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Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands.[1] While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal-branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging.[1] The term is thought to have been first used and discussed in a 1997 article by Tom Peters.[2][3]

Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group, or organization.[4] Personal branding often involves the application of one's name to various products. For example, the celebrity real-estate mogul turned President of the United States, Donald Trump uses his last name extensively on his buildings and on the products he endorses (e.g. Trump Tower). Marketers McNally and Speak define the personal brand in this way: "Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you."

The relationship between brands and consumers needs to be constantly made and remade, and this continuous process creates a demonstration of the ambivalence in brand cultures.[5] This same logic follows for personal brands- there is a constant desire for a reinforcement of the self-brand.


Personal branding, self-positioning, and all individual branding by whatever name, was first introduced in 1937 in the book Think and Grow Rich[citation needed] by Napoleon Hill. This relates specifically to Chapter 6, Organized Planning, Planning the Sale of Services, where Hill states, "It should be encouraging to know that practically all the great fortunes began in the form of compensation for personal services, or from the sale of IDEAS." The idea surfaced later in the 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout.[6] More specifically in "Chapter 23. Positioning Yourself and Your Career - You can benefit by using positioning strategy to advance your own career. Key principle: Don't try to do everything yourself. Find a horse to ride". It was later popularized by Tom Peters.

Branding has reached a new level of imperative because of the rise of the Internet. The growth of the virtual world created the necessity of managing online identities. Despite being expressly virtual, social media and online identity has the ability to affect the real world. Because Individuals want to portray themselves a certain way to their social circle, they may work to maintain a certain image on their social media sites. As a result, social media enables the creation of an online identity that may not be completely true to the real self. (See: online identity)

Today, added emphasis is placed on personal branding, especially in the online world. Employers are now increasingly using social media tools in order to vet applicants before offering them interviews. Such techniques range from searching the applicants Facebook or Twitter feed to conducting large background checks using search engines and other tools.[7]

Amongst job-seekers, this is leading to a shift away from the practice of submitting a resume as part of their job application process to providing potential employers with access to a number of personal brand assets. Such assets are likely to include a resume, links to a carefully managed LinkedIn profile and a personal blog, evidence of articles which disseminate original ideas on industry blogs, and evidence of having an online following. Such efforts give job-seekers better odds of being noticed by potential employers.

Goffman's self presentation theory

Erving Goffman's Self Presentation is a key theory that explores the way people want to be seen and how people are perceived by their peers. Goffman, uses the term Dramaturgy as a component to his theory of self-presentation. This term refers to looking at your own persona as a drama, treating your actions as an actor in a play. One can control how he or she is viewed by their peers and in cases of celebrities or athletes, can build a personal brand through utilizing what they present to their publics using various social media outlets. Self-presentation theory and personal branding go hand in hand, we see celebrities and athletes building a particular brand, or persona over with the use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Building a personal brand is a big part of a celebrity's life, and it can help them spread awareness and also provide an outlet to connect with their fans/supporters. This is made possible through the use of social media and the ability of the person looking to build a personal brand to make their messages heard. The theory of self-presentation looks at how people look to create an identity for themselves that they would like to be seen as by their peers or in the public eye. This is what Goffman call's the 'front stage'.

The front stage is a key component of this theory and it is a way a person acts when in public or around other people to build a certain persona for how they would like others to view them. The front stage is where celebrities and athletes tend to build their own brand and show many positive, deliberate messages that will try and portray them in a certain light in which the person would like to be seen. As opposed to what Goffman refer's to as the 'back stage' which is a particular way a person acts when they are not in public or not posting on social media, trying to build a particular persona or brand they would like others to see.

There are many examples of celebrities building a brand for themselves over some sort of social media platform. In fact, it is rare to see an athlete or celebrity without a social media page whether it is twitter or instagram. Celebrities use these outlets as ways of branding themselves, by showing people their lives and having fans feel close to them, almost like they are friends, and have a connection through social media outlets such as twitter and instagram. Also, to keep more of their fans interested, and to reach as many as possible many celebrities will update daily on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat so their message can be seen by a wider audience. They can keep fans informed on everything from what they want to wear, to their political views. Social Media has provided a simple way for celebrities to get their personal brand to reach a wider audience, and they utilize the 'front stage' to influence people in a particular way and to make themselves look good in the public eye.

