SELLING YOURSELF: HOW, WHEN, AND WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT
In an era where branding is just as important as the content one creates, young professionals consistently explore new ways to build their image. One’s work can travel faster and farther than ever before. This access to information creates a place where users feel as though they know each other based on presentation of their work and personal thoughts.
Recent Emerson College graduate and Editorial Assistant at Refinery29, Hunter Harris has masterfully constructed her online persona. She jokingly describes her brand as “half talking about Beyoncé and half work,” and while she claims that she is not a natural in “selling herself,” her branding expertise has set her apart.
Harris uses her Twitter account not only to share her latest articles, but also to share personal interests and stay connected with larger discussions. While thoughtful engagement on the internet can be rare, Harris uses her platform to do just that. She utilizes social media to stay connected to topics like black identity and gender issues, informing her followers with both formal writing and personal thoughts.
“Brand lets people know who you are,” Harris said to help explain why a well-curated presence matters. She also makes it clear that the image she presents through social media and writing is not altered to be palatable to fans. “If you don’t get a good DMX joke, we probably have nothing in common anyway,” she joked about staying true to herself.
She acknowledges that people liking her or following her work should be an organic process. It should not come from posturing, but instead from a natural connection people experience when they encounter her words and thoughts. As a part of her nature, she refuses to shy away from controversial topics, a trait that shines through in the way her writing seeks truth. This transparency ensures that her followers are true fans who share her passions and choose to engage with her work.
“Your brand is the work you do,” she said, explaining why content will always trump presentation. A downfall of focusing too much on your brand is that the work behind your logos and infographics suffers. Harris combats this by focusing on who her readers are and how they will be impacted. She elaborates on how brand and content can advance together, saying, “Reporting on folks that look like me is crucial.”
In the beginning of her career, Harris wasn’t like this. She allowed herself to follow the advice of others, which caused her to feel like she was walking on eggshells every time she tried to write. In her earlier years, she was “afraid to bring [her] whole self into [her] work.” Her fearlessness has since developed as a result of watching other writers use their platforms to speak candidly.
While your personal brand is increasingly important, Harris insightfully pointed out that big media entities, outlets, and publications “absorb the brand(s),” of their employees. “When you work for the New York Times, your brand becomes the Times,” she explained. This reality leads people to include their place of employment in the descriptions of their bios on social media accounts and on their websites. Others imitate the aesthetic and language of the companies they aspire to be a part of. This tactic can be hit or miss; for example, as the aesthetic may mimic a top tier company well, the content might not match.
“Platforms are temporary; I strive to make sure the media is better than the medium,” Harris said, noting that content should reign supreme. While she has all but mastered branding, she knows that the content she produces must always be more significant than her online persona. Emerging media professionals will have to take on the challenge of balancing job performance and careful curation their own brand.
Critiques of brand building are often valid, but there is no denying its power as people become more and more connected. “You never know who is seeing or taking in your content,” Harris said about the nature of her online work. Impressive work gets shared on a plethora of platforms about which the creator may never know; meaning that writers can be judged at a moment’s notice. With this fact in mind, having a discernible, clean brand should be a priority for those looking to stand out in the sea of young people vying for positions.
Harris wisely articulates a widely understood truth about how being a media professional is both more difficult and easier than ever before: “Social media collapses the world. Instead of the traditional ‘six degrees of separation’, the Internet makes it so there is only one.”
While the benefits of having a well-manicured brand look different for everyone, it is a skill that all professionals in the media field should constantly refine if they wish to excel.