Written by Rita Rakauskaite
Personal Branding on Social Media: an Opportunity for All Generations
As a consequence of the introduction of Internet, online information provides a digital footmark which indirectly brands people (Madden, Fox, Smith, & Vitak, 2007). Some information is out of the control of individuals, but most of it is purposefully crafted and published. Not only recruiting specialists, but also the business world has begun to recognise the importance of personal brand building since this can become a ‘critical differentiator between the proactive and the reactive members of society’ (Harris & Rae, 2011). Therefore, personal branding becomes an important tool for job seekers despite their gender or generation. With the rise of social media spreading information about oneself and creating an online identity became a simple process. However, older generations are considered to be aware of social media but not have the knowledge in utilising it (Wetsch, 2012). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the usage of social media in personal brand building as an opportunity for different generations.
The concept of branding has been discussed by practicians and academics quite intensively last couple of decades (Kapferer, 2012). However, there is still no consensus on one definition of a brand and branding in general. According to Ghauri and Cateora (2010, p. 286), ‘a successful brand is an identifiable product, service, person or place, augmented in such a way that the buyer or user perceives relevant, unique added values which match their needs most closely.’ Nevertheless, regarding a person as a brand it has mostly been talked about celebrity brand ‘capable of generating enthusiasm, fans and customers’ (Kapferer, 2012, p. 92). Due to the rise of technologies and online tools (social media in particular) ordinary people became also capable of making their voice heard and creating their own personal brands which can eventually be developed to a celebrity brand if well managed and developed in a consistent way (Labrecque, Markos & Milne, 2011).
The concept of personal branding was virtually invented in 1997 by Tom Peters' FastCompany article, in which he announced provocative message: ‘We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You’ (Peters, 1997 in Shepherd, 2005, p. 590). This was the beginning of a bunch of self-development books talking about personal branding as well as many Web sites, self-help courses and consultancies (Shepherd, 2005). According to Morgan (2011), building a personal brand means enabling oneself to make a positive impression on the decision makers and building one’s professional presence. In short, it is capturing and promoting personal strengths and uniqueness to a target audience either it is a date, a community, friends, an employer, or simply due to self-expression (Shepherd, 2005). Additionally, as stated by Roper and Fill (2012), core elements of a brand are its promise and value proposition which serve the user. These elements are crucial in personal branding since the users/audience of a personal brand ‘buy’ the belief that the person will bring benefits for the ‘buyer’ in the future (employee will cultivate profit for the employer; etc). Thus, a personal brand serves as risk reducer and signal of quality (Kapferer, 2012).
As mentioned before, Human Resources (HR) professionals have already recognised social media as an important tool for job seekers. In addition, recent surveys of recruiters reveal that they tend to believe in the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of social media as hiring platform (Weltsch, 2012). Such networking sites as LinkedIn and About.me are specially designed to ease the process of recruiting and build online presence of professionals. In addition to career building, motivation of personal branding lies also in ‘need for power through skill development and mastery of technology and environment’ (Labrecque, Markos & Milne, 2011). If a personal brand is managed efficiently, has a unique consistent voice, demonstrates excellent expertise in a particular field and becomes capable of generating enthusiasm of big groups of fans/audience or customers, it can also develop into a celebrity brand (Kapferer, 2012) which, as a result, generates financial benefits.
The appearance of Web 2.0 technologies and social media enabled ordinary people to share, comment, create and publish their own content without having any coding skills and technological knowledge. Generations Y (or Millennial Generation born in 1961–1981, according to Howe and Strauss, 2007) and Z (or Homeland Generation born in 1982–1997) are identified to be the most active users of social media since they have grown up in an environment of technologies and online interaction (Wetsch, 2012). The creation of such social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace and blogs (see Fig. 1) turned social media into a highly beneficial platform for personal brand building (Harris & Rae, 2011; Labrecque, Markos & Milne, 2011). Motivations of personal brand building can be self-realisation and profession-related e.g. expectations to get a better job position, useful contacts, self-advertising (Labrecque, Markos & Milne, 2011). Additionally, as defined by Kietzmann et al. (2011), people use different social media platforms depending on their functional needs; need for conversations, sharing, having online presence, creating unique online identity building relationships, reputation, and belonging to groups (Honeycomb model). In other words, generation Y and Z perceive virtual environment as a parallel reality which provide extended opportunities to build their personal identities (either similar to, or different from their real identities). Therefore, online platforms are natural and easily utilized by younger generations and, thus, are argued to have an inevitable need of adoption by older generations in order for them to shift the balance between generations (Wetsch, 2012).
