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Facebook You v. Real You or Why Personal Branding is Stupid

I like to think of Facebook as this game where you try to see who can fabricate the most believable lie in a competition to see who has the best “life”. It’s like permanently showing off vacation photos with everyone you work with…

From Comical Concept.

Or an illustrated version of the Rakofsky Effect.

Don’t exaggerate your life, your experience, or status in order to impress others or win clients. Be honest and upfront about who you are and what you’re about. Let your work speak for itself.

Shut up about your “personal brand.” Your brand is only the first step; the foot in the door. That’s it. This sudden obsession with developing a personal brand is insane. No one cares about your brand. Let me say that again: No one gives a damn about your brand. Marketers and social media/branding gurus may say otherwise, but they are merely trying to justify their own existence.

You know what matters for lawyers – anyone really? Their reputation.

Your brand is what you say about yourself, but your reputation is what others say about you.


There is no way to self-create a reputation – or at least no way to buy a reputation that lasts. Reputation is developed through hard work, consistency, reliability, and integrity.

That last one real trips people up. Integrity is not that popular of word in the 21st century. Look at the general mess available on TV: reality shows, celebrity divorces, and back-stabbing politicians. Integrity has seemingly faded from the daily lexicon. But for anyone looking to develop a reputation that matters, integrity is essential.

Integrity does not involve subscribing to some Aristotelian level of ethics. Instead, integrity is unity of behavior in thought, word, and action.

Having integrity and consistently and reliably delivering quality work will eventually ensure that other people will speak highly of you – you don’t have to do it yourself.


  1. Two minutes after I put this up, some “personal branding” consultant auto-followed me on Twitter. I assume from having a search keyed to “personal branding” and they auto-follow anyone who mentions it. What a stupid thing.

  2. Reminded me of College Humor’s Drunk-o-Vision.

  3. Fortunately ( or Buddhist view, Unfortunately ) we human ( not necessary all of us —– and not necessary good or bad 🙂 ) has self-awareness, hence self-consciousness.

    Once it was conscioused ( starting 8~10 years of age ) it became a separate object. ( The one, seen by oneself ) Then, in comparison to others, we start to have
    self-imposed ” I am” ( or Who I should be) —– therefore life-long acting starts. But this ” who I should be” is also an armor of morality / strain jacket. —– the matter all comes down to ” Whether it was sublimated into one’s subconscious” or stay just as a superficial pretense.

    If it was sublimated deep, the one behave and act without conscious = it appeared as one’s deed, which is observed by others as well. Hence, it IS the second-nature. To, create this second nature ( its mean change the personality) is what Buddhism is doing.

    As a nature of Facebook ( by whom, who wanted to expose oneself) it is a mere pretense. Its fraud is the default 😀

  4. I always assumed that, in the end, your reputation was your personal brand. Actions and results have the last and strongest word.

    I love that this post resulted in you being followed on Twitter by a personal branding consultant!

    • I think they’re similar, but there has been a trumpeting of personal branding of late online. Just shout about how great you are and people will come. Whether or not it’s true isn’t really relevant. That might be OK if you’re selling widgets, but it’s definitely not okay when you’ve sworn an oath to uphold certain ethical standards and are taking on the responsibility for someone’s life, liberty, or property.

      Then you need to be absolutely upfront and honest about who you are and what you’re about – don’t inflate and puff up your background. If other people want to sing your praises – that’s their prerogative.

      • Truly it’s not even “OK if you’re selling widgets”. A “brand” is merely the hashing of a reputation down to a name, and the only kind of reputation you can build by talking about how great you are is a reputation as an egocentric loon. (Or an ambulance-chasing shyster…depends on the audience, probably. But either way, not something you want.)

        The irony is that “personal branding on social media” isn’t BS, but everyone selling it is. Mark Bennett (from whom I got the link to this article) does a great job of it. Not because he tries so hard, but because he doesn’t. (Or at least, he doesn’t seem to. Indeed, I’m sure he’d quite sincerely deny that he does it at all.) If you need to hire a consultant to tell you how to do it, then you’ll never do it right.

        If the things you’d say in the blogosphere or on Facebook are a subset of the things you’d say to a friend at a bar, then you’re probably at least pointing in the right direction. If they’re a superset of that, or totally different from that, you’re almost certainly doing your reputation (and thus your “personal brand”) more harm than good, and should immediately cease paying any heed to whatever moron or con artist convinced you to start talking like a pitchman.

