In 2018, with the combination of social media, advertising, video, blogs, podcasts, and WhatsApp messages, you can be in a million different places at once and appear in equally as many shapes and forms.
In any given moment, you could be teaching a young Chinese student on how to start a business via Youtube, influencing thousands of people as a Facebook feed ad, and frustrating a plethora of Trump supporters on your blog.
All while you’re sitting at home having dinner with the family.
The point is that today, thanks to a rapid advancement of technology, unlike ten years ago, we have voices louder and more ubiquitous than we could have ever imagined.
Add when we add that to the fact the world is becoming increasingly digital — now on average we spend more than one day a week online — the result is that personal branding is no longer just a clever suggestion from a few marketing moguls, but an absolute necessity.
Becoming One With The Machine
Social media and smartphone addiction perhaps epitomize how our relationships have been with our digital devices and how we have treated technology in general up to now.
Although we wouldn’t be where we are today without them, we see machines as benign tools that are essentially powerless and serve no other purpose than bowing down and serving our every need.
In this way, we still consider humans and technology to be two very separate, distinct things — with no dispute as to who’s the one on top.
But as you can see when you try to put your phone down for just five minutes, this is far from how it really is. This is an outdated idea carried on from the days of landline phones and dial-up modems. And when believed in today, it places us in denial of how much we are actually dependent on technology and how much of ourselves wouldn’t even exist without the cloud.
Many people resist this idea. Maybe they’re too embarrassed about how obsessed they are with taking selfies. Or maybe it’s due to one too many dystopian sci-fi movies and the belief that AI and automation are going to cause mass unemployment and take over the world.
Or more likely, both.
Through no fault of our own, we are helpless when it comes to how much control and influence technology has over our lives. In terms of how big of a threat robots are to our jobs, though, it’s debatable. Experts and researchers agree that we’re well and truly in a fourth industrial revolution. But the problem is not going to be that robots will cause a shortage of jobs, rather that we will lack the right skills to fill the jobs.
Some of those ‘right’ skills, uncoincidentally, such as new media literacy, are best practiced and demonstrated through using technology well and crafting an effective digital presence.
And this brings us to the point in question: We can no longer get away with not considering technology as a part of who we are, if not just for our own mental health, for our financial stability and ability to succeed in the age of AI and automation.
This doesn’t mean giving up to the idea we’re all cyborgs, but it does mean admitting machines are integral in the roles we fill on a societal and business level. Once we accept this, we can then begin to rethink how we use technology, recognizing it as an extension of our abilities while learning how to better manage and control our digital presence — i.e., sorting out our personal brands.
Companies have done this for years. But we’re not talking about a cool corporate logo and snazzy color scheme; branding is a set of associations that conveys a certain set of values and personality, all across a space the spans way beyond an individual’s or company’s physical presence.
The only difference with you and a company is that it’s your name and face on the cover, not a big tick or Colonel Sanders.
Going from a single person to a fully fledged brand may seem a lot to handle, but chances are you’re already part the way there. Here are a few ways you can start thinking of yourself more as a brand today:
Pick a medium and publish: It doesn’t matter as much what medium you choose — blogging, podcasting, Instagramming, video — just that you pick one and publish content consistently. Being a brand automatically means being a content creator, but how you do it is up to you.
Have a work-only device: To effectively integrate your digital presence into your life without getting overwhelmed, you can at least still keep it separate by containing it to its own device. Having a tablet or laptop especially for work and for managing your digital presence will help keep the lines between the real and virtual world distinct and stable.
Join an online community: It’s a tired marketing tactic, but the fact is a lot of people today spend more time in the online world than in the physical world — especially younger generations. To them, if you don’t hang out in Reddit, Quora, or Instagram regularly, then you might as well not exist.
Stand for something and shout loud: Nearly three billion people will own a smartphone by 2020. That’s a lot of brands. If you don’t have a unique persona and shout really, really loud, you’ll be lost in the noise. Find out what you really value and care about, and then look at how you can show that better than anyone else.
This shift from human vs machine to a human and machine mentality is essentially what will allow the majority of us to become autonomous agents — our own independent businesses — by 2027.
When each and every person is their own business, your personal brand is really going to matter. Every message, post, story, expectation, and relationship you put out into the world will influence how you are depicted by customers and clients, eternally. One little slip-up, inconsistency, or, more importantly, failure to use your brand and the power of your voice, then, will make all the difference.
Stop seeing yourself as a freelancer, independent worker, consultant, or engineer, and start thinking of yourself as a one-person business with an awesome brand to build.