Social branding today: Too early or too late?

I was recently interviewed for an article about social branding on a blog site focused on public relations.  I thought I would share my full answers with my blog followers as well.  Enjoy!

Q: Does social branding have an age? For example, is it ever too late or too early to start?

A: Setting aside the issue of when is an appropriate age to begin using various forms of social media (which parents should set for their
children), I do not believe it is ever too early or too late to start social branding.  In fact, as soon as you begin using social media you
should be conscientious of how your actions on those sites and others you communicate with contribute to your overall digital identity.

The next step, of course, is to actively manage your social identity and to begin to shape your social brand.  I would argue that to some
extent children become familiar with social branding of their virtual selves as soon as they begin using social games.  For example, young
children on Club Penguin develop a branded penguin persona, children of all ages on Nintendo Wii and other games develop virtual avatars,
and so forth and so on. This study suggests that children as young as 11 start building their personal brand on social sites.
Whatever age you are, if you are actively using social media sites then you should start developing your social brand.  Of course,
developing a specific niche or areas of interest, even at a young age, work best to develop your brand.  I taught students as young as 12 in
my Duke TIP summer studies’ digital media course how to identify an area they’re passionate about and begin to build a social brand around
that topic, through blogging and use of social networking sites.  One teenage student created an online publication to cover teenage issues
in her hometown of Staunton, West Virginia.  Two other students with an interest in sports began to build up their brand presence as
experts in sports.  Regardless of age, building a social brand can help establish your expertise in certain subject matters.

Q: With evolving technology and social media, do you think we will ever brand ourselves correctly?

A: Just as technologies evolve, our personal brands may change as we change and evolve.  When I was in high school, I was a sportswriter
for a local weekly newspaper.  I also worked part time at an Italian ice store.  One basketball coach called me “scoop” because of my print
sports reporting (but the nickname also worked because I scooped Italian ice).  My personal brand revolved around sportswriting and
print news reporting.  I was known in my networks as a sports writer and a journalist.

When I was in college, I was a youth page editor for the daily newspaper’s teen section.  My brand revolved around youth media and
features writing.  After I graduated college, I covered Orange and Chatham counties in North Carolina so I was branded as a local
reporter.

During my graduate studies and time at Georgia, my brand has evolved to that of expert in social & digital media strategy, media
sustainability and journalism innovation.

For individuals, sometimes less is more.  Just because a new social media tool or platform develops doesn’t mean you have to use it.  In
some instances, it may not make sense to do so.  The biggest thing we advise corporate clients is to have an overall social media strategy
that ties to your brand strategy and overall objectives.  The same applies to individuals.  The biggest challenge is to either integrate
the different social media presences to a unified brand presence and/or to use the different social media outlets accordingly.  For example, I’ve chosen to use my Twitter presence for a mix of professional and personal purposes, often tweeting about journalism topics, social media and social media marketing, communicating with friends and students and opining on topics I’m passionate about such as Carolina basketball and food.  Facebook, meanwhile, for me is mostly for personal use.

Q: Any other thoughts about how social media is affecting branding with younger audiences.

A: Social media knows no boundaries or age limits for the potential to breakout among the masses.  Young people have become overnight
sensations (ala Rebecca Black for “Friday”) or bona fide celebrities (Justin Bieber), with the discovery fueled through the use of social media.  The good news for young people is that they can get a message out, brand themselves as experts in a particular topic they’re passionate about or convey their talents to the masses.  And they can do that now, at 12, or 13, or 14.  Or whatever age. They don’t have to wait to develop a social brand for themselves.  The downside, and the danger, is that one mistake or social media misstep can irreparably harm their social brand. Think of the “Star Wars” kid that became a viral video sensation.  The “leave Britney alone” YouTube guy. The teenage girl whose father put 9 bullets in her computer for a Facebook  post complaining about his parenting.

For younger audiences who are digital natives (born 1985 or later), I would argue that they have grown up with and are familiar with social media platforms on a personal level.  That is to say they know how to use social media to communicate with friends and for fun in their personal lives.  But most young people I’ve encountered have not thought about the larger issues associated with social and digital media.  They are not fully social media or digital media literate in the sense of an awareness of the processes and effects of those technologies-the business purposes of social media, how politicians, governments, celebrities, even law enforcement are using social media platforms and the larger issues social media raise in a socially connected society.

 

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