Oulu Business School
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”I’ve seen it [posting content to LinkedIn] particularly important because I hope that my brand doesn’t die while I’m not actively involved in work-life. I can still write and discuss work-life despite being on parental leave. Another point is that I see branding in social media as a counterweight to life at home. It’s nice to be part of professional communities and follow what’s going on in the field.”
As this opening quotation from an HR professional interviewed for my Ph.D. study demonstrates, modern professionals have adopted an “always-on-the-job-market” mentality, a need to promote one’s brand to stand out in the job market often via social media channels. Generally, this professional branding mindset is seen as a counterattack to the recent work-life transformations, such as the rise of periodic work and self-employment, where brand management secures the uncertain future (Gandini, 2016).
Branding has been a common method among professionals in many industries such as HR and marketing also in Finland. Regardless of the profession, it is found important to differentiate from other candidates, especially when pursuing a career change. Creating a personal website and being active on professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, support professionals in relationship-building, but perhaps more importantly, the process impacts an individual’s professional and personal identities. In my dissertation study, I found that in the process of branding, fundamental questions – who I am as a professional and as a job seeker, what are my professional and general life goals, with whom I want to work with, and what is meaningful to me – become essential. The reason for this is that branding requires professionals to establish their primary talents, areas of expertise, and professional contribution before they can demonstrate their value and credibility to others and place themselves in the industry's dialogue on social media.
Thus, professional branding is connected to what is called identity work (Pratt et al., 2006). It approaches identity as a dynamic process that provides temporary answers to the question ‘who am I’ (or ‘who are we’) and what do I (we) stand for? This approach is often neglected by existing brand research which often understands professional brands as static and/or market-oriented entities that can be controlled by the individual. This suggestion emphasizes the process of managing the personal brand. Moreover, in practice, professionals are often advised to build their brand through a linear process similar to product branding. However, given the nature of professional brands, such as identity work, it can be argued that the branding of a professional is much more complex. Thus, I found it fruitful to approach professional brands as processes that are co-created through the network of social relationships established among interrelated stakeholders (von Wallpach et al., 2017). In a career transition, the key stakeholders participating in the co-creation are not only peers but also potential employers, the media, and industry influencers, all of whom may have an interest in the role, performance, and behavior of the professional. Co-creation covers not only the interaction between human stakeholders but also non-human stakeholders as my study revealed that the professional brands are impacted by social media algorithms.
Similar to any public performance, professional branding contains also challenges. When the brand is co-created, professionals struggle with keeping the brand consistent to gain the stakeholder’s trust and simultaneously embrace the change that is needed to keep the brand relevant. This requires consistent and deliberate decisions from the professional brand regarding how to deal with the interaction between the brand and the stakeholders. Thus, contrary to popular belief, a personal brand is neither something that everyone possesses nor can one declare oneself to be a brand. On the contrary, a personal brand is something that is consciously built, and in a modern hyperconnected world where people, organizations, and platforms are connected nonstop, it is the result of a complex and co-creative process that includes elements that can be managed but also elements that are ultimately uncontrollable. Thus, rather than see themselves as brand guardians (Iglesias et al., 2020), professionals should allow adjustments while still try to preserve the brand core that is based on professional and personal identity of the individual.
Text by Kati Koivunen
Photo by Souvik Banerjee / Unsplash