Sustainability (and such)

Identity and Branding

Let’s agree on one thing:  You have to be part of the conversation.  So, how do you want to be seen and heard?

This post is about your online public identity in terms of access, content, and boundaries.  It’s an important topic because the Web is such a radical departure from previous modes for the “presentation of self in everyday life” (Goffman, 1969).  Old-school ways to (still) manage your public identity include:  Handouts; resumes; business cards, etc.  Today, your online identity involves:  Personal websites; Twitter; Facebook; Flickr; etc.  And it is part of identity self-construction.  Read through this post to understand 11 Steps to strengthen your personal brand.

Access:  It’s important to realize the impacts of online presence.  While social media takes messages from “broadcast” to “narrowcast”, personal broadcasting is also a blend of mass communication and interpersonal communication.  In addition, personal websites add new contexts about the role of communication (mediated and non-mediated) in human relationship development and processes. Simply, your identity has a new home:  The global stage.  Everybody can have access. (And that’s a good thing, except for when it’s not thought out.)

Content:  Your personal website is a mirror of your identity in terms of visuals and content. Plus, it’s doubly public because it is posted in a global medium and stored on a server which automatically publishes it worldwide.  Websites are another way in which people engage in everyday impression management, such as the clothes we wear and goods we possess; for instance, personal home pages can be seen as an evolution of many American living room and bedroom decor.   We can self-advertise our identities by pinning everything from posters to sports insignia to walls; now, everybody can break beyond limits as mass consumers to be mass producers (Ryder, 1998).  So, what is your content?  What do you want to say?

Boundaries of identity:  There aren’t many and they’re always changing.  I like to click on a site and see  “under construction” because a site is not yet publishable — it also means that the author hasn’t quite fleshed out an online presence.  A personal website reflects the construction of the maker’s identity; right now, you have an unrivalled opportunity for self-presentation in relation to social and personal identity.  The boundaries are continually shifting — Keep an eye on websites over a year and see how a virtual environment is a unique context for experimenting with identity.  Another lens:  Think about how the bedroom walls of American teens often reflect a fluid identity, with changing posters and sports insignia acting as a limited self-advertisement.  Similarly, a personal website is a global artifact of impression management.  While the social shaping may not be obvious, online subcultures identify via materials and uses designed only for certain members.  Indeed, some of us may feel “more ourselves” online than in real life, which reinforces the idea that technology can change ourselves to who we want to be.  (Of course, you have to remember issues of copyright and cyber security.)

How far “identity” has come:  This is an exciting time to figure out who we are. The traditional notion of identity has shifted from monotone to a patchwork quilt of identities.  Identity components “are to be constructed anew in everyday identity work and related to one another to support a sense of coherence” (Kraus, 2000).   Think about it:  We lead different lives, with many selves, yet our one personal home page can bring about a feeling of effective integration (Hevern, 2000).

Eleven steps to strengthen your personal brand:  Right now the trending topics orbit around social media because poor use can sabotage your online presence.  Here’s a great video about Google + and why you need it.  Thanks to Barbara Nixon and other experts (including quick tips from Mashable for these eight steps: 1)  Create or revamp your LinkedIn profile; 2) Look at your Facebook account — what would a potential client or employer check out your personal page and think it’s offensive, and should you set up a business page?; 3)  Share a collection of your top 15 photos with engaging captions; 4)  Read and review a book about your field of interest; 5)  Interview some pros in your field and post to Triple Pundit or other public arena; 6) Read professional bloggers in your field and submit thoughtful posts about the most interesting topics; 7)  Post about your research and interests (and ask for partners to help your study) to increase your credibility; 8) Draw some links between sustainability and something unrelated that you’re also interested in (such as food, cycling, or strategies such as crowdsourcing, etc.); 9) Check out Poynter’s News University  for training that’s interesting and advances your branding; 10) Develop a short video and post it to YouTube that demonstrates your value to a potential employer or client; 11)  FINALLY, develop a digital portfolio/social media resume using VisualCV, Weebly, or Wix.

Vocab word of the day—Bricolage, which involves “discovering” rather than “planning” online graphics, sounds, text, and the code used to generate a particular format.  Claude Levi-Strauss’s notion of the bricoleur who appropriates the materials which are ready-to-hand is used by cultural studies and media theorists to describe practices in youth subcultures and popular mass media texts.  Especially since web design often copies/edits other people’s pages, the authorial practice of bricolage can be seen in how many (or few) messages and images are used to make personal statements.  As such, key transformations are as visible in the authorship of web pages as in any other medium.   These may be framed as follows:  The inclusion of particular elements; indirect allusions to others; the omission of what “goes without saying” or what is “noticeable by its absence”; the adaptation of “borrowings” by addition, deletion, substitution, or transportations; and finally, arrangement, the overall sequencing and emphasis within the text.

Credit:  Thanks To Lynne Baab, Ph.D., lecturer in pastoral theology at the University of Otago and adjunct tutor at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, for our work together.

Further Reading

Goffman, I (1969). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Penguin Books.

Hevern, V. (2000). Alerity and self-presentation via Web.  Paper presented at the First International Conferece on the Dialogical Self.  Accessed April 25, 2011 at

Kraus, W. (2000). Making Identities Talk. On Qualitative Methods in a Longitudinal Study. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1(2).

Ryder, Martin (1998). ‘The World Wide Web and the Dialectics of Consciousness’. Paper presented to the Fourth Congress of the International Society for Cultural Research and Activity Theory, Aarhus, Denmark, June 7-11.

Seabrook, John (1997): Deeper: A Two-Year Odyssey in Cyberspace. London: Faber.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: