Branding used to be the exclusive parlance of marketing and advertising folks. If you asked someone off the street what branding was, they might suggest a company name like Coke or Ford. But it would not be expected that they would understood what a brand actually is, or how brands are defined, nurtured and grown over time.
Though this has not changed — that is, they can’t explain branding — they’re actually doing it. Non-stop.
Young and old, people are using social media to tell a never-ending brand story about themselves.
To illustrate my point, some gross generalizations about social media are in order.
First, look at Facebook. Users appear obsessed with how they are presenting themselves by carefully curating moments from their life for everyone to see. It’s as if we are conscious of the fact that the people we associate with — what we like and even what we comment on — are all associations that build up or tear down our personal brand stories. At a base level, this is the “big idea” for Facebook.
If we encounter someone that can enhance our brand by association, we “friend” them or take a selfie. Even President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took a selfie today at the memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela. Though the image that captures this moment is a bit fun, it does seem odd that we’ve come to this.
My point is — a lot of Facebook is about sharing and connecting with people to enhance our personal brands stories, even if we don’t know we’re doing it.
Pinterest is no different. Our boards and pins are a sort of visual shorthand for our personal brand associations. Sure, we pin things that we like or may find useful or hope to buy one day. But how many of us are subconsciously gathering and organizing our pins and boards because they are suggesting a larger narrative about how we wish to perceived, based on what we like and collect? And are these digital scraps of style and perfection articulating our true selves — or does this sort of digital branding suggest the order and perfection that we are lacking in our own lives — and for some, cause depression?
LinkedIn is more of the same. The companies that we follow and the connections that we make all appear like building blocks in a larger brand story that we are incessantly working to define. Yet so much of it doesn’t feel real. The online connections, companies we follow and the posts we make all stand to add metadata to our living résumé, in case a prospective employer or business prospect wants to know what makes us tick.
But how much of our digital brand persona is real? How many of the connections that we share in social media would actually be there for us when the chips are down? Do we find that we are spending so much time managing our digital brands that we are forgetting to do the actual living?
Clearly social media, technology, reality TV and pop culture and some of the converging factors that are pushing us to create our own fictions. The 2013 Kardashian clan Christmas card, shot by surrealist photographer David Lachapelle, is rather grim and depression illustration of these converging trends.
Despite being an “ad guy” (i.e., a person that makes his living from marketing and digital media), I worry for those younger than I.
Will they be able to put their smart phones down long enough to find lasting connections and meaning in the real world?
Or will they continue to stream, post, tag and share without ever looking up or stepping away?