- Photo by Brittney MacDonald
Self-branding vs. self-identity
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
The word “brand” or “branding” has taken on an interesting new meaning in the past year or so, and it is in part due to an evolution in social media.
Before, connecting on social media seemed a lot more cerebral, due to the fact that most content was text-based. Yes, even early social media sites did have photo albums or something similar for you to share pictures, but that content wasn’t what drove you to log in every day. There was a base need to connect—meaning you wanted to share your feelings and thoughts with the world. The reason for this differs from person to person, as well as from platform to platform. Sex has always been at the centre of most human interaction, but there was also the idea of finding a sympathetic ear, as well as a desire to expand your social network with people that share your interests and hobbies.
Nowadays, we’re seeing a shift in social media. The goal is no longer to connect with people, but rather to live vicariously through their experiences, or allow them to live vicariously through yours. To put it very simply, that cerebral experience that arose from the text-based interaction that I mentioned earlier is being replaced by visual experiences. This is why visually based social media platforms are becoming so popular. Apps like Instagram are taking over, while social media networks like Facebook are becoming an after-thought in your daily routine.
Because your social media is now about selling the experience of being you, this has driven people to start cultivating their online persona in very specific ways. This is where the “branding” comes in. Users have begun treating themselves as a brand, something of commercial value for public consumption, which in itself is not a problem. I mean, celebrities have been doing this for ages. Where this sort of ideology begins to falter is when you mistake this idea of self-branding with your own sense of self—in other words, when you mistake it for your identity or autonomy.
Autonomy is defined as “freedom from external control or influence,” which is impossible for a brand because a brand is influenced by its consumers. How this relates to personal branding is that many adopt a brand-like mentality when it comes to the aesthetics of their content. So, being “on brand” simply refers to you being loyal to your aesthetic preferences, or the aesthetic that is popular.
Unfortunately, as an individual, if you remain too dedicated to your own “brand,” you run the risk of stagnation. Your identity becomes too attached to a way of being and portraying yourself that is entirely determined by your base following, because they are the ones that determine how they interpret the content you put out. In essence, your “brand” isn’t yours, but is merely how other people see you. So if you make a change—or go “off-brand”—you run the risk of being accused of “selling out” or losing some of your base following as your identity naturally evolves and changes. Fear of this can drive people to actively maintain certain aspects of their personality that gained them popularity, but may no longer reflect their current views or mood, sometimes to their detriment.
To give an example, I recently attended a party where I met someone who follows me, but who I had never interacted with despite similar social circles. They mentioned both to me and a mutual friend that they were surprised at how personable and cheery I was because my Twitter and Instagram feed are very loner and macabre based. This experience made me realize that the way I was presenting myself outside of my writing only portrayed one very distinct aspect of my personality, the one most affected by my visual aesthetic preferences, which lean more towards dark and brooding. These choices, when seen completely independent of the rest of my personality, paint a picture of someone very gloomy and apathetic, which I like to think I’m not.
Taking all of this into consideration, I am not advising people to stop self-branding. Just don’t let your “brand” become the only you that people see.