Professional Personal Branding and the #Selfie

by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

Sure, I’ve indulged in the occasional “selfie.” (From now on, without quotation marks because, let’s face it, if Oxford called it the word of the year in 2013, it’s here to stay.)  But each one still gives me some measure of pause.

I sometimes ask, “why am I doing this?”  If we subscribe to the James Fanco school of thought, it’s for attention.  “And attention seems to be the name of the game when it comes to social networking.”

A Forbes contribution by David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom yesterday concurs.  The two endeavored to find statistical data about why some people love to hate the selfie – which would explain why selfies give me minor fits of reservation from time to time.  Needless to say, the two didn’t find much data.  But what they did cobble together was enough to reinforce a rather basic notion about human psychology.  The selfie illustrates that human beings like to be appreciated and recognized.  Sturt and Nordstrom, who regularly write about how people and leaders achieve extraordinary results, appear to give their stamp of approval to what the selfie can teach us about others (and the importance of that lesson in the workplace).

Funny how there’s an oxymoronic quality to that last statement.  The selfie teaches us about others.  Does that mean others are going to expect selfies from us?  In other words, if you aren’t taking selfies already, must you?

Again, James Franco, from his New York Times piece:

“I am actually turned off when I look at an account and don’t see any selfies, because I want to know whom I’m dealing with. In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”

So how often should a professional—like a lawyer/blogger with public Twitter and Instagram accounts—say “hello” with a selfie?  While those accounts may be more for personal publication and consumption rather than professional, it’s inevitable that professional counterparts will be checking out those feeds from time to time.

Franco writes that he subscribes to the “one for them” and “one for yourself” approach (in other words, a selfie every-other-post).  But that’s excessive for a non-celebrity.  My advice, if a bit nebulous: practice moderation.  Just like our boy, James Franco, I, too, would like to see who you are.  A smile and a look into the eyes can do a lot for a person’s image and brand.  So why not promote your approachability?  Display your cheer? Highlight your warmth?  Exhibit your engagement with interests and hobbies?

The trick is to not go overboard.  I follow a lot of my former colleagues and peers from the television news business on Instagram.  I think some of them go too far.  Admittedly, it’s a tight line to walk.  The television news business requires a fair amount of vanity.  The conventional wisdom there: look sharp, clean, and crisp so as to not distract your audience from the journalism (a trial lawyer should do the same).  But with any visual mass medium, there’s an element of wide recognition that comes with the territory (okay, I’m being euphemistic.  We’re talking about local celebrity!)  Some television personalities use Instagram as an outlet for their personal brand as local celebrities.  Ninety percent of their posts seem to be selfies.  Others use the social network as an extension of their craft – the occasional selfie but mostly posts about the subjects and stories they’re covering.  There’s probably a healthy balance that’s not one-for-one, but maybe something like one selfie for every three to four posts based on the journalist’s work.  For the record, I’m not being critical because there is an extreme tension for television news reporters.  In  a sense, their images are part and parcel to their employers’ brands.  But a journalistic tenet to which many adhere is “you are not the story.”

I’m not going to propose a ratio of selfies-to-non-selfies for lawyers.  It could get disgustingly indignant and preachy really quickly.  Just remember to keep toeing that line, acknowledging that too much vanity (or the mere appearance thereof) isn’t good for your brand, but lending a little bit of recognition of yourself to others is good for your brand.

With that, I bid you all “hello!”

A Selfie, err, #Selfie can be a good way to say hello in today’s highly visual digital world. But you should take a cue from me and be careful where you snap that picture — you might just reveal that you’re working from home at nearly 10 a.m. on a Wednesday.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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