by Andromeda Yelton
At ALA Midwinter in San Diego, the ACRL New Members Discussion Group sponsored a panel discussion on personal branding. Although this topic is potentially interesting to librarians at any experience level, it is especially salient to new librarians who are still working to define – and communicate – their professional identities. What do they want to say about themselves? How can they best say it?
The moderator (Bohyun Kim) and the panelists (Brett Bonfield, Kiyomi Deards, Lisa Carlucci Thomas, and myself) represented a variety of library types and career stages. As such, we approached personal branding from different directions, with different goals and tools. However, three common themes emerged: relationships, reputation, and responsibility.Relationships
For Brett, personal branding is about finding the people he wants to know and work with, and cultivating conversations. The brand is the network. I found this a fascinating change of perspective since personal branding is normally thought of as flashy and self-focused. Brett’s style is utterly humble and other-focused; true food for thought.
Lisa echoed this theme when she said the point of building your brand is to build your community. Professionally, we often first encounter people through their brands, especially online. It’s easier to strike up conversations with someone who has a strong brand when we finally meet him or her in person.
Additionally, Lisa said, "you connect with that brand because there's a value to your mutual professional relationships." This was a huge eye-opener for me. As a new – and still unemployed – graduate, I easily see the value that I'm getting out of relationships with more established colleagues, but not what I'm bringing to the table. Listening to Lisa’s perspective made me realize that the relationships aren't as one-sided as I thought, and we new librarians do have something significant to offer our colleagues: the future. When we're leading and changing the world, it will be valuable to be able to say, "Oh, I knew them when...."Reputation
As Lisa and Kiyomi noted, professors, vendors, colleagues, and prospective employers will google you. They're going to find something about you. The question is: Does it represent you?
Most of the panelists (including me) have uncommon, perhaps unique, names. For me, this means it's really important to take control of what people see about me when they do a web search. I want the first few pages of hits to be about what I’m doing now, not when I first got on the Internet at age thirteen. And I want them to represent my professional skill set, not my personal life. (I'm inspired in this by Danah Boyd's excellent post.)
If you have a more common name, you have a different set of problems. How can you ensure that people find the right you? My husband has the same name as an artist, a football player, and a real estate agent. This makes it hard to find him in searches, but at least the other individuals don’t embarrass him. A librarian, who has the same name as a registered sex offender, had to take control of his branding to protect his career.
We also discussed public/private boundaries. It's important to think about what content you want and don’t want to be under your name. Is your brand solely about engaging with professional communities and work-related content, or are you an open book? Most of us felt that it's good to have some personality, but also to set some boundaries. Consider using filters or pseudonyms for some types of online engagement, or using different spaces (Twitter vs. Facebook) for different aspects of your personality. But this is an area where different people have very different styles and it's important to make the choices you're comfortable with.
Finally, we strongly agreed that negativity is a threat to your brand. Negative things you say on the Internet can lurk there forever, and most librarians react badly to negativity. Skepticism and criticism are important. There's a space for them in professional discourse, but it's important to be very careful about tone and style.Responsibility
We talked about the responsibilities involved in how you present yourself. Kiyomi works at a public university, and as such represents the state of Nebraska. There are expectations for how she conducts herself in professional settings, and she takes them seriously. Bohyun agreed that it's important that your personal brand and your institution's do not conflict. She also added that those who are active in many different social media channels would benefit from keeping their messages in those different media consistent and focused in order to keep their personal brands easily recognizable.
To me, personal branding is the notion that your career is more than your institution, especially for those of us who don't have institutions yet. It's up to me to provide my own professional development opportunities, name recognition, and advancement. Even when I do have that first professional job, I need to be making my own opportunities.Next steps
I've discussed ideas behind branding, but not the tools. This is because we differ tremendously in how we implement our brands, and there's no one true way. Brett's brand is about In the Library with the Lead Pipe and old-school networking and institutions. Lisa is active on several social platforms as "lisacarlucci." You can follow her on Twitter, Slideshare, Scribd, Flickr, and others. Kiyomi, Bohyun, and I blog ( Library Adventures of Kiyomi, Library Hat, Across Divided Networks) and tweet ( @KiyomiD , @bohyunkim, @ThatAndromeda). Many librarians are active on Facebook, but for me that's a friends and family space, so I've chosen to (mostly) not engage with those conversations.
So if you want to launch a personal brand, what do you do? First, think about how you want to be perceived and where you want to go with your career. Then start with your strengths and grow organically. If you write, blog – or publish in traditional media! If you're a social media wizard, get out there on Twitter and Facebook. If you present, do SlideShare. If you schmooze, go to all the conferences you can. You won't be able to be active everywhere, and your initial choices might not be right, but you'll learn what works for you. Your personal brand is not a static thing, but an evolving relationship you have with the world. It will take work at first – surprisingly much work – and there's a learning curve, but once you start succeeding there's a tipping point.
Ultimately, there's no one right recipe for personal branding because it's about you, and you are unique. What do you want to say about yourself?