By Rosalie Black

 

From high school students posting bathroom selfies during lunch period to college students posting “going out” photos in the basement of fraternity houses, it’s become very easy to post personal information online. Each user posts different content yet the way in which users express themselves through these online mediums has become an integral aspect of our society. Social media has evolved from a tool to use for fun to an extension of one’s identity.

We no longer go on adventures without telling the rest of the world about said adventures. We no longer value time with friends or family because we are worshiping our electronic devices. We no longer set up one or two camera shots depending on the lighting or angle but instead snap hundreds of photos just to post the “best” one. We no longer enjoy meals with loved ones because we are pre-occupied with getting the perfect food photo. Trust me, I’m guilty of these myself but it doesn’t have to be this way.

By constantly checking and updating online, it takes away from the reality of individuals’ lives and the little joys we experience daily. These online personas thrive on likes and feed on the acceptance of others (no pun intended). Every “like” releases dopamine in the brain causing a rush of happiness and a sense of belonging. This has halted our need to get doses of dopamine in other ways such as discovering new things or listening to music.

This past December, I tried shutting my phone off as much as possible. From December 13, 2016 to January 19, 2017 I didn’t post anything on Instagram and tried not to scroll, “like”, or post. By doing this little experiment, I gained a better understanding of my personal addiction to social media and how much my “online personality” influences my “offline personality.”

The online presence of an individual has become an expression of one’s self – or what they want others to perceive them as. It’s become far too easy to edit ourselves to fit social expectations because we have this fear of missing out or fear of judgement. There are currently over three billion online users in the world and the number of posts is increasing exponentially. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study on Social Media, “68% of all U.S. adults are Facebook users, while 28% use Instagram, 26% use Pinterest, 25% use LinkedIn and 21% use Twitter.”

This massive number of online personas is overwhelming but it’s also an opportunity to use social media for good. As an undergraduate student, it can be difficult to navigate or prepare for the daunting world of post-college life. Social media has helped me bridge the gap between myself and an array of diverse networks in Washington, D.C. My personal brand has evolved and changed over the years but it’s also helped me make new professional relationships.

According to entrepreneur Glenn Llopis, “Personal branding, much like social media, is about making a full-time commitment to the journey of defining yourself as a leader and how this will shape the manner in which you will serve others.” This way of thinking has influenced the way I’ve thought about how I can “define myself” and ever since I was a young girl, photography was the way I defined myself. My photography journey started in elementary school when I took photos of typical subjects such as flowers, trees, buildings, mountains, and dogs. The depth in which I found meaning in my subjects grew exponentially as I used my camera to guide my interests. I fell in love with the idea of being able to capture a moment in time and freeze it forever.

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Ten years later and not much has changed. Yet the way I’ve branded myself has changed (and for the better). In high school, I created my first website, LinkedIn account, and Facebook page yet none of these mediums synced up to make a cohesive brand image. But that didn’t matter back then because I was never taught to follow any consistent brand theme. After trial and error, I’ve found the theme that fits me and my personality.

CEO and Photographer, Matt Streetwood explains that “Personal branding has become a requirement for anyone looking to grow their business, get a better job, get noticed by the press, take their career to the next level, or meet new, high quality friends.” I agree with Streetwood because I’ve experienced it first-hand. I would describe my personal brand as simplistic and colorful. My website has a good amount of white space and beautiful black font. When I designed it, I wanted it to feel like an art gallery but virtually. All my social media platforms are cohesive and I try to be consistent with the types of content and voice of my personal brand. This has helped me grow my network and meet new people.

But no one is perfect, especially me. It’s important to showcase yourself online but if you want to change your brand, it starts with the things you do in person. Be kind, respectful, and courteous to others and you’ve already made the first step in enhancing your brand – both personally and professionally. When it’s used for the right reasons, personal brands will help you succeed and become the person you’re capable of being. It takes hard work, determination, and a commitment to find that healthy balance but once you find that sweet spot, all of your hard work will pay off.