Millennials: Personal Branding Since Birth

Millennials get called out. A lot.

In fact, “millennial” is almost a curse word these days. It’s become a signifier of petty, narcissistic behavior and an entitled attitude that’s apparent in our obsessive use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

“No,” our elders say, “Not everyone wants to know you went to that ceviche restaurant again. And stop doing that thing with your lips, you look ridiculous!”

What is a millennial, anyway? Generally, “millennial” encapsulates anyone born between 1985 and 1995. We’re the “Girls” generation, so called, because of that HBO show where everyone is self-deluded and sexually “liberated” in a really confused way. Our entire childhood soccer team got trophies at the end of the season, regardless of whether we won. We applied to 15 different universities and graduated with a degree in underwater basket weaving, because that’s what you do at Sarah Lawrence.

Our egos were fluffed, puffed and stuffed by parents, coaches, teachers and guidance counselors who told us we could do anything. So, having a desk job isn’t good enough for us, no matter if we’re gainfully employed (not likely). We want — no, need! —  to follow our dream of ousting Anna Wintour at Vogue, even though we’re largely responsible for the looming death of print journalism, because for better or worse, we’re the generation that turned the iPod, iPhone, and iPad into cultural iCons.

In other words, we’re the worst.

The iGeneration

In case it isn’t obvious yet, I hate being called a “millennial.” I prefer to think of us as the iGeneration.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an iGen-er that hasn’t owned an Apple product (or five) at some point in their miserable little existence. “There’s an app for that!” isn’t just a meme; it’s a way of life. (How else could I find my friends in Dolores Park, if I didn’t have Dolo?)

But the “iGeneration” title isn’t just about a shameless addiction to Apple. It’s also about our egocentricity. Critics say our worldview is severely limited by our selfie-centric perspectives. And who am I to disagree? I may not like being characterized that way, but listen —just about anyone who’s survived their 20s has at some point believed the world revolved around their personal desires. It’s just that the iGeneration was born with a bigger www.platform.com to shout from.

In other words, we’re far more connected to our extended network than ever before. And we’ve gotten really good at engaging them.

No, the iGeneration isn’t unique in its outsized sense of vanity. What we are, and what we are uniquely positioned to be, are experts in personal branding.

Personal Branding Since Birth

The iGeneration came of age as blogging was peaking, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter were emerging, and Google was expanding to include its wide swath of applications.

Thus far, the Internet had allowed us to quietly research information and anonymously (or pseudonymously) converse with strangers. But these evolving social platforms soon created the opportunity — and obligation — to step into the spotlight and show off our best selves. Our ideal selves.

For generations preceding iGen-ers, a typed 1-paged (double space) formal resume penned in anticipation of their first job (which lasted for 30 years and counting) was likely the only “profile” they’d have to write for themselves. So, when it was time to establish their online presence, they weren’t so savvy. And to be fair, the tools weren’t up to snuff either.

But the iGeneration? We’ve never known a world without personal branding. We’ve never lived in a time when a good first impression relied on maintaining eye contact and the quality of your handshake. We’re more likely to make professional connections via LinkedIn, Twitter, or through mutual Facebook friends. And if we’re lucky enough to land an interview, we expect to be Googled extensively by our interviewer before we show up.

But that’s just small-scale stuff. We also live in a world where celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Tila Tequila can amass fame, power and fortune, simply via personal promotion. Savvy use of Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook, combined with a good understanding of the 24-hour news cycle, can turn a talentless hack ambitious opportunist into the next celebrity lifestyle guru.

And it’s not just old-fashioned celebrities that have managed this feat. Moguls like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs aren’t iGen-ers, but they certainly get us. They became household names in equal parts for both their brilliance and their honed image of themselves (as a jet-setting, dynamic problem-solver and a limitless, innovative perfectionist, respectively).

It’s the logical extreme of the saying “Dress for the job you want.” The iGeneration’s understood this from an early age. Using all those social platforms as we grew up helped us figure out who we were— or more accurately, who we wanted to be.

X Marks the Spot-On

Everything we say, says something about us; the Internet’s left no place to hide. We learned this — often the hard way — early on. And that may be the primary reason we’ve become such personal brand geniuses while the rest of you are still trying to “get” Twitter. But it’s far from the only reason. Here are two more factors to consider:

Employment

A recent study found that the average 25-year-old has held 6.2 jobs in their life. It’s no wonder: we can’t rely on stable benefits, like pensions or a company-funded retirement, because those are history. Without that lure of security, we’re free to move quickly from job to job, building a career based mostly on what interests us, versus climbing some rickety old ladder.

In other words, we don’t identify as “a social media strategist at Acme, Inc.” We identify as “Laeti Doremi, a social media scientist and technological wizard, currently making magic at Acme, Inc.” Our brand is characterized by our talents, not just the companies where we’ve worked.

YouTube

Whether sharing the inanities of daily life, striking comedic gold, getting their first record deal or tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, YouTube has made more than a few iGen-ers famous. Or did we make YouTube famous?

Either way, they all have something in common: a unique perspective that comes across in their content. You can’t survive on YouTube (let alone the Internet) without offering something that sets you apart. Channels like AnnoyingOrange, RayWilliamJohnson and JennaMarbles have scored millions of subscribers (and the attention of big brand partners), because they found a niche no one else was filling — and they fill it better than anyone else.

So, if you’re struggling to develop your personal brand, it might be wisest to hit up your closest twenty-something, and spend 15 minutes studying their Facebook page. Odds are they’ll be more than happy to talk about themselves.

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