As mentioned before, social media is considered to be the tool of younger audiences. Therefore, in this section an analysis of three different cases of members of Z, Y and Boom Generations (born in 1943-1960) will be provided in order to identify the differences of personal brand building in different ages.
Generation Z: Jamie Curry’s Case
An interesting case of a successful personal branding is a 17 year old high-schooler Jamie Curry from New Zealand (see Image 1). In year 2011 she started uploading self-made short videos ‘poking fun at the trials and tribulations of adolescence’ (Tait, 2013). Now the Facebook page Jamie's World has more than 8 million "likes", more than 225,000 followers on Twitter and her videos have attracted more than 12 million collective YouTube views (data collected 10 February, 2014). Jamie’s case is an indication of the entrepreneurial possibilities for a teenager to travel the world and share one’s unique voice just by using the immense possibilities of social media. Additionally, it also demonstrates that the Generation Z feels very naturally in the environment of technologies and have ‘gut feeling’ about engaging content creation as well as has the need of building online identity. Jamie’s ability to maintain consistent style, provide well-directed entertaining real-life insights, create associations, listen to her audience, and engage in conversations with it can be called the success elements of her personal brand. In conclusion, Jamie is a very well branded person even though it was created unconsciously and did not follow any specific strategy.
Generation Y: Pete Cashmore’s Case
Blogging is one of the most influential platforms for sharing original content (Singh, Veron-Jackson, & Cullinane, 2008). One of the examples when a blogger becomes a powerful brand is the case of Pete Cashmore (see Image 2), the founder of Mashable, which from a one-man blog about technology turned into a popular news site about social media and digital culture (Preston, 2011). Due to boredom at school, Cashmore just at the age of 19 (in year 2005) made his hobby of writing into successful business and built his own personal brand. In addition to being listed among Forbes’ 25 Web Celebs (Ewalt, 2009) and Times’ The World's 100 Most Influential People: 2012 (Milano, 2012), he also wrote a weekly column on technology and social media at CNN in 2012. As stated by Cashmore himself, the success of his blog lies in the fact that ‘he was able to talk about what technology means to every day people’s lives’ (Here & Now, 2013). His ability to find a simple, credible and consistent voice when talking about often-confusing technologies helped Cashmore to build his own unique personal brand by using social media. As a result, the implementation of other tech-related projects can be called a strategic step in further development of Cashmore’s personal brand.
Boom Generation: Tom Dickson’s Case
Despite the fact that social media is often called the tool of younger generations entrepreneurial representatives of Boom Generation can also demonstrate innovative thinking. Dutta (2010) provides a great example of such initiative: the case of Tom Dickson, founder and CEO of small U.S. blender manufacturer Blendtec (see Image 3). Before 2006 little people heard of Dickson; today quite a lot of business owners in the U.S. know about him. The days of glory started when Dickson became a star of YouTube video series called Will It Blend?, in which he blends various things (an iPhone, an iPad, computer games, etc) with his products. The campaign witnessed a great popularity (the iPhone-blending video has been viewed almost 12 million times), significant increase in sales, and Dickson, a grandfather, became an internet star who was welcomed by shows on radio and television. Thanks to internet and social media, Dickson created a strong personal brand. The success of Dickson’s case lies in the facts that; unique and interesting content engaged fans to send their blending offers for next videos; they shared, commented, talked about Dickson and Blendtec; clear brand associations were built; the brand was perceived to be high quality (Dickson showcased his professionalism; no doubts left about the quality of Blendtect blending products, etc). As the idea to Dickson was pitched by his marketing director and videos crafted by professionals, the importance of communication between different generations when understanding and adopting technologies cannot be underestimated.
As mentioned before, branding is inevitable when participating in an online environment since online footprints portray virtual identities of users. Even though social media is often referred to as a tool mostly used by Generation Y and Z, the case of Dickson is a clear example of personal branding opportunities online for older generations as well. Based on both empirical examples and theories, a successful personal brand has to talk with a unique and consistent voice, be accessible on social media, add value to the target and deliver its promise – particularly if the personal brand considered has grown an active audience or community under it (Shepherd, 2005; Roper & Fill, 2012; Morgan, 2012). Since the older generations have less knowledge in using social media, their online presence can be created with the assistance of youngsters (as in the case of Dickson). Thus, it can be stated that personal branding in social media is not limited by age and it is considered to be even one of the springboards of transformation into a celebrity brand.
This article is limited in the number of respects. First, just very successful examples are provided despite the fact that personal branding can be utilised on smaller scales (target only one industry, etc). Secondly, in order to cover all angles of motivations of personal brand building on social media, the prospect of analysed subjects should be investigated. Since the literature on personal branding is still a growing area the arguments raised in this paper present noteworthy suggestions for future research in this field.
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