The 'back stage' is part of Goffman's theory of self-presentation theory, and it is happenings or beliefs people wouldn't want their peers or public to necessarily see or hear. These are happenings that go on behind the scenes that can oftentimes hurt someone's reputation and are avoided when a celebrity is trying to build a personal brand. These are often personal happenings, or beliefs that will negatively effect how an audience will look at the brand you are building. There are numerous examples of celebrities saying something that they didn't want their public to hear but got out and this hurts the brand they are building. One example of this is when LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling made racist comments to his then girlfriend and she had recorded them and put them on her social media.[8] Donald Sterling was quickly removed from the team and is no longer associated with the NBA. This is an example of how something in the back stage will negatively effect what you want the public to see you as.

Self-presentation theory is very apparent in the world of celebrities and professional athletes and is a big part of building a brand for themselves. Goffman's theory seems to identify itself well with the personal branding of these celebrities and you can see why they would want to utilize social media to positively show a message they want to be heard by their public (front stage) and avoid more personal beliefs that may negatively effect their brand (back stage).

Social media

Social media can be "roughly defined as 'a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content'".[9] Social media extends beyond just Facebook and Twitter and into the professional world as well. There are general professional profiles like LinkedIn and company or industry-specific networks, such as Slack. Because of these professional networks, self-branding is useful in finding a job or improving one's professional standing.

Building a brand and an online presence through internal corporate networks allows for individuals to network with their colleagues, not only socially but professionally as well. This kind of interaction allows for employees to build up their personal brand relative to other employees, as well as spur innovation within the company because more people can learn from more people.

Some social media sites, like Twitter, can have a flattened, all-encompassing audience that can be composed of professional and personal contacts, which then can be seen as a more "'professional' environment with potential professional costs".[10] Because of its explicitly public nature, Twitter becomes a double-sided platform that can be utilized in different ways depending on the amount of censorship a user decides on.

Personal branding focuses on "self-packaging," where "success is not determined by individuals' internal sets of skills, motivations, and interests but, rather, by how effectively they are…branded";[11] it is more about self-promotion rather than true self-expression. The difference between the two is that self-promotion is deliberately intentional in all aspects because the individual is purposely shaping their image or persona, while self-expression can even be a byproduct of promotion.[12]

Aside from professional aspirations, personal branding can also be used on personal-level social networks to flare popularity. The online self is used as a marketing and promotional tool to brand an individual as a type of person; success on the virtual platforms then becomes "online social value [that could transform] to real rewards in the offline world."[12] A prominent example of a self-made self-branded social media icon is Tila Tequila, who rose to prominence in 2006 on the Myspace network, gaining more than 1.5 million friends, through expertly marketing her personal brand.[13]

As social media has become a vehicle for self-branding, these moguls have begun to situate the maintenance of their online brand as a job, which brings about new ways to think about work and labor[14] The logic of online sites and the presence of feedback means that one's online presence is viewed by others using the same rubric to judge brands: evaluation, ranking, and judgment. Thus, social media network sites serve as complex, technologically mediated venues for the branding of the self.[14]


Personal branding offers promises of increased success in the business world. Thousands of self-help books, programs, personal coaches, and articles exist to help individuals learn to self-brand. These strategies emphasize authenticity but framed as becoming "'more of who you are' as well as who 'you were meant to be.'[15]

The other side of these 'strategies for success' is that this is very subtle self-commodification.[11] Because personal branding is basically pointing out, and in some cases, glorifying, certain positive characteristics of an individual, it is not unlike traditional branding of products and companies. This puts individuals in the place of products, in which their efforts to appear more human are subverted.[15]

This possibility is exploited by celebrities and politicians, as "marketing individual personalities as products" is an effective way to gain millions of fans not just online but in real life as well.[12] For celebrities of all types, online personas are their brands. Public relations for Justin Bieber and Barack Obama alike can easily control the "brand" and maximize exposure and profitability.

