Monday, 23 January 2012

Digital branding guarantees success

Or does it? I was at a conference for educators recently and a speaker extolled the values of digital branding, firstly for schools, secondly for students and finally for teachers.
Reaction from the audience was entirely positive in the first case: we are accustomed to schools using a high quality web presence and social media   to develop the brand and strengthen links with actual and potential customers. Most teachers are happy with this and understand that it helps to fill our classes and keep our salary coming.
In the second instance most listeners showed some enthusiasm tempered with some reservations. Digital branding is seen by some as a means for students to enhance their college/university applications and/or to lay the groundwork for a career. As far as college/university applications go, students may well be able to impress selectors with their digital achievements once they get to an interview stage. Nevertheless, whether it be via the College Board in the USA or UCAS in the UK , the most important hurdle is the application form, and students will not do themselves any favours if they distract their energies from making their very best shot at that essential application.
Other worries relate to students wishing to change their pathways. Imagine a student who sets up a digital profile which professes a life long passion for Medicine and then decides they wish or need to change to, say Chemistry. Or then again, what about when the late teens turn into a twenty-something and find the content, mood or tone of their earlier digital brand no longer suits: while updating an identity is easy enough, it is not yet sufficiently clear that we can erase our digital footprint, which might have got fixed somewhere as a digital fossil.
When it came to the third example there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm: the idea of digital branding for teachers did not strike a chord with the listeners on this occasion. Here are three main areas of concern:
Firstly, it was thought that many teachers are simply too shy/modest/humble to establish a digital brand for themselves because they see it as an act of self promotion;
Secondly, for a teacher to promote their work involves showing and sharing work which has been done using time and resources of their employer, a school, and there is an ethical question mark about this. Does the work belong to the teacher, or can ownership be claimed also by the school? It will, in many cases, involve the use of images showing our students or their work and there are concerns about their right to privacy and the notion that students might wish later in life that they had not persuaded their parents so enthusiastically to allow their images/work to be used by that nice teacher Mr/s X.  A digital brand for a teacher is difficult to separate from that of their employer. Even if a teacher writes in the abstract and refers to “my students”, for better or for worse the teacher’s workplace will be known and s/he is actually identifying all students of that school, or identifying individual students and neither case is entirely problem free.
Thirdly, who is the audience for a teacher’s digital branding exercise?  If the goal is to further the teacher’s career, the target audience is a future employer, namely a Principal/ Headteacher. The listeners in attendance at the conference were certainly not convinced that all Principals would necessarily welcome a job candidate’s digital branding. The Guardian is currently running a campaign to correct what it sees as the inadequate understanding and use of information technology in British schools.
I know on good authority of a meeting where the most senior leader of a school asked senior staff to review and scale back the use of technology because over the weekend he and his wife had watched a video called “The Social Netting or something like that” and this person of many years experience in school leadership had discovered, thanks to David Fincher’s film, that “these people can find out all sorts of things using computers.” Do not laugh, that is absolutely true: a senior school leader basing his school’s IT development on a Hollywood movie  whose title he cannot even remember correctly! Is he the only one?
Against this background, who would wish to stake their future employment prospect on their digital brand? A brave soul, to be sure. 
If you want to pursue the idea, a great person to follow is Kathryn Corrick. I have written about a Kathryn Corrick training day  and on her own page she shares some advice which she gave recently to university students on a MA course at the University of East Anglia in England. She generously shares the whole presentation, and it is worth careful look. It will be best for you to go to the source: Kathryn Corrick - Marketing Yourself  In the presentation she covers Blogs, Marketing Yourself and Networking, among other topics, and Kathryn Corrick’s work has two great strengths in addition to really attractive presentation: her training always includes practical advice which is realistic to follow and is based on her own experience; secondly, her research is constantly updated and she shares with her trainees the most authoritative statistics and graphics currently available from a huge array of sources.
I am not convinced that digital branding guarantees success, and I will be on the lookout for teachers who are active in this area.

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