Yesterday Dan Schawbel published an interview with me on his Personal Branding blog. I have previously criticized the “personal branding” vogue both on this site and on my HBR blog, so I warned Dan he might be in for a rough ride! Much to his credit, he didn’t shy away, and in fact came back to me with a terrific list of questions that prompted me to think about a variety of issues in a new way.
I hope you’ll read the entire interview on Dan’s blog, but here’s the part that speaks to personal branding in particular:
What three predictions do you have for the future of technology as it relates to personal branding?
I’m going to give you three contradictory predictions:
- “Social media” becomes synonymous with “social media marketing”, so we think only about our online lives in terms of how they project our message or brand out into the world. In our online lives, we define ourselves as “personal brands” and evaluate all our interactions through the lens of how they affect our individual brands. As we spend more and more of our lives online, we become so used to interacting with one another as brands that we stop relating to one another as human beings. In ten years, you go to a party and get introduced as “Meet Dan — he’s the great brand I told you about.”
- The social media masses rise up in mass resistance to their corporate overloads, and hack, deface or simply ignore the increasingly pervasive ads that litter the social mediascape. In the absence of advertising revenue, a lot of social media services go belly up, while other start charging significant fees for services, and make the revolting masses nostalgic for the days of you-give-us-your-data, we-give-you-your-Facebook.
- Marketing becomes part of social media the way it’s become part of lots of other forms of media, but it frames the conversation rather than pervades it. Social media users informally patrol the divide between genuine conversations among interested users, and staged conversations created by brands: they disregard or challenge companies who pretend to be people (for example, joining an online community and gradually building relationships with members before coming out with the pitch for the great new product they’ve created JUST for this niche) and people who pretend to be brands (for example, strategizing everything they say around building an image or followers rather than genuinely connected with other people based on their actual interests and beliefs). Social media services thrive on the the revenue they earn online (not just from marketing, but from delivering many different kinds of value to both businesses and consumers) while social media users thrive on conversations that continue to excite them, to give them opportunities for authentic expression, and that provide them safe places to connect with other actual human beings.
I know which of these predictions I hope to see come true. And it is absolutely within our power to choose which one will come to pass. But to get there, we need to see each other first and foremost as human beings — online and off.