        • The constant pitching and self-congratulatory praise has gotten way out of hand – which prompted me to write this post. People just need to be themselves and honest. It’s painfully apparent when people are attempting to puff themselves online.

  5. Nitpicky point, but I couldn’t resist pointing it out: the 20th century ended 11 years ago.

    • Ha. Fair enough. This is actually a very heavily edited down piece of a larger article I’ve been working on. In the larger article I make comparisons between perceptions of integrity in pre/post social media/internet world. Essentially – 20th / 21st century.

      But I edited out large swaths of it. 20th century was still in there though. Should be fixed now.

    • Also, with you noting that correction – I have to guess you came here from Reddit. 🙂

  6. In my opinion, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head in a few comments you made. Personal branding is not about making things up or exaggerating. However, the persona you create through your reputation IS your brand, or at least a part of it. To me your brand is three things – what you want to do, what you want to be seen as, and what you want to be known for.

    You take action to what you want to do, and interact with people in a way you want to be known for. The other piece is that as your reputation is made, that describes what you want to be known for to others, so this is what they can expect from dealing with you.

    The age of liars is among us because we are all marketing ideas on the Internet, and all marketers are liars, according to Seth Godin. The issue with the Internet world is it is far too easy to find your lies and exaggerations, so do not even try. It is not about shouting out your greatness, but it is more about defining your features and benefits to potential employers, network contacts, clients or customers. I also think there is a third version you left out, and that is the private version of you. However with the advent of social media we are all in effect politicians, and the sanitization of public communication is a reality for everyone – perception defines reality.

    I am curious what the personal branding expert said to you, if there was any constructive thoughts you wanted to share, or even ridiculous points they made we could discuss further.

    • The personal branding guru didn’t say anything, just immediately auto-followed me upon mention of “personal branding.” Which is particularly hilarious considering that what I had tweeted was “Personal Branding is Stupid.”

      With the title I’m obviously being a bit hyperbolic, but reputation is far more important than a brand. If you didn’t read it, I highly suggest you read “Rakofsky Effect” page linked above. When a marketer lies, someone is perhaps deceived into buying a sub-standard product. But like I said in reply to Kate above, when a lawyer lies it can deprive someone of life, liberty, or property.

      In Rakofsky’s case, his former client sits in prison for another year due to his “personal branding” and blatant unethical conduct. Lawyers are in a unique role that most marketers and social media gurus don’t really seem to understand. There’s no “faking it til you make it” when someone’s life is on the line.

      Lawyers, especially new, young, lawyers like myself, need to be absolutely clear and upfront about our experience and what we can offer to clients. For myself, I’m part of a firm and work under the guidance on more senior attorneys so it’s not as big of a problem. But for the people who are fresh out of law school, hang their shingle, and immediately set-up a website declaring their voracious representation and zealous advocacy and experience, etc. – they are harming potential clients and the profession as a whole by not being upfront and honest about who they are. Yes, they will be eventually exposed like Rakofsky was. But I don’t think that’s much consolation for his former client sitting in a prison cell right now.

      • So my guess is that you can’t stand the new Franklin & Bash show, eh? I love how Hollywood glamorizes every profession. As a former TV newsie, I can attest that everything you’ve seen on TV about those of us on TV…is completely far fetched and not even close to the truth.

        I digress. Excellent work, Keith, and tremendous rapport with those who’ve commented on this post. I think the conversation in the comments is almost as good as the post itself.


    • Way to totally miss Keith’s point, in my opinion. You don’t “create a persona through your reputation.”

      Chris, let me guess: you’re in the marketing dodge.

  7. Perhaps I am not qualified to rant in the same circles as those here, so I will not endeavour to stretch my feeble mind anymore to the lofty ideals that are being garnered here.

    I guess my point was that I agreed with you. You do what you do because that is what you do. However, if you have no strategy behind it, I hope you enjoy living on your mother’s couch, as you will never have a profitable business. If you are self employed, you need to think of what you are doing – plain and simple. Why did McDonalds announce to everyone they were using a better kind of oil? Did they do this because they wanted to do it, it was the correct thing to do? Hell no. They did it out of marketing prowess – this involved their brand, and resulted in an increase to their reputation in some circles. How are they not linked again?

