If you told me two years ago that I was going to be here writing about branding and, more specifically, self-branding, I’d probably burst out laughing. Branding was never really my thing – it was a concept I’d mingled with time to time and it was something that was always present in the back of mind (thanks to years of Internet PSA’s, workshops, and scoldings from parents or the like) but it was something I always just assumed was some kind of ‘Internet safety’ mumbo jumbo. Well…

Brands are real… and you have one.

But that’s no reason to be afraid.

Branding refers to the act of creating a short-hand image or concept behind a larger, more complex idea. For example: Larry Platt was a contestant on American Idol back in 2010. Larry exploded into pop culture acclaim for his performance of “Pants on the Ground,” a seemingly original tune he brought with him to his audition (and a tune that would launch Larry into near-superstardom based on how funny it was).

Larry thus became the Pants on the Ground Guy, someone whose name I couldn’t even remember without Googling ‘pants on the ground guy’ in shame. In short: Larry has a brand. And it’s a brand that ignores the complexity of who Larry is or was, including his career as a civil rights activist.

Brands are not fully accurate representations of who we are. You know that just by thinking about the brand many fast food places try to sell themselves on (think McDonald’s salads which are frighteningly loaded with calories). Yet they’re judged by how authentic or true they appear. Again, the fact that we know fast food places aren’t healthy despite their marketing shows that we’re wary of their brand and skeptical of their messaging. So what’s the happy medium?:

Be who you are.

Boy, that sounds like something from an 80’s flick, but seriously, staying true to yourself in an online forum is the best route. And I mean both the good and the bad. Employers are not looking at your LinkedIn first. In fact, research seems to suggest that your LinkedIn is the last thing an employer goes to check. Can you guess what the first few sources they’ll check are?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram

They’re checking on the Big 3, so to speak. And they’re checking on them to find more accurate representations of who you are. Translation: Employers want to see an authentic view of who you are. We live in a day and age where it’s easy to tell when someone has tailored an online image to appear overtly clean or censored. The more interesting representations of who you are are the ones that speak closely to who you the real person is and who you really aspire to be.

This isn’t the ultimate compendium of branding advice but it’s a start. If you’re interested in hearing more, and hearing more about the research I’ve done on branding and LinkedIn, keep an eye out for a pair of Digital Identity Workshops coming up in mid-March!