Self-Branding in the Social Media Age: How our Future Careers may be Impacted

To what extent do University Students place importance on their future careers when producing their online ‘self-brand’

In an ever-changing technological world, the choices we make online are likely to stay with us for weeks, months and even years. These choices affect our personal self-brands and can also impact our futures, including our career choices. But is this something that University Students are seriously thinking about when they curate their social media profiles?

It is reasonable to say that we are a part of the first generation who is going through university and entering the workforce with such a strong emphasis on social media and self-branding, meaning that we are in some ways facing competing pressures that have not been seen before. What I want to investigate is to what extent do University students place importance on their future careers when producing an online self-brand and how does it impact the way they do it.

Self-Branding is not a new concept, although you could be forgiven for thinking it is. The ideas behind and the ways that we as individuals curate and present our personal brands has drastically changed in the 21st century, but the roots of self-branding can be traced all the way back to the 1920’s (Whitmer, 2019, p. 2). So, if self-branding is not a new concept, why does there suddenly seem to be so much emphasis on its importance? That’s easy; social media.

Every individual social media platform gives us as avid devotees a different platform on which we are able to curate and present our self-brand in (if we wish) a different way. The way we present ourselves on Twitter is likely to be different to the way we do on Instagram, a large factor in this is no doubt the medium that we are using; Twitter uses short written messages of 240 characters or less whilst Instagram focuses on images and videos as the main format of communication.

But while the rise of social media as a tool for self-branding has made it more important than ever to think about the way you present yourself, it has also made it increasingly difficult to brand oneself in a completely and unapologetically authentic way. I mean how can you, when you are constantly trying to present yourself to different audiences who all hold different expectations of you? Nothing is truly private online, so the way you brand yourself can be found by anyone, from family to friends to potential employers, all of which are likely to see your personal content and create a profile of you in their mind before they may have even met you.

These are things which sit at the back of my mind every time I post a photo, tweet or video, unconsciously impacting the way I present myself online. So, if I’m thinking about these things, it is not unreasonable to assume that others are too. One of the main factors that influences my posting decisions is the idea that what I post now may impact my future job prospects, given that I want to eventually work in the media industry, which means that my online presence now is likely to have an impact on my future presence and job prospects.

No matter the career path you wish to take, there is a possibility that your online actions can make or break you. Where it was once the normal suggestion from career counsellors to delete social media such as Facebook altogether, the advice is now largely to create a professional, employable brand for yourself on social media that can demonstrate both your versatility and your consistency as a worker (Gershon, 2014, p. 282). But the process of curating a professional self-brand doesn’t stop once you are hired; it is constantly growing and changing just as your real self.

The fact that being an ‘Social Media Influencer’ or ‘YouTuber’ is now considered a legitimate and highly sought after career says a lot about how social media has impacted the workforce. In fact, ‘YouTuber’ is now ranked amongst the top career choices for young people, outdoing traditional choices such as law, medicine and teaching (Duffy & Pooley, 2019, p. 26). These jobs are no longer the stuff of myths, they are high paying gigs that, whilst in a lot of ways unpredictable in terms of constant employment, can comfortably provide for a single person or a whole family.

These Influencers aren’t the only ones who must curate the ideal online self-brand, as many jobs, particularly in the fields of communications and media, require workers to in some way affiliate (or unaffiliate) themselves with a particular brand, company or ideology online in order to remain successful in their role. This can apply to journalists, social media coordinators, models and even sportsmen, as they endorse, follow and align with the things that not only they personally believe in, but that can have an impact on their career if they don’t.

So with all of this in mind, I want to use existing studies done with university students as to how they use their self-brand to their advantage as well as to conduct a survey of UOW students to find out just how important my peers see their self-brand when thinking about future employment.

Catch ya on the flip side,

Jess x

References

Whitmer, JM 2019, ‘You are your brand: Self-branding and the marketization of self’, Sociology Compass, vol. 13, no. 12662, pp. 1-10.

Duffy, BE & Pooley, J 2019, Idols of Promotion:The Triumph of Self-Branding in an Age of Precarity’, Journal of Communication, vol. 69, pp. 26-48.

Gershon, I 2014, ‘Selling Your Self in the United States’, Political and Legal Anthropological Review, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 281-295.

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