    If you are famous in your circle, that is great – kudos. I am not trying to be famous in any circle, I am just some schlub trying to support the argument that a reputation and a brand are linked – sorry if you do not agree, that is your prerogative. I am not saying you need to tell people what to think and fool them into buying something they do not need, and again, if that is what you heard, I guess that is what you heard. I never said it. You have your opinion, I have mine, we should perhaps agree to disagree. I will side with the folks that are making millions in their field, and ask myself if I want to do business, or align with some misguided Millennials that would hang on their ideals, and work four different part time jobs without any benefits to have the opportunity to cloak insults with jargon. I have always found it laughable that there is education in “ethics” for lawyers – must be about how to bend them.

    Yes there are branding gurus out there, but it is really about conversational marketing – and if you think you are not doing that here, I regret to inform you that you are. I am sure that there are folks following this post tittering to the comments you have thrown at me for no apparent reason other than you wanted to. I never made any comment in my opinion that demanded a hostile and unctuous reply that cloaked insults in rhetoric, yet got one after another anyway – from both parties. “….potential clients would never actually meet you, but because we’re lawyers, and lawyers tend to get bogged down by logic and reason. I know, but it’s how we roll….” Yet again, the litigious Americans tend to do what they do on every front of the world stage – bully, berate, and puff up like peacocks. Hoping that bluster and pomp will deflate any type of opposition, using cyclic arguments full of emotional pap that others would like to throw back at them. Perhaps as a lawyer, you may want to think of being a little more kind in response to others, as you come across as infantile, inflated, aggressive and pompous in my opinion. Never once did I discredit you or your profession, however you are quite adept at creating a reputation for lawyers in general, one that aligns with their brand on television and in real life to my experience. Coming from one of the only self propagating industries I am aware of (lawyers write laws so only other lawyers can understand them), let me take a moment to correct your glaring mistake. If your business is to take others to task, I would like to point out (with great relish) you spelled “blawg” incorrectly. The term actually originates from “web log” and is a contracted form of the words. I guess you were too busy looking for assholes to check your spelling.

    • “Blawg” is what lawyers call law weblogs. It’s a common mistake to think it’s a misspelling, though only among people who are unfamiliar with law weblogs.

      No need to thank me for explaining it to you. It’s my pleasure, and an ethical obligation of lawyers to educate the ignorant.

  8. If you don’t talk about yourself, you’ll never be in danger of misrepresenting yourself. It’s not about you. Nobody cares about the “what” or “how” of your professional existence.

    There’s a progression required: Relevant > Useful > Valuable > Indispensable.

    For anyone to have any reason to pay attention to you, you have to contribute usefully to a discussion about their world. That makes you Relevant. If you’re consistently relevant, long enough, at some point someone will give you a chance to be Useful. If your usefulness produces meaningful impact (strategic, operational, financial, emotional) you’ll be perceived as Valuable. If you’re consistently valuable, over time you may earn Indispensable status. Most seasoned advisors tire of implementing decisions made without their input, and aspire to be the person to whom clients turn before making decisions.

    Repeat: It’s not about you. It’s about your relevance to others’ worlds.

  9. I don’t know. I think the idea of developing a “personal brand” is simply what you decide to do online. I agree with honestly expressing who you are and all that, and avoiding exaggeration, but a personal brand is something that didn’t exist (in the way we’re referring to it now) prior to the social Web. So, if I wanted to build a personal brand, I would get involved in social networking by engaging in the conversation. More importantly, I would actually use and build out my profile for the places where people tend to carry on conversation, i.e. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, rather than signing up and letting them languish. It’s just like domains and websites. When you go online to verify the authenticity of a product or service, and you find a poorly maintained site, or no website at all… well. Same thing for personal brands.

  10. Just wanted to keep conversing, Keith, and point out the wisdom of your words to other readers. Regardless of profession, we should all strive to under promise and over deliver on our actions so that the brand we are building is relevant, useful, and describes to others clear boundaries of expectations on our performance.

    The old adage “it takes 20 years to become an overnight success” is now followed with “and one FaceBook pic to ruin that.”

    You can register a domain for 10$, host it for free in some cases or have a hosting plan for another 50$ a year, and you can become a self proclaimed “expert” peddling rhetoric and semi-honest tools and ideas, or as you have done Keith use it as a platform to engage your audience, deliver honest and useful points to apply immediately for results, and increase the overall experience of communication and networking. Once you stretch your mind beyond it’s original boundaries, it will never assume the same shape or limits.

