Personal Branding and the ‘Proud Peacock’ syndrome

gen-yPersonal BrandingSocial Media

As philosopher Ken Wilber has argued underscoring his use of Spiral Dynamics, each new wave of technological development brings forward awesome new opportunities and frightful new dangers. And it is the job of every new generation to separate the wheat from the chaff and avert the nasty consequences that a misuse of otherwise wonderful technologies can create often inadvertently by their enthusiastic embracers. Case in point: the personal branding-social media combo and what I will dub as the ‘proud peacock’ syndrome.

The ‘Proud Peacock’ syndrome

I am as of late concerned by a new phenomenon that is increasingly gaining ground (especially – though by no means exclusively – amongst Generation Yers) that if unchecked threatens to have a detrimental effect on and eventually render meaningless both sound personal branding and social media use. And I feel partly responsible due to my support for online influence and the novel apps (highly imperfect as they still are) that seek to measure it. It is obvious that even some of my own students seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick and are construing their personal brands and social media strategies in ways that have little to do with the philosophies, values and best practices that most of my betters and I defend in this blog and other reputed personal branding fora. Please allow me to explain.

There is no question in my mind – and having just read Dan Zarrella’s concise treatise on contagious ideas in social media I was glad to learn that he is of this view too – that achieving critical mass in key social networks and holding a healthy level of online influence can be highly beneficial for our personal brands. Amongst other reasons, it facilitates the spread of our ideas, makes us more visible, allows us to interact and engage with our target audience more easily and ensures that we are better informed and more exposed to the later developments in our fields of interest. Truly, they both bring us closer to our goals and are recommendable when they do not spring from spurious motives and seek to transmit the essence of our brands: our unique set of values, skills and talents with which we can contribute to the common good while we bring to fruition our goals and pursue our professional destinies.

Here comes the downside. There are those, however, that very much aware of the bounty to be gained seek to bypass what ought to be the backbone of every personal brand and take a direct shortcut by working to become influential, tweaking their social media strategies to inflate their Facebook and Twitter followings or reach high scores on programs like Klout. I call them ‘proud peacocks’, because they end up strutting and flaunting their impressive numbers and bulging social media accounts without having actually added much value to the community and proven only that they are skilled at applying the right principles for the wrong purposes.

How it ends

Not long ago, one of them approached me to complain that I had not included him as one of the top seven 2.0 influencers in my country in a post I had written to that effect. That he would have the audacity to even ask me stunned me: he had never written a quality post – let alone a book – to my knowledge and his only merit as far as I could see had been to grow a sizeable Twitter account by retweeting other people’s articles, Infographics and materials. And as much as that can be useful, retweeting does not grant one the right to be listed as a top influencer.

The lesson is clear: if you are seeking online influence for the sake of online influence, you have truly understood very little of what personal branding is about and are in for a nasty shock sooner rather than later.

Lasting online influence is always a consequence of the value you have added to others through your personal brand and your work.

Anything other than that is a travesty of personal branding and social media influence that is unlikely to be endorsed by any serious pro in either field. Proud peacocks can capture our attention for a while, but their allure will dissipate like the morning mist if it has no base other than their outsized egos and naked ambition. In personal branding, as in life, only true value lasts: everything else is a distraction.