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Tips on overcoming the online identity crisis.

Do you know who you are?

I don’t.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I do know who I am.  I’m a lot of things.  I’m not a lot of things, too.  But in the crazy world of the Interwebs, not knowing who you are is a lot like…well, it’s a lot like being that 14-year-old kid in middle school that doesn’t really know what to do with your life.  Your friends seem to know what they’re doing–they’ve got their colleges and their careers picked out already.  But you don’t.  Why?

If you ask “the world,” it’s because you’re a slacker–a step behind.  You’re one of the kids that ends up flipping burgers for the rest of your life and never leaves your podunk town in rural America because you never had the gall to pony up and get your ass in gear.  To be honest, that’s kind of how I’ve been feeling lately, only in a professional sense.  I follow these incredible people that I consider influencers–the Robert Scoble‘s, Michael Arrington‘s, Guy Kawasaki‘s, and Seth Godin‘s of the world.  How can I possibly compare to them? What unique pieces of information do I have to offer the world that isn’t already out there?

Well, I have no effing clue.  That’s probably why I started writing this blog to begin with.

Ironically, since branding is a big part of what I do for a living at Plastick Media, the company I founded by accident nearly four years ago, you would think I’d know a lot more about my brand: who I am, what I want to share, and what I plan to offer the world.  But it took a conversation with a dear friend and colleague a few weeks ago (Thanks Jesse Josefsson) to force some introspection.  This introspection not only led me to the realization that I DO know what my brand is, but also sent me through a process that I’d like to share for those of you that have been facing similar issues.

The reality is, it’s so easy to overthink things like this.  When our branding clients come to us, we go through this in depth questioning process about their desires for their brand.  It’s not uncommon for this process to take months, and for it to be a completely daunting task that makes clients feel flipped inside out and unsure of themselves.  That’s part of why they hire us in the first place (to help them sort it out)–but what happens when it’s for yourself, when you don’t have a neutral party to help you?  No matter how much you know about social media and branding, having to do it for yourself as an individual, to be self-aware and objective, is almost like asking a horse to be a unicorn.

I guess that’s the trap that I fell into.

For the last three years, I’ve spent the majority of my time and efforts building Plastick into the awesome company that it is today.  With that, I haven’t really had time to focus on anything else, let alone my own personal brand.  Unfortunately, the reality is that for you to be a successful entrepreneur, especially in the social space, you have to let a little personality shine.  You have to be the face of your company.   I’ve been avoiding that, mostly because I never saw myself as the face of a company, and I really didn’t know what unique things I had to offer.

Why didn’t I see myself as the face of a company?  Well, when I was started Plastick, I was only 23.  I was also a female in the entertainment industry.  It’s hard starting a company when you’re younger than most people you’re doing business with, and even more difficult if you’re in the music industry where it’s still very much a “good old boy” club.  Not that it’s a hindrance, because I personally don’t believe that gender issues exist unless you let them, but it’s still something that makes you a little more shy than most when you’re first starting out.  And if that wasn’t enough hanging over my head, I started it while I was working at the most horrendous tech startup I’ve ever worked for, which left me feeling jaded and disenfranchised about pretty much everything in life.  But I thankfully pushed on, because if someone was stupid enough to give those people $10 million and control of a company they had no business running, then certainly I could do something for myself and never have to work in that environment again.  So I did.

The thing they don’t tell you, though, is that the world often moves faster than you, particularly as an entrepreneur.  By the time I had built my company up to a level where I could hire employees and feel confident in its successes, everybody and their brother was on the social media bandwagon.  CEOs, tech evangelists, and bloggers were everywhere, and they all seemed smarter, more composed, and more innovative in their messaging than I could ever be online.  This made me feel left beyond and like I shouldn’t even bother.  Up to this point, all of my clients and business were a result of no marketing whatsoever — just pure connections, talent, and a genuine desire to help my clients solve their problems in areas that I was already passionate about, so I felt like I could just conveniently forget about building a brand centered around me. I hadn’t needed it so far.

