Manifesto: I Am Not a Brand

Here is a really great post written by author Maureen Johnson for (I’ve shortened it slightly, here’s the longer version). She tells of being on a discussion panel about social media, seated next to (and needing to wrestle the microphone from) a woman who’s message was really hard on selling yourself as ‘a brand’:

June 21, 2010 2:26 pm by MaureenJohnson

…because I am an author and am generally presentable and have shoes and things . . . and because I spend a lot of time online . . . I sometimes get asked to speak at conferences and panels…

My neighbor had a lot to say. She had a MESSAGE. She talked longer than anyone, and over everyone and through everyone. Her message, as far as I could determine, was that the internet is all about getting out there and SELLING yourself.

“I’m a brand,” she said, every minute or so. “I’m always thinking of ways to promote my brand.” It was all brand, brand, brand, brand, brand.”

She was certainly not the first person I’d heard this from. I hear this almost everywhere I go where there are people talking about social media, and I feel that it is time that I rise up against it. In fact, I did, right there and then. I grabbed the microphone from her grasp and said, “I am not a brand.”

She grabbed the microphone back and started clarifying that she really, really, really is a brand and brands are awesome . . . and the more she went on, the more I thought: I am not a brand. I wanted to whisper it, but that would have been creepy.

I am not saying that it is a bad or dishonest thing to try to sell your work. It is not. What I am saying is that I am tired of the rush to commodify everything, to turn everything into products, including people. I don’t want a brand, because a brand limits me. A brand says I will churn out the same thing over and over. Which I won’t, because I am weird.

So there we were, grappling for the microphone, polar opposites in every way. And then I noticed that when people on the other side of the table were talking, the woman pulled out her phone and started reading messages. She didn’t listen to what the others were saying.

I was having a difficult time listening to all of this.

Some people don’t get it. They don’t get that the Internet is a conversation. They think the message only goes one way -— out. Things must be shouted. Things must be thrust in your face. Things must be sold.

This certainly applies to what I do. The more the Internet expands, the more people -— okay, authors, who are a KIND of people -— are being encouraged to go online and PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE! “Get a Facebook page!” “Get lots of people to LIKE you!” “SHOUT THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK AT PEOPLE UNTIL THEY START CRYING AND BUY IT.”

Personally, I don’t think I really want to do any more of these panels. I’m definitely repeating and boring myself at this point. My message is always:

1. You should probably not be taking advice from me.

2. Don’t write boring stuff.

3. Have more fun online.

4. The people online are real people and they matter.

5. Please bring me a snack.

There is usually a lot of emphasis on numbers one and five.

MY POINT IS . . . it’s early days yet on the Internet, and lines are being drawn. We can, if we group together, fight off the weenuses and hosebags who want to turn the Internet into a giant commercial. Hence, the manifesto. It goes something like this:

The Internet is made of people. People matter. This includes you. Stop trying to sell everything about yourself to everyone. Don’t just hammer away and repeat and talk at people -— talk TO people. It’s organic. Make stuff for the Internet that matters to you, even if it seems stupid. Do it because it’s good and feels important. Put up more cat pictures. Make more songs. Show your doodles. Give things away and take things that are free. Look at what other people are doing, not to compete, imitate, or compare . . . but because you enjoy looking at the things other people make. Don’t shove yourself into that tiny, airless box called a brand -— tiny, airless boxes are for trinkets and dead people.

And remember the previous points one and five.

We still have a shot at this. Let’s do it.

Maureen Johnson is the author of several books for young adults, including:  Suite Scarlett, Scarlett Fever, The Key to the Golden Firebird, and 13 Little Blue Envelopes. You can contact her or on Twitter@maureenjohnson.

2 replies »

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