    Great blog, great post, and I must say I am glad to have found your niche and be able to participate.

    • I take it that you missed the whole point about reputation? But fear not, for those who come to read Keith’s thoughts certainly need you, whoever you are, to point out their wisdom. That you can appreciate his message despite your obvious and overwhelming intellectual disability is a credit to your health care providers.

      • Bringing “reputation” and “health care providers” is an excellent proof for this article.

        The American health system (I would leave out the word “care”‘) has a reputation of being broken, corrupt, and ineffective. Hollywood has glamorized the decrepit system that is in existence today with sensational movies like John Q. and Sicko, and have created a reputation – yet nothing changes. The American Health system has tried to brand itself as something different, though. It has a persona, or a social image. So, in effect, you do create a persona through a reputation in the definition of Jungian psychology – all the terms apply but it differs to what you are describing.

        Keith said that he had a perception of the branding expert because he approached Keith and then never really offered anything. So, a persona is born, and as Keith talks to others, the reputation is created. Personal Branding is the system that a reputation is built from – they are related, but not identical. How can you create a reputation without interaction?

        I think you must have misread my comments, as I was agreeing with Keith. What I said was, the strategy that this “branding guru” used was the Ron Popeil “set it and forget it”. I believe that your reputation is built from others – not once did I say you have to talk about yourself, not once did I say it was wise to not ask questions and offer valuable insights. I did decry the fact that most others do this and consider it personal branding. If you read through my comments, without trying to judge them, you would see that I am saying that a personal soapbox is a horrible idea, and that many people out there think this is what a reputation is meant to be – screeching about yourself. I agree with Keith, you need to consistently add valuable content that is useful, and the way to do this is a strategy – personal branding. The result of your branding efforts is your reputation.

        I found it interesting you leapt at my comments like that, yet on your own blog you clearly state you will sanitize comments to keep them civil, and your first entry to my thread is commenting on my cognitive deficiencies and illustrating the effectiveness of our health system in Canada, allowing me to communicate on this blog that is reserved for the fine legal minds like yourself that populate it. Not a way to create a reputation that is positive, in my opinion…maybe you should consider a personal branding strategy.

        • Chris, I’m deeply hurt that you feel my response to you wasn’t sufficiently civil. After all, it’s not like I called you a blithering idiot for not comprehending Keith’s point, or a pathological liar for trying to spin it to conform with whatever delusions of grandeur lurk with those other voices in your head.

          And didn’t I complement your therapists? Think of them, for crying out loud. Aren’t they entitled to a little credit once in a while?

          Yet we’re left with the bottom line, your persistence in arguing that Keith’s post is really all about having social media branding strategy, which I guess is what you hope some lawyer will someday pay you to do for them. How convenient! The only flaw in your position is that it reflects nothing that Keith has argued, and nothing that anyone who comes here would find persuasive. It’s not because your’re an unattractive man, best suited for doing business over the internet where any potential clients would never actually meet you, but because we’re lawyers, and lawyers tend to get bogged down by logic and reason. I know, but it’s how we roll.

          Your concern for my branding endears you to me deeply, but I’m just about as branded as a lawyer gets on the internet. My branding is to take assholes to task for being, well, assholes, and saving the young and foolish from sliding into the gutter in their misguided desperation that allows people like you from taking advantage of their weakened state. But again, thank you for your concern. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate some misguided slug who wandered onto a blawg by mistake for trying to save me from my authentically engaging self.

    • Chris Kulbaba said: “Regardless of profession, we should all strive to under promise and over deliver on our actions so that the brand we are building is relevant, useful, and describes to others clear boundaries of expectations on our performance.”

      See, I always thought that providing a quality product and service was so that your can provide a quality product and service. Didn’t know that the real purpose was brand development.

      The whole obsession with branding seems a bit like the obsession over our nation’s credit rating. The drop in rating is merely cosmetic. What matters is the underlying drop in economic prosperity. Same with personal branding. Worrying about your brand is fairly useless, you should be focused on the underlying quality you provide.

      However, I do disagree with Keith that people should just be upfront and honest. Some people suck at what they do (see: Marketing Gurus), and without puffery and salesmanship, they’re never going to get any business. If you can get by on the quality of your skills, then do so. But, even the untalented have bills to pay.

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