Self-branding and online identities have become a common topic in everyday conversations in recent years, especially with the omnipresence of popular social media sites like Instagram. Despite this topic even being a common theme over the course of my Communications degree, I had never honestly considered the benefits that I myself could have by constructing a strong online brand in this digital age. “Many people think that personal branding is just for celebrities such as Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, yet each and every one of us is a brand. Personal branding, by definition, is the process by which we market ourselves to others” (Schawbel, 2009). Publishing 101 served as a strong pedagogical narrative by which I learned not only about the changes in the world of publishing, but also about the ways in which we can now publish ourselves, and the benefits (or even downfalls, when done incorrectly) that may arise from these online publications. Throughout the course of this essay, I will first address the ways in which this course has shifted the way in which I think about publishing, and further, how these new ways of publishing have worked their way into my online presence over the course of this semester. Following this, I intend to specifically address my online self and publication, not only referencing my blog but also my social media platforms. Lastly, I acknowledge my goals going forward, including what I aim to take with me beyond the confines of this course.
It would be erroneous to claim that I hadn’t considered online works to count as publishing prior to the start of this semester. Of course, tangible books are the obvious thing that comes to mind when someone mentions “publishing,” but it goes far beyond that. Having said this, I didn’t the extent of which publishing expanded to. Publishing is not only online works and articles as well as tangible books; it is further embodied by anything that gets put out to the public, including social media posts and – of course – blogs. “Publishing” is has many definitions, but has come to be best defined as “the dissemination of literature, music, or information—the activity of making information available to the general public” (Wikipedia). While Wikipedia is generally not the best source for correct information, other acclaimed dictionaries are still stuck in the ways of defining publishing as being limited to formal publications that are for sale, which we have come to know is simply not the case.
As mentioned above, publishing encompasses any online works that we “publish” or make available to the public, including any blog posts or social media posts. As Alive Marwick states, “the logic of marketing and advertising embedded in social software has infiltrated the ways in which we relate to ourselves and to others,” and that we “[use] social media as a neoliberal technology of subjectivity that produces social status as the ultimate commodity” (Marwick, 2013). In other words, we live in a world where we have technologies at our fingertips that allow us to market ourselves, our products, and how we ultimately wish others to view us. Throughout the course, we learned of how wide the span of publishing is now, and how we can use these new technologies tour advantage. Though I am nowhere near the status of being a “micro-celebrity” or Instagram celebrity (nor do I aim to be), I can now recognize that our online presence can be extremely useful one way or another. Even if you’re not trying to become famous in one way or another, marketing yourself as a brand online can be a valiant tool in this digital age.
With regards to both my social media presence as well as my blog, I found the focus throughout the semester on the importance of identifying an audience and a brand to be largely advantageous. In the early weeks of the semester, I decided my blog was going to be a foodie blog which what chronicle my adventures to various restaurants around Metro Vancouver and write about my experiences. Identifying my audience, I learned, was one of the first major steps I had to take. In a process post I wrote, I identified my intended target audience to be foodies in the Vancouver area. I added that I don’t necessarily imagine there to be a specific age demographic, but likely people out of high school, perhaps young adults in general. This is mainly because high school students may not be interested in food blogs, cooking, and so forth, and may not have the means to go to far-out restaurants. In “Publics and Counterpublics” (2002), Michael Warner addresses that if you are reading his essay, “you are part of its public.” Warner goes on to say that there is a difference between thepublic and apublic (Warner, 2002). Warner describes the public as a ‘totality’: an all-inclusive description of the general amount of people, whereas a public is more specific, like an audience. Therefore, the people frequenting my blog would be a specific public or audience, likely visiting to check out restaurants they may be interested in.
It is important to recognize your audience and public in order to market it to those specific people and thus further your success and your clout. “Any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes” (Campbell, 2009); each platform or domain may have a different audience and environment, and must me marketed as such. How I market and design my online self and presence on my Instagram page differs in the way in which I design my blog, as I have identified different audiences for the two. My personal Instagram features more artistic photos of self-exploitation, encompassing the best parts of my ‘self.’ Conversely, my blog markets itself to my (assumingly) foodie audience, and thus my posts tempt to embody food, Vancouver culture, and often an attempted humor. Furthermore, more online publications look to provide a service to their audience in one way or another. Ensuring that the basic service functions of one’s website or publication is an important element to consider because your audience will likely not return if they aren’t able to find what they are looking for. As I briefly touched on in the previous paragraph, my blog seeks to satisfy the service of reviewing restaurants (as well as local food and beverage in general) in the Greater Vancouver area.
Through an immense and tedious 10-week-long trial and error process, I finally settled on a simplistic layout, removing the (apparently) tacky carousel-style photos on my home page. Gone with this was all of the numerous background images I tested out that just didn’t work. I created a logo that I felt embodied my blog in a clean and crisp way, keeping in mind the design elements that our guest speaker Mauve Pagé taught us at the start of the semester. I attempted to link colours together by bringing the gold found in the logo into other elements of the pages, such as titles and links. Travis Gertz had an interesting take on design elements and layout as well in his work, “Design Machines: How to survive in the digital apocalypse” (2015). Gertz’s main argument is based on the premise that all websites have started to look the same in an attempt to “look sexy” and appeal to the masses, but by appealing to the masses many actually become lost among the massesof other sites (2015). Unfortunately, I found it difficult to break free of most of the stereotypical constraints of which Gertz spoke about due to the confines of this course, being both the short timeframe as well as the resources made available to us. Nevertheless, these are useful pieces of information to consider when we inevitably use online mediums in our future professional lives.
In summation, these four months have shaped the way in which I view publishing. Although I understood publishing to go beyond physical books, I didn’t understand the broad span that the term encompassed. Not only is it books and online articles, but also virtually anything that disseminates products and information to the general public. This includes social media presence as well as forum posts and, of course, blogging. Through the combination of the creation of my food blog with various guest speakers, tutorials, and online readings over the last 12 weeks, I have learned that identifying an audience and marketing yourself is a useful tool at any level of this digital world be live in. Despite my blog not gaining a large enough following to truly be able to use applications like Google Analytics or AdSense to my advantage, I can now realize these as important tools that help to compliment ones persona and identify important information. Going forward, I can confidently say that although I may not become a blogger, I have gained important and useful tools to brand myself, whatever that ‘self’ may be.
Campbell, W. G. (2009). A Personal Cyber Infrastructure. New Horizons, 44(5), p. 58-59
Gertz, Travis. (2015). “Design Machines. How to survive in the digital Apocalypse.” Louder Than 10.Retrieved on 12 April 2018 from: https://louderthanten.com/articles/story/design-machines
Marwick, A. (2013). Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. Canadian Journal of Communication, 40(1), p. 143-146.
Schawbel, D. (2009). Personal Branding 101: How to Discover and Create Your Brand. Mashable. Retrieved on 10 April 2018 from: https://mashable.com/2009/02/05/personal-branding-101/#ge_SBxPsZEq4
Warner, M. (2002). Knowledge and Public Works, 88(4), p. 413-425.