Don’t brand yourself. Just be yourself.
If you are a business student you have probably been asked this question before; “What are you doing to build your personal brand?” This question is one that is very uncommon outside of a group of business majors but is a popular topic of conversation on a business school campus. The emphasis that schools, culture, and society have placed on business students to “brand themselves” in order to be employable or successful is ludicrous. The fact that the topic of “personal branding” is increasingly common on business school campuses reveals a frightening shift in the way we think about professional development and personal success.
The way in which we frame personal branding in 2019 is inevitably shallow. Most would consider a successful “personal brand” to be one that has thousands of followers on Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Any of these mediums reduces people to the content they post, the likes they receive, and the number of followers they have. The discussion around personal branding is almost always a discussion about how to use social media to become popular and desirable in a world where many business students are viewed as undifferentiated.
The far more meaningful conversation—one that every business school should have with its students—involves a discussion of how to authentically represent yourself in your “personal brand” with or without the use of digital media. Business schools are faced with an especially difficult challenge as they operate within a world and society that rewards profit and popularity above all else and discourages the type of Socratic conversation that does not naively ask “how do I build a successful personal brand” but asks “why should I want to build a personal brand in the first place?”
The conversation surrounding personal branding is a dangerous one if left unmanaged. The notion that personal branding is a necessary step to becoming a successful business person and that you, therefore, have to reduce your identity to a collection of digital content is a mistake. The primary goal of such a conversation should be to help people express themselves, their ideas, or their identities in whatever way they feel most comfortable whether it be online, offline, or in person.