Why Personal Branding Sucks (And Is Bad)


As of right now, I have roughly 22,000 Twitter followers.  I’m confident that far too many of them are robots, drawn to me by some unearthly musk, but people for some reason want to read my stupid words.  You see I, a supposed “thought leader in Public Relations,” a “best-selling author” and apparent success in Public Relations, do not talk like most PR people.

Most PR people have almost the same biography on Twitter – #PR Professional/Guru/Ninja/Maven, Love Social, Love Media, Love Running, Love Coffee, Love Cocktails, Love Puppies, Love People (in fact they may Love Everything), #Hashtags, and an endless stream of nonsense branding.  They see Twitter as a place to create a personal brand, a vacuous statement, defined by Wikipedia as “the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands”, which is another way of saying “lying”.

You see, if you are actively “personal branding,” if you are creating a brand that is not you online, you are in some ways lying. Lies are not just the things we say that are not true; they are the things we actively hide.  Now, I’m not saying that everyone should post their naked, vulnerable bodies to every social network.  I’m just saying that if you are treating your existence as a brand and a thing (versus you) you are removing your own humanity and lying to the world.

You’re also an insufferable dope and few people will actually like you.  Nobody will #engage with your #brand or #follow you because you #use a lot of #hashtags.  Yes, there are exceptions, such as that one guy who posts the list of countries by size and then slots in the size of social networks (which literally makes no sense).  For the most part, as a PR or marketing person, you will be part of an empty sea of bumbling oafs, desperate for attention.

“Some people have confused having a personality with having a “brand,” the difference just being intention, I guess,” said Andy Orin, a writer at Lifehacker.

Here’s the horrible truth; if you’re boring as hell, there is no hiding that.  Furthermore, if you’re creating a false persona you will eventually fall down (and hopefully die?), or people will see through it almost immediately.  If you think you are the Talented Mister Ripley, you are incorrect.  You are, by proceeding with the idea of having a “personal brand,” betting that the individual facets of your life you share through the thin veneer of what you think people want.  You’re probably incorrect.  If you are correct, I still hate you.

Shut Up And Stop Doing It

When I started on Twitter I was trying to create a personal brand of someone I ironically already was.  I was trying to come off as the approachable PR guy who was a former journalist, sharing articles and saying how great they were and how I loved writing but now I was in PR.  I’d desperately compliment reporters in the most asinine and pathetically pandering ways, almost always when I didn’t feel any true emotion toward the piece.  This was because I was desperate and vulnerable.  I didn’t gain many followers in the first year or so.

Then something changed.  I began to get very unhappy at my job.  I was bored and angry, and thus I’d ramble incoherently on Twitter, essentially posting things I found interesting, or posting anything I thought that was funny.  I still followed all the reporters I followed, but instead of desperately begging for their attention I’d joke with them, or talk to them about what they were tweeting as Ed, that guy, versus Ed, #PR #Guru #Expert.

Eventually people from the media started wanting to have drinks with me, because I was this guy who was alright to talk to online, who wasn’t pitching them on Twitter (yes, I used to do that).  I retweeted things I found funny, which almost all of the time were not from people who were in tech, the media, or the tech media (such as Jon Hendren, @Fart, a comedy writer and DevOps expert).  To my great surprise, people began to actually like my Twitter account.

Yes, there were and are exceptions.  There are some who did and still do not like that I tweet a lot, that I retweet and tweet stupid things, that I can’t stop posting a video called ‘The Dirty Cowboy’ from the 80’s, that I swear, and so on.  For the most part, a lot of people (including some relatively well-known people in my industry, technology and for some reason MC Hammer) follow me and keep following me even though I, as described by one PR person who didn’t know was listening, “tweet like a retard.”

It’s Not Just Twitter, Idiot

A lot of my digital and personal communication is similar to the 1990’s Movie Crazy People.  The movie, starring Dudley Moore, features an ad executive that goes “insane,” and creates brutally honest advertisements such as “Buy Volvos.  They’re Boxy But They’re Good.  We know they’re not sexy.  This is not a smart time to be sexy anyway, with so many new diseases around.”  The ads are run by accident and are a huge success, and Moore creates an agency out of people from an insane asylum.

Notice that Moore is just honest.  He’s not crude, rude or mean.  He’s also not hyping the car, nor is he saying it’s the most amazing thing ever.  He’s saying it’s good.

In my pitches I send to reporters this is how I describe things.  It’s a thing, it does a thing, and it’s good at that thing because thing.  The result is that I get… well, media results.  A lot of them.  People pay me plenty of money for this, because I can do it a lot, because I get clients that I know the media will like.  I don’t have to sit there like a crazed preacher, saying how everyone’s lives are going to change.

Similarly in my proposals, I don’t talk about being an expert.  I say “this way of describing your product or this trend will be something your product fits into, and I can get you this, potentially, but then again I may not be able to, as nothing is for sure and the media are not robots that I program.”  In person I say almost exactly the same thing.  In fact, I actually write online in an almost identical manner to how I speak, except I have transitioned from British to American spelling.

As a result of this I’ve had a bestselling book, I work with three Fortune 100 clients, I am able to afford to live in San Francisco and I work 7 to 8 hours a day and never on weekends.  If you don’t believe me and want to tell me I’m horrible, you can find me on Twitter.  I will retweet you and someone may not be nice to you as a response.

Sorry if this offended you – kind of…