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Authenticity vs. Persona

This post isn’t intended to dispense career or personal branding advice.  Rather, I’m hoping it will stir conversation, or at least thought.

This morning as I drove to work, NPR was airing a piece (text version is here) on what they present as something of a new trend of female pop stars creating and, in some ways, hiding behind personae.

Through the piece, which focuses on acts like Lada Gaga and Nicki Minaj, the implication is made that this is increasingly comfortable for audiences due to individual’s ability to re-create themselves online via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Here is part of the piece: “This generation really gets alter egos. They also have a personal stash of identities for different situations — they’re constantly deploying different versions of themselves online: one for Facebook, one for Twitter, one for going out at night.”

While I really find nothing particularly new about persona shifting acts like Lada Gaga and Nicki Minaj (have these folks never heard of Ziggy Stardust or Alice Cooper?), I did see a connection between three ideas:  1) social media allows for persona development; 2) people are comfortable with the concept of the persona; 3) personal branding and social media are supposed to be driven by authenticity.

Is it not the case that authenticity, which we hear (and hear and hear and hear and, even from my colleagues here) is a foundation and touchstone of online marketing and personal branding, trumps persona?

Or is it the case that the authenticity vs. persona debate is contextual?  For some groupings of people, does not having a persona make total sense as a personal brand?  Clearly we have many examples in pop culture of successful personal brands that are based on persona.  But, does it only work in the pop culture world?  Who else would a persona work for?  What about the entrepreneur, digital or otherwise?  Does Penelope Trunk’s story not fit into this dialog somewhere?

So, this is going to be a short post.  But, I’d love to have folks comment and share their thoughts.   Here’s a poll to get things started:

  1. Authentic always
  2. Personae as you please
  3. Both are totally fine, as context dictates

Please chime in!

Related posts:

  1. Let Your Digital Persona Shine
  2. Authenticity and the Job Search
  3. Leveraging Social Media in Your Job Search

3 Responses to “Authenticity vs. Persona”

  1. IMO a good personae is an honest expression of that person albeit maybe only a small person. It would be pretty my impossible for Lady Gaga to keep up the act if deep down it wasn’t part of her. People tend to change behavior as context dictates. Maybe someone is shy and quiet at work but roudy and loud when hanging out with friends. Social Media as made it easier to express either and I think people understand that.

  2. This was the topic of discussion at a conference last spring where I was a member of the panel Here is a link to the Branding Discussion in which there were definitely some opposing views on the subject.

  3. This is a great topic Gary. Very ironic you bring up Penelope. I remember when she wrote for Biz 2.0 and at first hadn’t revealed her identity. I thought she was a 55 yr old ex-executive.

    My answer to the poll depends on what one’s intent is. If it’s to get a job or promote a product or service, I believe you need to stick to being authentic or playing out your personae. For instance, I’d have a hard time taking Dan Schwabel seriously if he did his thing here but also had a site where he wore pink Speedos and a skirt while promoting a newly developed Disney character.

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  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.


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