On Uncertain Terms

This morning Jon Udell tweeted a quote from this post by Doc Searls:

Branding is jumping the shark now because the Net favors reality over bullshit.

And it’s inline with a lot of how I’ve been thinking about the idea of branding online lately, particularly as it pertains to higher ed. Soon after I retweeted the link, a few folks responded via twitter:

Heidi Hass Gable (@HHG) immediately noted: “Have never felt the need to push it. To me, ur “brand” is a byproduct of your interactions, the impression that u make on pplI sometimes need a way to describe that “what ppl say when you’re not in the room” idea…

And Bonnie Stewart (@cribchronicles) noted, in succession, that

…brands aren’t people, but i think the discourse of the web increasingly posits ppl as brands. not just in corporate sense. The term itself is beginning to be used in more complex ways, as relationalwhich interests me b/c i’m wary of the corporate carry-over of values into relational sphere.

As I noted on Twitter, I’m sure the term branding is more complex than I give it credit for, but one of my problems with the use of this term more generally, but in education praxis more specifically, is that it predisposes us to approach issues of online identity through a corporate laden lens of trademarks. It tacitly suggests what we’re doing is, as Bonnie notes above, positing people as brands by buying into a fraught corporate vocabulary. Seems to me like branding and reputation is increasingly being conflated, and I’m not sure this relational space can be usefully understood in the same way we buy and sell products. It seems to me in education we should be focusing on having people think, create, and reflect on the trace of themselves online, and essential to that process is examining the implications of creating both a presence and shaping an identity. This process takes time and energy, and depends upon a real investment of one’s self over the time—it can’t simply be bought as a service—and that time and energy is what builds reputation in this space. I think the idea of a individual branding is quite often a post-facto reality others project on someone’s presence after they’ve gone through the work. As D’Arcy Norman noted earlier today: “at a conference recently, someone said that I’d developed a significant ‘brand’ – I was stunned. no. I just do stuff openly. ish.”

The problem with this is that by framing of each of us as a brand in this way suggests that from the beginning one should be working towards building some kind of product that necessarily appeals to others, rather than writing about what you care about and working through a reflective process of being online. And that “being online” is an existential state that most be understood in all its complexity, rather than boiled down to a surface concept of selling one’s self. This is not to say that being online may doesn’t need to appeal to others for it to prove both satisfying and dynamic, but the dehumanizing connotations of such marketing speak as branding as a stand-in for being seems to demonstrate that the dictates of the market are increasingly invading every aspect of our culture, and shaping the language of social interaction—and language is at any given moment a representation of what a culture values—in terms of an economic exchange. That for me is what I ultimately think of when I hear terms like branding, leverage, and synergy when applied to people and relationships in this space, and I guess it isn’t too surprising given how much of the business of social networks right now is an attempt to figure out how to monetize these relationships—so maybe these terms affect me so because my under lying fear that so much of what happening in this space is made possible by the attempts of corporations to make money on our relationships. And framing who we are using terms like brand kind of completes the circle, doesn’t it? It’s like we are all sitting on top of one another in some grocery store shelf (personally, I can be found on the top shelf to the left in the education bloggers section in aisle 12) crying out for attention, hoping the next advertiser or corporate entity will buy us. The languge lends itself to such horrifying dream visions, and I guess that’s what scares me about it.

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12 Responses to On Uncertain Terms

  1. Wow. Is today Bava-Christmas? I feel rich! Keep posting, I will read them all!

  2. Pingback: cribchronicles: the brand… | BlogPEI

  3. Alan Levine says:

    Amen, Brother!

    In my vocabulary, “branding” is barely a notch below yucky terms like “monetizing”. For me, it gets down to intent- when people focus on branding, they are focused on the aspects of promotion, rank, counting clicks, hits, e.g. it is the attention itself that becomes the goal.

    I’m more interested in the __________ (I cant find the right word- is it reputation? cred? identity? some Innuit word for walking through snow?) that happens as a result of the work we do– e.g. it is an outcome of the things we produce, share, contribute, they we get credit. Put your efforts on the work, the connectivity, and let the other stuff happen as the result, the wake, not the front of the ship.

    Of course, I live in an idealist play world (aisle 14, Toys).

  4. dave cormier says:

    I say again… I’m not a fucking resource.

  5. “This morning Jon Udell tweeted a quote from this post by Doc Searls: Branding is jumping the shark now because the Net favors reality over bullshit.”

    Two personal brands and one corporate brand in the first dozen words. You’re being ironic, right?

    Because you wouldn’t be trolling links to A-listers, right…?

  6. Pingback: Branding is for animals being lead to slaughter. « A posteriori

  7. Reverend says:

    @Mike,
    There is more to come today, and I look forward to your blog eruption about to happen.

    @Cogdog,
    Yeah, you and D’Arcy have abeen a model for me, and I was lucky enough to have Gardner point you two out immediately and say that’s how it is done, blog your work and watch what happens. Fact is, gardner was right, and I struggle with the whole branding terminology because the play can, and often is, so quickly reframed as that. Take the “Nobody..” or even “EDUPUNK,” it quickly becomes a n idea people associate that is oftern divorced of the sinews that keep it somewhat grounded.

    @Dave,
    Didn’t you do a presentation on that or something? I can swear I recall something like that.

    @Stephen,
    You know you are the only A-lister I link troll to with love. Just cause I flirt with Udell and Searls doesn’t mean for a second you aren’t the only one for me 🙂

  8. Andre Malan says:

    I don’t think it’s that scary. At the end of the day, people > brands. Brands are sterile things. They are triple-checked tweets, lies and deception. They have no humanity. Self-censorship is the norm. When I read a blog or Twitter stream that is being used as a brand I know it immediately and kick that person into the same pile of my mind as I do the spammers. In fact, I’ve had some spam comments with way more personality than those of the “brand” people.

    Maybe I’m naive, but I believe that as those who use the internet to brand themselves fail over and over again people will actually start to get it. The interwebs are not made of tubes or brands… they are made of people.

  9. I completely agree [wordpress], there is nothing worse [twitter] than pushing a single name [WPMU] over [blackboard] the [Mac] purpose [wikipedia] of [Buzz] the pedagogy [edupunk]!

  10. Mike Bogle says:

    Yeah “brand” is one of those terms that makes my hair stand on end. I see no reason why it should be used in an educational context. To me it just emphasises how much of education these days is focused on producing workers rather than multi-faceted individuals for whom knowledge and understanding serve a greater purpose than just fueling the economy.

  11. peter naegele says:

    @mike it makes sense in certain contexts and for certain majors, but not for everyone as a whole.

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