment. It also takes advantage of people’s precarious economic situations which is in total bad faith.
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