Should Students Have a Personal Brand?

By Thomas Ho

Of course they should, but what tone should it convey? Actually, I’m really asking about students’ digital identity, but the title of this post merely reflects the “branding” I employed to attract students to my upcoming presentation about personal branding and digital identity. It is that presentation which prompts this post.

This is a touchy subject because parents and schools are so “conflicted” about it! On top of that, students’ immaturity calls for lots of caution! The “facts of life” are that most students do indeed have a digital identity so digital literacy compels that we teach them to be prudent about what they post with respect to content they create or share, permissions, and much more!

Nevertheless, the personal branding principles that apply to their parents and teachers apply equally to students with the exception that we can “cut them some slack” (or can we?)  for not starting to “build their brand” yet (my daughter is among them L), but they certainly ought to be made aware of the implications for their future competitiveness, don’t you think?

After all, almost all of them are already online and, in many cases, they have already lost their opportunity to make a positive first impression. So, what should I say (or not say) to the students?

This post is full of questions and I hope to follow it up with subsequent posts with some answers…or at least to let you know what happens next. The future is full of problems and opportunities!

22 Responses

  1. These days, I don’t think anyone of any age can afford to NOT start making sure his/her digital footprints are worth following. Many adults haven’t learned this lesson yet, so the earlier one starts, the better off one is and will be. On the internet, things are carved in stone, whether someone believes or understands this or not. Be wise, young ones!

    • Young people are either trying to figure out “who they are” or trying to be “someone who they’re not” so perhaps building their personal brand by crafting a digital identity can help them through these rites of passage?

  2. I’m curious as to how long it takes to build a good social identity. And how long it takes to correct a bad one. I think that would go a long way to determining when online presences need to be taught to children.

    • It can take a long time to build a powerful personal brand so that might imply that one ought to start early?

      Since the Internet doesn’t “forget” it can take even longer to correct a bad brand IF that is even possible! claims to be able to do it, but I don’t have any inkling how it’s done. Anybody know?

      • has copywriters write positive content about a person and then and post this content on a number of websites which are then indexed by google. The more you pay, the more positive content is posted online.The goal is to put out enough positive content so that negative content is pushed further down on the list of search results, on the theory that most people don’t look past the first page or two. is not cheap – it can cost $3,000-$5000 or more. One can do the same thing at no cost by developing a positive digital footprint using social media sites (twitter, google plus, linked in, blogs, nings, etc.) However, it takes time and effort to develop a positive digital footprint. And yes, the internet doesn’t forget. isn’t removing negative content, just making it harder for people to find.

        So yes, I agree. Children need to start building a positive digital footprint early. They need to learn that anything posted online is there forever. They need to google themselves regularly (and use other search engines) and learn how to use google alerts and the like – because their digital footprint is not just affected by what they post online, but what their FRIENDS post online. They might know enough not to tag and post an embarrassing photo of themselves online but that doesn’t mean that their friends won’t.

  3. Good question, Thomas. Today, if you’re a professional, people expect to google your name and learn who you are. If they come up empty or pretty near, for all practical purposes you literally don’t exist. Like it or not, we’ve become the aggregate of hits made by search engines.

    To function, we need to establish our presence online — or put another way, we need to develop an online identity. We’re becoming characters in an ongoing story — a story that develops, object by object, as we publish or as we’re mentioned by others.

    Our virtual personas are dynamic as long as we’re active in our own narratives as well as in others’.

    Without our e-personas, we can’t inhabit or play a part in the parallel universe that is the internet. As human interaction migrates at an exponential rate to the ‘net, the “real world” is transforming. Increasingly, so much of what we once did F2F can only be done virtually, and this includes many of the activities associated with learning and teaching.

    We’ve come to a point in time when an online identity is a boarding pass to the world, a ticket to life.

    • For young people who are just beginning that journey, I guess you’re saying they can’t even get on board withOUT an online identity? Since almost all of them have one, I guess their travel ‘class’ will indeed by determined by what’s indicated on their boarding pass! The travel analogy “breaks down” because the traveler ‘prints’ their own boarding pass, but it may not if you consider that they PAY for their trip with their hard WORK which can be documented by their digital identity. I love the analogy!