On the other hand, personal branding may afford potential employers the opportunity to more accurately judge a candidate's abilities and cultural suitability, since blogs, profiles, websites, etc., are pieces of work that can be evaluated.[16][17][citation needed]


Personal branding involves the practice of self-disclosure, and this transparency is part of what Foucault would call "the proper care of the self".[5] In this sense, disclosure refers to the details of one's everyday life for other's consumption, while transparency is the effect of this kind of disclosure. Transparency essentially works to give viewers a complete view of one's authentic self.[5]

Digitally aided disclosure, which involves building a self-brand on a social network site, relies on traditional discourses of the authentic self as one that is transparent, without artifice, and open to others. Authenticity is viewed as both residing inside the self and is also demonstrated by allowing the outside world access to one's inner self.[5] It is interesting to think about the idea of authenticity with disclosure, and the freedom social networks allow in disclosing an inauthentic self. All the while, these posting are forming a digital archive of the self, through which a brand could be crafted by others. An example of this is Carly Fleishmann, whose Twitter posting created an iconicity and brand without her ever speaking out loud.[18] Another example of a figure who rose to prominence through this disclosure is Ingrid Nilsen, who posted a video on YouTube coming out as lesbian and subsequently took off as a YouTube star.[19] Through disclosure individuals are able to go through the process of personal branding.

See also


Inline citations

  1. 1.0 1.1 Lair, Daniel J.; Sullivan, Katie; Cheney, George (2005). "Marketization and the Recasting of the Professional Self". Management Communication Quarterly. 18 (3): 307–343. doi:10.1177/0893318904270744. 
  2. "How to Build a Personal Brand". CEOWORLD magazine. Retrieved August 10, 2017. 
  3. Asacker, Tom (10 March 2004). "The Seven Wonders of Branding". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved June 14, 2013. 
  4. Creating Your Personal Brand - Los Ellis 2009
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Banet-Weiser, Sarah (2012). Authentic™The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 9780814787144
  6. Ries, Al; Trout, Jack (1981). Positioning: The Battle for your Mind. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-135916-0. 
  7. Landau, Phillip (11 December 2013). "Job applications: social media profiles under scrutiny". Retrieved January 20, 2014. 
  8. "Clippers Owner Donald Sterling to GF -- Don't Bring Black People to My Games ... Including Magic Johnson". TMZ. 2014-04-25. Retrieved 2017-07-26. 
  9. Dijck, José Van. "Chapter 1: Engineering Sociality in a Culture of Connectivity." The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. N. pag. Print.
  10. Marwick, A. E., and D. Boyd. "I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience." New Media & Society 13.1 (2011): 114-33. Sage Journals. Web. 20 May 2014. doi:10.1177/1461444810365313
  11. 11.0 11.1 Lair, D. J. "Marketization and the Recasting of the Professional Self: The Rhetoric and Ethics of Personal Branding." Management Communication Quarterly 18.3 (2005): 307-43. Sage Journals. Web. 20 May 2014.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Dijck, J. Van. "'You Have One Identity': Performing the Self on Facebook and LinkedIn." Media, Culture & Society 35.2 (2013): 199-215. Sage Journal. Web. 19 May 2014.
  13. Banet-Weiser, Sarah (2012). Authentic™The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 9780814787144. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Banet-Weiser, Sarah (2012). Authentic™The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 9780814787144.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Banet-Weiser, Sarah. "Branding the Postfeminist Self: The Labor of Femininity." Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: New York U, 2012. 51-90. Print.
  16. "What Your Employees' Personal Branding Means to Your Company | OPEN Forum". Retrieved 2017-09-05. 
  17. Meister, Jeanne. "Personal Branding in the Future Workplace: A Crucial Skill for Employees and Recruiters Alike". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-09-05. 
  18. Ichiban MacBean (25 May 2011). "Autistic Girl Expresses Unimaginable Intelligence" – via YouTube. 
  19. "The top 10 most viewed YouTube coming-out videos of all time will bring you to tears". 

General references

  • Omojola, O. "Audience Mindset and Influence on Personal Political Branding." Journal of Social Sciences, 16.2 (2008), 127-134. Kre Publishers. Web 17 March 2015.