The word “brand” has historically been associated with major companies, products or services.
Eventually, the concept was also applied to individuals, as a means of defining and marketing a person’s public profile. But even then there was typically a “sales” angle of some kind.
Today, Millennials are taking the idea of personal branding to a completely different level, and the implications stretch far beyond their age bracket.
Coming of age in the Internet era
As the first generation to come of age with broadcasting tools available in their pockets at all times, Millennials have grown up in a world where they’re expected to define and cultivate a brand all of their own. In fact, many of their children are literally born with online personas, as 40 per cent of Millennial moms set up social media accounts for their newborns.
Coming of age in the Internet era gave Millennials a crash course in building and shaping a personal brand. Just as the social media platforms themselves have evolved from somewhat of a popularity contest into online marketing powerhouses, Millennials too have taken social connection platforms and developed them into career marketing tools. Instead of appealing to their crush or the popular kids at school, they’re now using those same personal branding skills to appeal to a CEO they admire or a company they want to work for.
Making the most of your social media accounts
Though many will have moved their career-focused personal branding efforts onto a professional social networking platform like LinkedIn, they know that employers are increasingly checking their other social media profiles as well. According to a recent study by Career Builder, 70 per cent of employers check their candidate’s social media profiles.
As a result, personal branding is by no means limited to platforms dedicated to professional interactions. Every Facebook post or Instagram selfie or Twitter rant has the potential to make or break their next career opportunity.
Instead of avoiding social media altogether, however, Millennials now use it with the knowledge that whatever they post will contribute to the impression they make in the eyes of potential friends and employers alike.
The cost of always being “on”
However, Ilana Gershon, a professor of anthropology at the University of Indiana, Bloomington and author of Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (Or Don’t Find) Work Today, believes there’s a less optimistic reason why Millennials have an obsession with personal branding.
Gershon suggests that in a career landscape with little job security, little union protection and few boundaries between work and life, young people today need the continual development of a personal brand as a way to reintroduce a sense of growth and security.
“The self as business is a metaphor that people developed to think through how they can operate in a space which is completely defined by market logics,” she recently told Quartz.
Gershon goes on to explain that being “always on” is exhausting work. She believes that maintaining a personal brand all the time makes it difficult for Millennials to enjoy life as if nobody is watching.
The new standard
For better or worse, Millennials have established the practice of personal branding as a major contributor to career and personal development. Knowing that how they present themselves shapes that brand, they often feel pressured to filter some of their behaviour. And while the brand may shift and evolve over time, depending on the needs and desires of the individual, it’s always in development.
Millennial or not, the standard has been set, and now everyone needs to consider how their online and in-person interactions will ultimately shape their own personal brand. Instead of being discouraged, however, many consider the development of that brand as an opportunity to help them reach their personal and professional goals.