The discussion of personal branding has a spectrum of beliefs that go from "you are who you are, people should just accept it no matter what", to "you need to be cognizant of how every little thing you do is perceived every moment of every day".
The problem with one end of the spectrum is that even people who feel that way see things in others they disagree with and they make judgements about that person. Because - and this relates to the problem with the other end - we're all human. Imperfect. Capable of making mistakes, or having differing beliefs. The problem with the other end of the spectrum is that it relies on having the ability to control others' perceptions.
I ran across an article on personal branding recently that showed so clearly that we are all being judged by a variety of standards. From what we wear, to what we say, to who we associate with, to whether we have decent grammar or spelling skills, even what we think and believe. We hold each other to pretty high standards.
Unfortunately, being humans, the standard we hold others to is usually heavily influenced by our personal beliefs and values. Sometimes we have weird standards that are really silly and frivolous, but deeply ingrained nonetheless.
For example, it took me years to accept that one's belt doesn't actually have to match one's shoes. There was just something so nice about the matchy, matchy accessories. Did I judge people for not matching their accessories? Sadly, I think I did. Fortunately, I tended to think that the perpetrator either did not know what I knew about matching belt and shoes, or they couldn't find matching shoes and belt (a ridiculously common problem with navy and brown, right?), or they simply didn't care.
(I told you some people have weird standards.)
Your brand is so much more than how you look
Discussions I've had around branding often start with the visual. The logo, colours, fonts, style - those are all small, superficial (though not unimportant) details that only go skin deep.
Your brand is what you say, how you say it, what you do, why you do it, and on and on. Have you ever met someone who was so well put together on the outside, but as you got to know them you came to realize that they had well-hidden messiness? On the flip side, discounting someone who appears to be an unorganized train wreck could mean grossly underestimating a worthy opponent. (Think Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni on The Good Wife. Her character is one of my all-time favourites.)
Don't hide your genuine self online
How easy is it to show your best face online? You can choose the picture you set up on profiles, you can share only the good or not-mistake-ridden stories of life, you can white wash every last byte of information you share. But should you?
Being selective about what you say or don't say is completely fine. We all have different levels of comfort with sharing. You can be authentic without being transparent. A willingness to share every intimate detail of your life isn't a prerequisite to being active on social media. We can show we're human through personable updates just as effectively as we can through personal updates.
Personal: I've had quite a day. Went to drop off my kid at school and got a flat tire, which caused me to use some unfortunate words in front of said kid. It was fun getting a call from the teacher right after a meeting in which my boss told me I better get my act together. Nothing like motivation to pay bills to get me working in this job I hate.
Though it's 100% fake and lacks any identifying details of the child, the teacher, the boss, or the company, this update makes me cringe a little - It makes me uncomfortable.
Personable: Got a flat tire on my way to drop off my kid. That kinda set the tone for the day. Calgon, take me away!
Both are genuine. Both are authentic. Both are transparent. The personable update just leaves out some details, but the reader will still get the message that it's been a rough day - and we can all relate to that.
Know when to walk away
It's practically impossible to get online these days and not encounter someone's opinion or an issue that we disagree with. There's nothing wrong with conversing about any topic you want to, but when the heat turns up, or there's immediate shutting down of ideas, those are my cues to walk away before the discourse goes off course. How you respond to controversy or confrontation can say a lot about you to anyone watching.
Think before you post, then t.h.i.n.k. again
One of the most disturbing trends I've seen online ever is the tendency to use public shaming as a tactic. I cringe to think of individuals who are targeted by groups that set out to make them an example. I love this acronym - I first saw it hanging in my son's daycare several years ago. Recently, it's been shared a lot online and I think that's great. It's a valuable reminder that every one of us can use from time to time.
T - is it true?
H - is it helpful?
I - is it inspiring?
N - is it necessary?
K - is it kind?
What we say - whether it comes from our mouth or our fingers - matters.
We're all human
Mistakes happen. None of us is immune. We have faults and we do things we shouldn't sometimes. Remembering to be kind to ourselves, remembering to be kind to others means that little by little we can each have an impact on the Internet mobs and maybe make the world in general a better place. And when we focus on that, it leaves a positive impression that would help any personal brand.