"When this is over", a phrase already haunting us at every turn, as we desperately hope for a return to normalcy, the pre-COVID, quarantine life where we could easily drop into a grocery store on the way home from work, or text a friend to meet for coffee at the cafe just down the street. Health officials have already told us it could be months, several months in fact, until we can hit the reset button. But I am edging towards the acceptance stage of the grief cycle; there is no way we can return to where everything was before COVID-19 and when I look at the struggles facing creatives, from losing thriving businesses and clients and struggling to pay bills, discussing personal branding seems so far removed from these realities.
I have been wracking my brain these past few weeks, to figure out what kind of value I can offer to you in these stressful times. I also believe that certain standards that have been developed in our culture are going to evolve as a result of this crisis, including how we market and speak about ourselves. And so I am paying attention to the conversations online - where they are all largely happening - to evaluate what it will mean for personal branding in the long run.
One pattern that I have noticed is that the narrative of who and what has value has completely shifted. Before this crisis, we were much more likely to listen to celebrities and influencers; the shiny, fun and glamorous people. And on a smaller scale, within our communities, the people we tended to pay attention to were the ones who were unafraid to shine a spotlight on themselves, complete with accompanying photos and videos. Sure, there was perhaps a worthy cause or issue that they were also spotlighting, but the end result was more of a "look at me" focus. That's what we were all doing and what I would normally be encouraging you to do, as part of your personal branding efforts. That was the point of the online presence, for everyone to be marketing themselves.
Now the narrative is focused outwards. I still see people continuing what they did before, spotlighting unreleased works and still trying to entice eyeballs (given that we are all at home, consuming more content online than ever before). But that approach falls flat, because what is more important right now than anything else is community, figuring out how we are all going to meaningfully survive this together (an early case study of what NOT to do was this much maligned video of celebrities singing "Imagine") and honouring those people on the frontline, who are putting their lives at stake every day. And I think this is something critical to remember. When all this is over, this is what people are going to take away from others - where were you during the pandemic? Did you use it as a moment for crass self-promotion, or did you use this historic period to do something for the betterment of your community, from putting a smile on someone's face to encouraging your network to practice safe physical distancing?