I remember being near tears after class as I explained to my senior design thesis professor how much pressure I felt to solidify a “personal brand” online. This was 2008 and I was an eighteen year old worrying about acne, boys and maintaining a consistent narrative voice on the internet. Normal teen stuff.
Welcome to 2017. YouTube turned 10, Facebook bought Instagram, Vine came and went, and I feel obligated to mention that the President tweets a lot. In the same way that word processing software brought typography and fonts into the mainstream, social media has brought a level of consciousness about branding that has never existed before. Resist all you want, but if you have an audience, you’re a brand. If you create or share anything with some kind of consistency, you’re a brand. Might as well be objective about it.
As “ADAMJK” the brand, I’m doing everything from freelance illustration to billing wholesale clients. As “Adam” the human person, I’m tweeting whatever the hell I want and posting embarrassing selfies in my Instagram story in between casually promoting about my new book Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives — so casual! —and commenting on pop culture. Like my work, my social media output isn’t too polished. My website isn’t too slick. My branding is my handwriting. My narrative voice is my actual voice. The ultimate compliment to me is when people meet me for the first time and say, “Hey, wow, you’re actually what I thought you’d be like.” Yes, thank you, and if you could also mention that I’m taller, that would be great for my self-esteem.
My full name is Adam Jason Kurtz, and “adamjk” has been an online nickname for nearly half my life. So you can only imagine that forming a legal entity last year was a surreal moment. Though I still don’t have a proper logo (I refuse), I do business as ADAMJK LLC, my self-publishing is registered under ADAMJK Press, and my ADAMJK GIFT SHOP products are distributed by retailers including Urban Outfitters, MoMA, and boutiques worldwide.
Most of us don’t really know what we’re doing when we start. You may think you’re a stylist and find out you’re a jewelry designer. You might think you’re a graphic designer and find out you’re a best-selling author. Surprise! Life is weird. So instead of focusing on what you think you want to do, try doing it first. Being your honest self lets you grow over time, shifting your interests and bringing your audience with you. In fact, the transparency builds a sense of loyalty and trust. People become a part of your journey and get to share in your success.
We don’t need a play-by-play of your daily life, but what is interesting is an element of humanity to break up your professional work. You don’t need to sell us on something every day, and we definitely don’t need to believe you’re the pinnacle of success. We’re all too smart for that. We know that great things take hard work. We know “the hustle” isn’t always glamorous. So let us in. Be open about what you’re building. Ask your audience for their opinions. Craft the narrative not just about your product or services, but who you actually are.
The best thing I ever did for myself was to stop thinking so much. Doing the work is hard enough without branding yourself into a corner. “Fake It 'Til You Make It” doesn’t work anymore — we’re all just too savvy to buy that. If you want cliché advice that does work, it’s “Be Yourself.” Let us care about you and your story. And please, post your hashtag clusters in a secondary comment instead of at the end of your caption!
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