At the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting at San Diego, I moderated a panel discussion about personal branding sponsored by ACRL New Members Discussion Group. The program aimed at providing new and budding librarians with an opportunity to think about personal branding and have a lively information discussion with an excellent group of panelists who shared their experience and thoughts on the topic of personal branding.
I won’t summarize the discussion here as I wasn’t able to make very detailed notes. So the following is more of my own take-aways, what I have personally learned from and got to think further after the discussion. (If you are already interested in personal branding, see Further Resources at the end of this post.)
What personal branding is all about
Although a large number of new and budding librarians engage in personal branding in one or another way and some succeed brilliantly at it, many others also struggle or fail. Whether we call it a personal brand or online presence, we recognize those who are successful at having one. While personal branding may seem easy and effortless when seen from the outside, it is certainly a time-consuming endeavor that cannot be taken lightly. As a result, new librarians are often unsure about how to begin, how to keep up, and how to manage one’s own personal brand.
Unfortunately, the term “personal branding” has a negative connotation and gives the impression that personal branding is about having huge egos and/or simply moving up on the career ladder at the expense of others. But this is not what personal branding is about. Personal branding is about acknowledging the fact that, whether we like it or not, information about us online – regardless of its inaccuracy and incompleteness – will inevitably represent us and consciously deciding to take charge of that mass of information about us.
After all, a personal brand is no more than others’ perception of you based upon available information gleaned (nowadays more and more from the internet). In today’s world in which people google others for all sorts of purposes ranging from dating to a job interview, almost everyone has a brand whether they are aware of it or not.
The matter is whether one will consciously manage that brand and build a positive online presence for oneself or will be simply affected by it.
A personal brand is a by-product, not an end itself.
It’s a mistake to think of personal branding as an end itself. A successful personal brand is a by-product of the successful pursuit of one’s own interest, contribution, and networking in librarianship.
The best way to build a successful personal brand is therefore to pursue one’s own interest. The more practical and exciting one’s pursuit is to oneself, the more active, engaging, and passionate one would be.
Looking to connect with other budding librarians and exchange tips about the stressful job-seeking process? In need of advice from more experienced colleagues because you just got your first professional librarian position and you found yourself to be a solo-librarian? Seeking to network with other colleagues in your narrow field of specialization? Just starting to build virtual reference service at your library and would love to find out what the best practices are?
All these interests are completely practical. None of these interests seems to have anything to do with personal branding. If anything, they seem to be completely selfish in the sense that they directly come out of one’s own tangible needs.
However, if one pursues these interests with passion, successfully learning from and sharing/communicating with others and truthfully and accurately representing oneself in the process, it will be only a matter of time for the person to be known and recognized among others with similar interests.
Personal branding doesn’t mean giving up privacy.
Whatever one’s brand is – whether online or off-line, the brand is never the same as an actual person. While one should be true to oneself in interacting with others online, it is a mistake to think that our online persona can represent us one hundred percent or to think that having a personal brand implies giving up privacy entirely.
The fact that the social media allows one to share immediately almost everything with others in an instant does not mean that you must share everything with everyone nor that everything you can share is worthy of sharing with everyone.
Rather, the social media gives you the power of sharing and communicating only the things that you decide to share and communicate. One can still have a strong online presence /personal brand while remaining a private person.
A brand is what represents you, often, as X. What would be that X? A cat lover, a web services librarian, a metadata expert, a PHP maven? a interlibrary-loan specialist? Pick your own X and keep your privacy in all matters other than X.
Personal branding is what you make of it.
In the ACRL New Members Discussion Group panel discussion I moderated, I asked each panelists the following five questions.
- What comes to mind when you hear the term, “personal branding”?
- What is wrong with not being engaged in personal branding at all?
- How and why did you start your own personal branding? What did you do and what did you learn?
- How and why did you pick the personal branding channel of your choice (e.g. Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc.) and what do you think are the pros and cons of those channels?
- What are the values/benefits of personal branding to you?
If the tense of 3. and 4. are changed from the past to the future, these can be easily used for those who are interested in becoming more active online in the librarian community to pursue “specific” interests. Do you see the values/benefits in investing time and energy in pursuing your interests in certain social media platforms? If the answer is yes, try to answer the five above questions clearly and make your plan accordingly, keeping in mind that your personal brand is not an end itself but a by-product.
I tried to dispel some of the misconceptions about personal branding such as it is all about marketing oneself shamelessly without really deserving it or about giving up one’s own privacy. But eventually personal branding is something different for each and every individual. It is what one makes of it.
If you are interested in the details of what was discussed in the actual panel discussion, see this live tweet archive: http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/nmdg.
At the end of this post, if you are ready to embark on your personal branding, feel free to check out this handout from the ACRL New Members Discussion Group and follow up on the further discussion with other new librarians here at ALA Connect – New Members Discussion Group.
Also check out a great write-up and thoughtful comment by Steven Bell about the panel discussion “The WHY of Your Brand” in the Library Journal.