The reason why there are so many social media managers and digital marketing people constantly promoting their services by posting so many photos of themselves looking cute, is because they are following a process called “personal branding.” And in case you haven’t noticed, every personal brand is starting to look like every other personal brand.
The screwed-up idea that brand = glamour
The theory behind personal branding is much the same thought that goes in to the creating of a celebrity. Because social media and the internet has meant that it’s easy for us all to create a presence, have a voice and promote ourselves to audiences that would never have known us previously, the most mundane people of all can parade themselves around like they are on the cover of Beautiful Homes & Gardens or Vogue magazine. And being one myself, I can confirm that digital marketing and social media management are some of the most boring things you can do in the marketing world. What we do, is the most entry level of all marketing roles. We don’t need qualifications. We don’t need experience. We don’t even need to know what we’re doing. All we really need to do is make it look like we know what we’re doing and portray the idea that we are successful because we have been able to leverage the power of social and digital marketing for ourselves. If we were able to achieve this for ourselves, just imagine what we can do for you!
Branding is important. Very important.
And this whole personal branding movement, driven hard by celebrity bloggers like Mia Freedman and every personal development and life coach known to humankind, has placed the cult of celebrity above all other credibility. It rewards beautiful photos of the practitioner over a depth of experience and client success. It rewards rousing speeches and applause over hard-won wins on projects. It promotes the idea that you can race past the normal road to success by being more famous than your competitors, because people like buying Coca Cola. Not just “cola.”
And there’s some merit to it. Despite there being a few ride sharing driver services in much of Australia now, the public mostly uses Uber because it’s the brand they know, and the one they are comfortable with. Despite there being absolutely no difference between Dairylea cheese slices and Kraft cheese slices, the attempt to remove the Kraft brand has been a disaster in sales. The move from Kraft peanut butter to “The Good Nut” has also led to consumer confusion and plummeting sales. Brand is important. Despite Dairylea cheddar cheese being identical to Kraft cheese, tens of thousands of customers believe that the product suddenly tastes different, more chemical-like and even melts differently. The only thing that changed in the product, was the brand and packaging.
The influence of Instagram and LinkedIn – and how this perpetuates gender myths
So even though there is so much merit to branding and the idea of creating a personal brand, why does every personal brand by freelance web designers, social media managers and business coaches seem to look the same as every other? Mostly because they are reading from the same playbook as each other. For men, it’s the loud American guy who throws tonnes of buzzwords at you, talks super fast and has a whole “you’d be mad not to take this opportunity” vibe. For women it’s endless photos of themselves dressed in gorgeous clothing, with full make up, demure smiles and spotless white desks with a Macbook Pro, iPhone and coffee perfectly placed on it. Men are being coached by personal branding consultants to be dominant, decisive, strongly-worded and getting straight to the point. Women are being coached to sit up straight, look divine, pretend that they are working in the most glamorous environment, effortless balancing a laptop computer on the couch whilst their hair sits perfectly. I’m not sure who these styles are meant to be appealing to. For men, I blame the cut-to-the-chase all-business environment of LinkedIn. For women, I blame the effortlessly-beautiful-at-any-cost environment of Instagram. Either way, this push to create personal brands that are compelling is making everyone look the same and perpetuating some very destructive gender myths. In personal branding world, all men are hard-talking, aggressive action-men, and all women are demure, cute, white-wearing make-up influencers. And from what I’ve mostly seen, it’s not actually working. Most of these people are making mere pocket-change out of their endless selfies and creation of fake avatars of themselves, pretending to be more successful than they are.
Things aren’t as they seem
Freelancers are creating fake images of themselves, particularly in the world of social media, to inspire small businesses in overwhelm to get them to help deliver the dream that you can simply outsource all your worries and live a life of beauty, leisure, Lamborghinis and power suits. And struggling small businesses respond to this because deep down they want a break from the struggle of small business. Which all leads to a warning. No social media manager sits on a couch, bolt upright with the perfect back curvature, coffee in one hand, laughing to the distance at nothing at all. No freelance web developer sits at a spotless desk at home with a Macbook Pro at a 45 degree angle to where they are sitting, with a perfect latte on the left and a potted cactus on the right.