Wait a second. Rewind. I help clients solve problems in areas that I’m already passionate about.  In my introspection about how I got here, I realized that a simple online presence is something anyone can do, but that it’s the latter that makes you the face of a company and gives you direction.

Well, now what?  I solve problems for people in areas that I’m passionate about.  So what the hell does that mean?

I took a long, hard look at what my primary business was, what I was passionate about, and where my education and experience was focused.  My background is in the music business, but I grew up in the tech world.  I have a Bachelor’s in Music Business from one of the top three schools in the country, and an Associates in Show Production & Touring from the ever-elusive and ever-popular Full Sail University.  I’m working on my Ph.D in Media Psychology.  I’ve always wanted to be in the music business, because music is my passion.  Ironically, what they don’t tell you when you know what you want to do when you’re 14 and never veer from it is that the world changes.  A lot good that music degree did for me. Thanks, Sean Parker.

Luckily for me, I happened to adopt to the changing world around me. I found a niche early in my career that centered around producing video content centered around the entertainment industry, which evolved into coordinating films, producing commercials, tv shows, and eventually my role as producer at the aforementioned horrendous music tech startup. So naturally, Plastick started as a production company and was focused on the entertainment industry.  As time passed us by, our services expanded to more and more things that I was interested in that I could help our clients with–websites, social media, logos, motion graphics, branding.

The more that I thought about my past, present, and future, the more that I realized that my experience and passion was focused on five key areas:  entrepreneurialism, entertainment, social engagement, technology, and branding.  When you narrow that even further, it’s utilizing technology and entertainment to help fellow entrepreneurs build brands on the web.  That’s what I do.  It’s who I am, it’s what I talk about, it’s what I read about, and it’s the goals that I’ve fused within my company.  It’s also the driving factor behind the creation of Branded Social Profiles, our recent product that focuses on money-saving ways to help entrepreneurs and businesses brand their social networking space.

Look, I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but it’s the people these days that are actually the brands.  In fact, I would say that the biggest “brands” wouldn’t exist without their loyal constituents that tell their friends about THE product that solved their problem.  Those constituents are the real money-movers and lifestyle-livers that can even create a brand in the first place.  And businesses only exist to solve problems.  These problems may be as frivalous as “I need something to kill boredom, so I’m going to play Adventure World on Facebook,” or they could be legitimate “I need to know how to market my business” problems.  Either way, capitalism only works when you offer a solution to a problem that someone has.  If you start a company, that should be your main goal.  And if you’re in business, or even trying to break out of corporate America like I was, you should be focusing on things you’re passionate and educated about.

So what the hell does this all mean?  Who cares about me?  No one.  But I care about YOU.  So if you’ve made it this far, here’s the nut. If you’ve ever struggled at this, here’s some advice that helped me figure my own personal brand out.  Hopefully it helps you, as well. Ask yourself:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • Where is your experience?
  • What solutions can you provide people?  What do you have that they need?
  • When you merge your passion and experience, is it in line with the solutions you provide?
  • If it doesn’t, how can you make a=b?  More education?  More time? Find what’s lacking and then find a way to get it.
  • Be introspective and slightly romantic about what you want to do with your life, and find ways to infuse your passion and experience within that.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks in finding your identity, even if it doesn’t work out the first time.  You’re a brand, live your life.
And on a last note:
Don’t be afraid to just be you–even if it doesn’t make sense right now.  Sometimes we really just don’t see how things shape up.  If you asked me five or ten years ago if I’d be blogging about technology, branding, or that I’d own my own business, I would have said you were crazy.  As I slowly started Plastick, I never even thought I would touch technology, but I had always been passionate about web development in college.  And the only reason the music industry is even remotely surviving today is because of artists that focus on building a brand.  It only makes sense that I would finally find a way to merge all of them together, but it took time and introspection to create a final picture of what my brand is today.  And who knows how that will evolve ten years from now.  Just enjoy the ride, and be yourself.

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Tori Kyes is a Los Angeles-based writer/producer and entrepreneur. She specializes in social media, technology, and entertainment. She's also an advocate for social change, a marathon runner, Ph. D student (Media Psychology), gratitude giver, and lover of life.

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