Brand Yourself or, why I’m sick to my stomach right now

On Twitter earlier today I came across a link for a new startup called Brand-Yourself, an online reputation management service, which has recently entered a deal with Syracuse University that will give all graduates a six month free subscription to the service to help give them “an edge in one of the most competitive job markets since the Great Depression.” What it promises to be, in short, is a one-stop-shop for building and managing an online identity for those coming onto the job market. Here is the press release of the deal with Syracuse University, and I’ll quote from it a bit below.

Syracuse, NY, May 5 2010 – Syracuse University has entered into an agreement with, an online reputation management platform that helps individuals tap the web to maximize job opportunities. Under the initiative, all students graduating in December 2009, May 2010, and August 2010, will have access to a six month free subscription to – giving them an edge in one of the most competitive job markets since the Great Depression.

“We’re committed to helping students achieve success even after they leave the classroom,” explained Bruce Kingma, SU’s associate provost for entrepreneurship. “This initiative ensures our students maximize their career opportunities after college.”

The deal reflects how the web is fundamentally changing the hiring process, said Mike Cahill, director of Syracuse University Career Services.

“The internet is changing the way that employers are finding and evaluating job candidates. Students should not only be aware of what employers can find out about them on the Internet, they should be actively managing their online profiles.” Cahill explained. ” Through this partnership with Brand-Yourself, Syracuse University is making a commitment to prepare graduates for success in today’s digital environment.”

What strikes me about this whole thing is rather than rethinking or changing the curriculum to deal with how “the internet is changing the way that employers are finding and evaluating job candidates,” Syracuse seems to be tacking on a subscription service on top of the thousands and thousands of dollars their students are already paying for an education. As if shaping a digital identity over the course of four or more years at a university is not something deeply embedded in the teaching, learning, and research process but rather a subscription-based afterthought. The whole thing captures, at least for me, just how idiotically institutions are approaching what they produce as an easily packaged “brand” that students can simply wrap up and take with them on the way out. This development of a digital self should be part and parcel of the very experience of higher ed. How hypocritical for institutions to become sites of privacy-inspired fear mongering around social media more generally, only to be giving students their neat little subscription-based service on their way out with seemingly little or no guidance in what the process really entails. Is Brand-Yourself going to be the difference in getting Syracuse University students the job that so many of them presumably came there for in the first place? If so, then the crisis of the academy has never been clearer. And higher education’s continued refusal to take social media and digital fluency more seriously in the teaching and learning process, while at the same time promoting turnkey branding solutions that belie so much of what is at the heart of the educational process (i.e., a deep, critical engagement with the foundations of identity and communication) demonstrates the deeply schizophrenic, and I would argue outmoded, logic that is so loosely holding together the place of the academy in the 21st century.

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13 Responses to Brand Yourself or, why I’m sick to my stomach right now

  1. Doug Holton says:

    I agree, universities should be helping students foster their identities (online and not) throughout the process. Give students spaces to express themselves professionally (and personally).

    My little effort on this was to make a drupal site at my university where students and faculty have their own publicly viewable, personal spaces (profile pages, blogs, groups), but that project was killed. Anyway, I wrote an article about it, but it’s still under consideration.

  2. James says:

    The reason they’re doing it this way is that higher ed still largely doesn’t grasp the notion of integrating emerging media into what students do on a daily basis.

    The average LMS is nothing like the tools students will use in the real world, yet what are they using in post-sec? The LMS. Teach them to develop real world practices on real world tools. Unfortunately (and I’m a bit passionate about this right now as I’m just wrapping up my thesis on this very thing) your typical post-sec tech support model doesn’t want to focus on purpose and practice, only how many tools they have to support and how much work it will be.

    Teach people about the online world properly – the fundamentals of feed readers, blogging, social networks, social bookmarking and the like … and it doesn’t matter what the tool is one little bit. The right tools are easy to adapt to in the first place.

  3. Andre Malan says:

    So I just threw up on myself a little bit. Not only is this stupid for all the reasons above, but also for exactly what the service offers.

    The first step they do is ask you how many of the top 10 google results are yours and assign a grade based on that.

