Branding: painful burn or helpful marketing skill?

“Learn how to market yourself.”  Millennials have been beaten over the head with this order since a fairly young age. In a competitive world, knowing what makes you competitive is just as important as being competitive. Being smart, talented, or accomplished may not be worth anything if the gatekeepers never notice.

Some argue that having an online presence is essential to succeeding in any field, but is there an inflection point where returns diminish? How many twitter or instagram followers do I really need? How much content do I need to post to maintain my brand? Could I be spending more time becoming an expert in my field, rather than broadcasting the image of one online? Can I write it off as #SciComm, or are my memes a waste of time?

The point of this post is not to try to persuade you that social media is a good or bad tool for networking, branding or SciComm. I don’t know many people who could successfully argue that social media has no use. I’m merely trying to share some of my thoughts, and stimulate some critical thinking so that people can decide what’s best for themselves. For early career scientists, it can be overwhelming to try to be successful and noticed at the same time. It can be stressful to be virtually surrounded by peers who are constantly broadcasting their accomplishments. I know many scientists who would say that social media is the main contributor to a slew of mental health problems, including imposter syndrome and anxiety.

I had an interesting conversation about imposter syndrome with Rob Lennox, a senior researcher at the Norweigian Research Center the other day who said this: “Maybe we shouldn’t worry about accomplishment as much as competence.” I think this could be a really useful formula for how we structure our time online, and how we interact with our colleagues on social media.

If we get to the point where the time we spend on our “branding” is interfering with the time we need to develop competence in our field, then we should step back and re-evaluate ourselves, ESPECIALLY if that is compounding our mental health issues. But, as Rob said, maybe we should also take a look at the culture we’ve created, and try to make changes in our “look at me” culture and try harder to help each other out. One actionable item is to spend more time posting tips, tricks, or skills we’ve learned, rather than accolades we’ve received. I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and everyone should be able to share whatever they want, but I think small changes in how we validate ourselves online could result in a healthier community, without giving up all the other benefits of social media.

For an example of a great skill sharing community on twitter, check out #TidyTuesday for #Rstats tips and tricks. If you know some more, leave them in the comments!

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