Instagram or ‘Insta-brand’?

by Shannon Schubert | @Shanschubert

In a culture where our consumerist urges merge with our constant ability to connect and communicate online, the term personal branding has emerged through the latest social media platform, photo-sharing app Instagram.

Depending on what side you’re on, personal branding can be seen as an egotistic display from someone who has a better life than you – posting way too many selfies and vegan food pictures – or an innovative way to connect with an audience, and a necessity for anybody who is anybody.

Social media enables us to create an image of ourselves. In a media-saturated, information-rich world, we are increasingly choosing to express ourselves visually. Jeremiah Gardner, personal branding spokesman and author of The Lean Brand, said, “the biggest mistake you can make with personal branding is trying to project yourself as something you’re not”.

If we draw the narcissistic line where we see inauthenticity on social media, do we include our own picking and choosing of photos to put on Instagram?

Social media is expanding the capacity and influence of personal branding.  Models, celebrities and health and fitness advocates are utilising sites like Instagram to build  a powerful online presence.

Gardner aligns “branding” with “relationship building,” suggesting practically speaking, people are brands.

“A ‘personal brand’ contextually refers to how we relate to a specific person,” Gardner said.

With over four million Instagram followers combined, young Australian models Steph Claire Smith, Brooke Hogan and personal trainer Kayla Itsines have all found success in branding through social media. The potential for these women to share aspects of their life via the internet allowed them to gain fans quickly and easily.

“Social media has had a profound impact on our ability to build an audience,” Gardner explained of the emerging role of social media in personal branding.

Steve McConell, personal branding strategist with Arielle Careers said, “the aim of personal branding is to make a commitment to deliver value to a specific niche”.

But when does the online activity of celebrities become too much ego for the average online user?

The relationship between egotism and branding via social media is even further blurred by a species of celebrities who have mutated the trait of narcissism into a source of fame. Looking at the Kardashians tells us there doesn’t have to be a reason for someone’s fame, just a lot of followers.

Young models can now achieve international recognition and success if they have a lot of followers. Hogan and Smith reportedly get approached up to 15 times a day through their Instagram.

Tess Lucas is 18 and a Melbourne-based member of Chadwick Models. She said modern modelling isn’t only about how you look, “Instagram is a lot more about personality”.

Lucas admits a model with fewer followers may  suit a certain product better, but the client will  always choose the model with more followers.

“Personal branding is extremely useful anywhere that a competitive edge is required,” said McConell.

Lucas admitted the life she presents on her Instagram is a “skeleton” of her real life, with the aim to get as many likes and followers as possible.

“You don’t see me sitting at home in my trackies eating a whole pizza to myself watching Orange is the New Black.”

“You have to have a persona, you have to exaggerate who you are,” she said.

When it comes to striving for originality and authenticity Lucas said, “you try and sneak in your own individuality”.

Chadwick keeps an updated list of followers for each model. “They ask you if you’re posting regularly, using hashtags, uploading photos from shoots, and stuff like that,” Lucas said.

Gardner warns of incorrectly or narcissistically presenting yourself on social media. He stresses once you start to portray yourself in a certain way to fit in with promoting a product, “you can’t control what actually gets communicated”.

In recent years as Instagram has become more prominent, the way Lucas uses and looks at the platform has shifted.

“This has become my job now,” she said.

She said she has to think carefully about her posts, “it’s kind of like a resume for models”.

“It’s our new digital portfolios, because it not only shows our photos, it shows what kind of person we are.”

When it comes to mindful and frequent posting, the young model said there’s an inevitable element of vanity in personal branding and Instagram, “when I post a photo I think, do I look good in this?”

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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