    They then offer to build you an SEO optimized site.

    They then suggest 43 or so social networks to sign up to.

    Who in their right mind has the time to maintain relevant profiles on 43 networks? Who in their right mind is not going to see through the thin veneer of a 2 day old Twitter account with posts about how awesome company X or Y is? Just what we need… a service that trains entire generations of university grads in how to be SMDs!

  4. peter naegele says:

    Wow…Jim, this is why I subscribe. Once again, you nailed it.

  5. See, I thought this was going to be about hot iron and leaving a deep mark.

  6. In the near future, my sense is we’ll see more universities doing what Syracuse is doing rather than what places like the University of Mary Washington is (and has been) doing. It’s far less expensive to do the add-on, of course, but the main reason for the add-on approach is that it doesn’t ask a university to morph with the times. They can continue to do what they have done for years. Wow. I write that, and it is just discouraging. I think I’ll go back to the Creighton Bernette rant to recalibrate my delicate psyche. Thanks, Jim – good stuff.

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  8. Gardner says:

    Just when I think I’ve hit rock bottom….

    I agree with Peter. You’ve nailed it. I wish you had been able to drive a stake through its heart, but the nailing will have to do for now.

    Tearing down the walls of the classroom–in both senses of “class”–keeps getting harder. Maybe universities can successfully rebrand themselves as 21st-century club clubs.

  9. goose says:

    I actually go to Syracuse as a distant learner. The program I am in is quite pro having an on-line presence. Part of the first class you take in the program involves making a blog and placing your work on it and encourage you to have a positive online presence.

    Aligning with the Brand Yourself people is not surprising as they are or were students within within the Information Sciences program or another Syracuse program.

    That being said I don’t disagree with anyone that paying for someone to make sure you have a good on-line presence is an awful idea. You don’t really need to pay anyone to tell you not to put stupid shit on internet. Paying someone to tell you this is pretty ridiculous.

  10. Ed Webb says:

    Silly Reverend – critical engagement is labor-intensive. Outsourcing is totally the efficient way to instruct young netizens for digital identity management success.

    @Andre – love the SMD link

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  12. This is Patrick Ambron, CMO of Brand-Yourself. I’d like to start by saying this is a very well-thought out post. You are right, Universities should not simply be sending students off with little subscriptions packages to educate them about the digital world. An understanding of the web and social technologies should be integrated into their curriculum and into the career services they are provided with throughout their stay at the University.

    More than anything else, I think this deal represents an acknowledgement of this importance from the University. The partnership came after a year of working with the Syracuse career services office educating them about online reputation management. We worked with their counselors so they could teach students how to create the type of content (blog posts, forum comments, etc) that impress employers and get their foot in the door. After many of their students were having success with our program, they decided to purchase the system as a graduation gift so their seniors could continue their progress after they left.

    Syracuse recognized that teaching their seniors how to organize a resume or write a cover letter simply wasn’t cutting it anymore. As the web quickly takes its place as the first place people turn to gather information about other people, the University wanted to equip their students with the knowledge to stand out. They weren’t simply shrugging it off. Far from it. In addition to integrating online reputation management into their career services, they bought their students a tool that could help them beyond the office.

    I hope that more Universities follow suit and realize the importance of helping students put their best foot forward on the web.

  13. Reverend says:

    Hi Patrick,
    Thanks for commenting here, and I appreciate your thoughts. I guess it is not so much that Brand-Yourself exists, but rather that people understand what we are doing with the web as resume/CV grooming in the most surface of ways. I’m not sure it should be career services educating students about their online reputation, but rather a core part of any education right now, whether K-12 or higher ed. And while your service/business model responds to a preceived niche that is unattended, and you are right in that, my real issue is that the fact that it has been so grossly unattended falls directly on the shoulders of educational institutions who seem to regularly ignore the open web as a space where teaching and learning must happen. If that were the norm, I bet your market would not be nearly as wide open. I guess it’s good news for you that educational institutions are so retrograde in their approach to the open web, but it still strikes me as a strikingly failure on their part to remain both vital and relevant during this transformative moment in education more generally.

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