The Art of Self Branding


Students should learn how to use social media for more than merely enjoyment. KELLYN SIMPKINS/THE RAM
Students should learn how to use social media for more than merely enjoyment. Kellyn Simpkins/The Fordham Ram

By Kenny DeJohn

We are taught from a young age to not care what other people think of us. It is time to disprove that basic life lesson.

It is imperative for those in the communications field — both old and new — to be aware of how they are perceived by others. Personal branding is a phrase students hear frequently in class and from news outlets, but not all students know what it is and how to do it effectively.

Sports communication professor John Cirillo, defines personal branding as “developing a positive identity for you as a journalist or really as an individual and there are a lot of ways to do that…young journalists can develop an identity through Twitter by tweeting with major writers and broadcasters.”
While using social media to interact with industry professionals is one way to brand, it is certainly not the only way. Twitter is an important instrument for journalists to use to tweet their work and create an identity. A writer can tweet about sports, movies, television, music or anything in between to prove his or her knowledge on the specific subject in an attempt to establish credibility. This builds authority and trust with followers.

“The days of just creating a piece of content and having an audience show up to consume it is in the past,” says Joe Yanarella, editor-in-chief of Bleacher Report. “Nowadays, social and sharing are two of the top distribution methods for content so writers need to take an active role in enhancing their personal brand and getting their content in the hands of friends and potential readers.”

Branding requires diligence and careful planning. A journalist must come across as consistent, but not harassing, and also realize that not all things are meant for the public eye. Some items are obviously not made for the public eye — that picture with your best buddies doing keg stands, for example — and even one lapse in judgment can permanently tarnish a writer’s public perception.

Some writers choose to take the safe approach, as Paul Levinson, a communication and media professor and author of 17 books, said:

“Some people that I know made a decision to separate some of their public lives to the point where they take on different names. They use pseudonyms as authors of certain kinds of books. In fact, there are a fair number of professors who deliberately don’t use their real names because they’re concerned that somehow if they write science fiction, or mystery, or maybe even pornography, that somehow that’s going to hurt their image as a professor.”

It is all about image. Individuals have the power to sculpt the minds of others and make consumers think of their name when ingesting a particular subject. It goes a step beyond name recognition. It’s name association. Professors certainly don’t want their names attached to adult-film making — hence the use of a fake name.

The use of a fake name also allows for more freedoms on social media. The somewhat recent craze of changing Facebook names to include a middle name instead of a surname helps to protect from overly curious employers. Thus, personal branding is important for everyone.

“Everyone who is interested in having an impact in the popular culture needs to think about how you want to be known, what they want to be known as,” said Levinson.

Digital media is the future, but we would be remiss to overlook traditional forms of media as a means of broadcasting your talents, interests or strengths. Levinson notes that television can “reach millions of people” at once, something that Twitter and Facebook cannot do. Levinson has appeared on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” among other programs, and believes that much of his current following came from appearances on those popular shows.

Cirillo even went as far as saying that some potential employers might even appreciate a tangible package including a resume, clips and broadcast reels.

“Sometimes the traditional way does work more effectively,” said Cirillo. “If John Filippelli of the YES Network gets a Fed-Ex with a tape, he might be more likely to look at it than he is to open an email.”
For whichever method an individual chooses, there are dos and don’ts that should be followed.

Levinson, an experienced tweeter and user of social media, outlined the best ways to brand: “When in doubt, do it. More is more. When you can see a way of putting out a Tweet or on Facebook, do it. You can almost never do yourself any harm. The only thing I would say is if you are a jerk or worse, then you’re going to be found out. You probably should stay away if you’re a racist, a sexist, a bigot, whatever. But otherwise, go for it.”

That seems like easy advice to follow. Even if you do not actively brand yourself positively, refraining from insensitive comments can be beneficial.

The digital age of journalism makes social media awareness something that all individuals need to be concerned about. It can be the difference between securing a job out of school and pitching a tent on the unemployment line.