      • Good question, Thomas. My grandson, who is 3.5 yrs old, is already a thriving character in an online narrative that’s being told by my oldest daughter via text, photos, and videos. The medium is a private blog for family and friends. I have a feeling that many if not most children in the world will “inherit” these parent-generated stories as part of their own online personas. Thus, in a way, they’re born “in flight” so they get a free ride!

        • After my 16-year old daughter was born in 1995, I built her a Web page while my wife slept in the next bed in a semi-private hospital room. That page is now “frozen in time” at a relatively early age so she even has an online legacy, but she doesn’t have as rich a story as your grandson although she certainly has lots of raw media, e.g. photos and videos, to craft a story via social media, e.g. Facebook Timeline or Storify, IF she’s inclined to tell it. What she’s missing is personal oral or written content which she COULD ALREADY be creating! Of course, that opportunity existed before the advent of social media and Web 2.0, but they offer such convenient means to store that content as well as more powerful means to share it! I hope she takes advantage of them.

          • Thomas, you started early! What a wonderful legacy for your daughter! I have a feeling the young will have multiple online stories — i.e., different stories for different purposes with a wide range of privacy settings. From their perspective, the whole defines them, but they’ll seldom if ever share it all with the world. Online, they’ll pick and choose their audiences, just as they do onground.

  4. Perhaps the personal brand, or the individualizing use of technology comes first. They learn where they are comfortable and hopefully we are able to embed, share, give new ideas and ways to help them create digital footprints in other areas. Digital citizenship will be learned and then, the diving board for extraordinary learning can happen.

    Looking at a program on line is different from doing it. Learning about it is great. I like technology, but time is of the essence, so management of time for kids should also be a part of their learning journey.

    Enabling groups , after school, or in museums help too.
    I recently was at a conference where a teacher had learned to apply for a set of phones on E-rate and she demonstrated use of the phones by a class going to the zoo. They had tasks, they had photos to take, they had some reading to do, and instructions to follow. I wish I had the video from this teacher. The enthusiasm from the involved students and their experience using a device that they may not already own, is a step forward in learning , or a new application for them to put in their portfolio of branding.

    • Thanks for the cautionary note on time management. That’s precisely the kind of input I’m seeking!

      That’s such a problem for me personally so I would have overlooked it. I’m not sure what I can offer the students, but I will definitely incorporate it into my presentation whose progress has already been propelled merely by writing this post!

      Thanks again for making that worthwhile…I knew I could count on YOU!

      • i continued thinking about this conversation. I was first a GT Teacher and so the hardest thing about that was finding out what the students were not gifted and talented in… the label is too large..I never met a child who did not have some area that needed help, even if it was an emotional bridge about being gifted. So i learned to personalize , education, for children and to really, really try to find out who they were using tests, writing, games and anything I could to investigate , who is this person. That does not mean I did not take them on learning journeys. In fishing people talk about setting the hook, I used music, food, field trips, media and parents and books. Before all of the technology it was very hard work but Torrance gave us some tools.

        The thing is , if a child realizes that you esteem, or learn or care about what they want to learn .. they are better students. I have stayed on games to learn and nuance the game a child liked just for conversation.. I learned to make pasta, to get some children’s attention. We hiked in woods with experts and learned to read the woods, and streams and seasons. Some of this is significant particularly for students who have insufficient parental involvement, but even better is the parent involvement. I feel I had a room of teachers because parents helped me , a lot. To get to know the child being involved with the parent came next, we did classroom potluck dinners, picnics, and swims. It was hard work but it paid off.

