Personal branding is like candy floss… look closely, and there’s nothing inside

Mark Carter

TEDx speaker Mark Carter.

In 2014, Ellen De Generes virtually broke the internet with her ‘selfie’ snapshot from the 86th Academy Awards.

Over time, however, many of the actors in that shot distanced themself from it. Why?

Simple, really. Who wants to be proudly seen in a picture with the deviant Kevin Spacey, back row, centre, smiling? Even the picture itself has now been doctored and filtered with the disgraced Spacey replaced by Nicholas Cage.

The idea of personal branding may have some merit yet, like pretty much anything marketing and digital in these early wild west days of social media, it’s become the candy floss people chase at theme parks…

You know, it looks substantial on the stick or in the bag, but once you get your hands or teeth into the thing, it crumples up to virtually nothing. Just a big pile of momentarily fleeting unsubstantial fluff.

Personal branding is now, in the main, made up of selfies, self-stories, filtered snapshots and self-proclaimed genius to highlight how great one is or how perfect one’s life has turned out to be.

The irony, as research is starting to show, is that many people who seek the short-term dopamine fix associated with the selfie society often lack the actual self-confidence, comfortability of self-identify or critical skills you’d want in whatever credible expert you’re seeking to find.

Somewhere along the line, personal branding has latched on to the emptier side of popularity, celebrity or fame, and confused it for credibility. 

Standing or tagged in a picture with other smart folks doesn’t make you more credible or gifted in your field. In the same way that being in a fleeting, spontaneous snapshot with Kevin Spacey doesn’t actually make you a sexual deviant. 

But therein lies the problem. We create or give a perception of credibility as such where it’s not yet deserved or, more importantly, creditability earnt. 

That’s why the handful of gurus who’ve cracked this modern snake-oil salesman formula espouse it, and why the masses wheel and peddle it on steroids. If you stand in enough photos with cool people, who are actually good at what they do, or build up enough social proof, others might come to believe the same gifts are now somehow imbedded in your general vicinity or toolkit.

It’s a curious scientific fact that much of you — 99.99% of your physical body — is empty. That’s because the only actual solid part of you is a tiny fragment of nucleus inside every atom. If you were to lose all the empty space you’d end up a mere speck of dust. 

The same is true for social media. About the same percentage is empty, hollow, meaningless candy floss that adds little value to others.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the most well-respected world leaders in modern history, was one of the few leaders who managed to persuade media channels to not film or share his every move, as he knew it would harm him. 

Struck down by polio he couldn’t walk easily and had people seen how much he struggled in such a simple daily task, it would have likely undermined how the public perceived his leadership ability. 

The media these days are not so respectful with their leaders and would no doubt today seek to film his every move, whether FDR liked it or not. 

Nobody is perfect. Everybody has flaws and not everything someone does is worthy of film, photo or sharing.

These days personal branding is thinking every mundane, innate thought one has on a commute, walking down the street, eating a meal or sitting on the toilet taking a dump is worthy of attention or being labelled as an ‘insight’. 

People are enslaved by technology, voluntarily becoming mindless slaves to the empty landscape of social media, with personal branding an essential part of a routine to try and get ahead, rather than an authentic representation of self.

The reality is that, even for young proteges showing exceptional talent or skills for any craft, you can’t jack into the digital world and become a master from a series of one-minute videos. It takes time, perhaps years, to become a credible, composed expert. 

You don’t master Kung Fu by jacking yourself into videos or games about it. You accelerate your learning through focus, dedication, practice and effort.

The one thing that many people racing to win the personal branding game are trying to shortcut is time and actual experience. You have to do the work. You have to incorporate skills into daily practice. You can accelerate this but you can’t completely shortcut it.

The digital age has made it so easy to duplicate, replicate and even rip off the ideas or IP of others, with stories every week where someone elevated too quickly falls from their podium in disgrace. 

The danger right now with personal branding is we’re creating candy floss future experts who, when push comes to shove, crumble into a pile because they lack the depth and substance of the required skills, personal confidence or quality of character required.

So, rather than focusing on your personal brand, focus on your character and choose wisely whom you align, learn from and position yourself with, as short-term haste has a way of catching up with you.

NOW READ: Calombaris, Foreman and Reynolds: What we can learn from celebrity business owners

NOW READ: Three counter-intuitive personal branding rules to live by


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