Personal ‘brand management’ for social literacy

By Anne Collier

The cynical way to say it might be that we’re all our own best spin doctors these days. There are a lot of ways to say it, though – e.g., protecting one’s public image, reputation management, maintaining your personal brand, or just online spin control – but there’s nothing cynical or unsavory about this skill, and it’s a life skill, not just an online one. Though it’s an important one for social media users to develop. The need for it reflects badly on social media only if we choose to see it that way. Because there are upsides to this call for self- and other-awareness, to having to think about how we present ourselves and how we appear in relation to others.

All student athletes at Pennsylvania State University have a required course their freshman year which includes image management in social media, reports. Taught by the assistant director at the university’s academic support center for student athletes, Sue Sherburne, it focuses on what their personal brand is. This would also make for a great family or classroom discussion for media and social literacy. Sherburne asks her students to come up with “four anchor words” that express who they are. She told PennLive that those four words are usually their core values. Then she has them take each word – for example, “integrity” – and evaluate their Facebook timeline, Twitter page, photo albums, etc. with that value in mind. The students are asked, “Do those posts, messages, and tweets express that value?” In the class, and I think ideally within a family, this isn’t a one-shot conversation. Sherburne said that students are asked throughout the semester how whatever they post online or say and do offline fits their “brand.” Whether we think of it in that commercial way, which is entirely appropriate for top athletes, or as the idea of being true to ourselves – face-to-face as well as in digital spaces – this is important social literacy for success in all aspects of life.

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