        In technology finding out what the kid esteems, likes , thinks is fun
        that is appropriate worked for me. For instance my kids liked a certain segment of a program in which a Baslik I think that is the name of it, lizard seemed to walk on water and it was that we framed the portions and made a story of it but also discovered the physics of the journey. for the animal. There were places in NASA to learn more and so we got started on physics in an informal way.
        That child now works for Google.
        There was a minority kid from the shelter who could finesse all the games and who made the highest scores on the games until I stayed in the evening and bested him that means I studied the game and learned to beat his scores. he would look and see that I had bested him and work even harder.. Hard work. But I was able to say to him, if you can learn the games, you can learn my math, let’s go. I would love to tell you that he is a math teacher, but he is not. He is a geographer. close enough for me.


  5. I think the important thing that Thomas notes is that students already have a digital footprint, the question is this: is it the footprint they want the college admissions review board to see.

  6. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } – Today, 8:53 […]

  7. I don’t think there is any question that students need to be mindful of their online presence. If you’re going through traditional channels (college -> maybe grad school -> recruiters) people are going to google you. Right now a student might not show up in a search but as more and more of our services become web-based its going to be inevitable that you show up in some form.

    So if we take for granted that students should be conscious of their internet image, then we should probably consider the context in which we explain its importance. If we frame this idea with words like “brand” then I think we lose sight of the human aspects of this issue. No, you’re never going fully convey a personality through 1’s and 0’s but this discussion is being had by people who have experience first-hand the opportunities to create meaningful relationships through the web. With that in mind we should make it clear that there is a code of conduct at play anytime your name is attached to something you post.

    At the same time I think this leads to a conversation on the importance of anonymity. There is a great deal of social learning and development that occurs through making mistakes. The internet, however, does not forget, so making mistakes with your name attached to them can haunt you for who knows how long. As digital natives, my sisters and I were lucky that we grew up in the days of AOL instant messenger and Live Journals that have been buried to the depths of the primordial interwebz. I appreciate the opportunities I had to act inappropriately and learn from it, especially since now its become harder and harder to make a mistake on the internet without worrying about the consequences. We are, after all, human.

  8. Regardless if they want it or not, they’re going to have a digital personal brand. As far as it being a portfolio which they’re judged by for admissions, jobs, etc, I’m torn for so many reasons that we could write book upon book about. Not to mention, those who don’t seem to have an online presence. Would that be an advantage or disadvantage?

  9. I think the phrase personal branding when it relates to school aged kids will cause some ruffles but your point that they are already shaping one, unknowingly and unflatteringly in most cases, is spot on. So many examples of this to get into here but the main issue I see with my 13 year old and his friends is the one of song lyrics. These kids havent been made aware the repurcussions, short and long term, of what they post in the digital world. They tweet & post song lyrics from their favorite rapper only for parents to think they themselves are saying these things. The kids arent really saying those things themselves but it sure looks that way to the person who isnt in tune with rap or pop culture. It only takes one post and most kids dont realize the harm they do. Schools should be teaching this kind of stuff, not the outdated skills that can get them jobs that dont exist anymore.

  10. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } (via @DrThomasHo) – Today, 9:54 […]

  11. In today’s competitive marketplace students absolutely need to create a personal brand to have a competitive edge. I am not talking about a logo, but an online persona that makes them stand out in a sea of resumes.

  12. I say that they should start that digital footprint, however, proceeding with caution. I know that who I was in high school, 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago is not who I am today, so proceeding with caution to only highlight accomplishments vs everything that tends to be shared on Facebook these days could be beneficial… Maybe a rule of thumb should be “don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t put on your resume”?

  13. I loved your statement. Interestingly enough most of what we put online several years ago has dissolved into an erratic history. I am pleased to announce that has gotten a major grant from Facebook and we will pursue best case studies in Digital Citizenship. This is not my best area of expertise, but I have been given permission to work at the upcoming conference at Harvard, Lady Gaga’s Born this Way Foundation is having a symposium and I will get top level involvement and assistance in looking at resources.
    My first online with kids was Kidsnetwork and NGS programs in which we did science and technology and the communication was rather subdued, but the kids reacted to the groups as much as they did the science we were doing . It was transformational that science became the first online experience that most of them had.

    Kidsnetwork was not really on the Internet, we were connected to scientists to whom we fed data and the Internet letters from the classes came to the teacher. It was new, exciting and at the time a way to personalize science education.

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