Anand Giridharadas has a provocative piece in the NYT last week related to the State Department’s Web 2.0 presence (see Branding and the 'Me' Economy | NYT | February 26, 2010):
The gospel of self-improvement has taken varied forms throughout history and is perhaps America’s most successful export. But in the digital age, the idea of improving yourself is under siege by a similar-seeming but utterly different gospel: that of self-branding.[…]The rise of the personal brand reflects changing economic structures, as secure lifetime employment gives way to a churning market in tasks. It suggests a new unscriptedness in institutions as we evolve from the broadcast age to the age of retweets. It augurs a future in which we all function like one-person conglomerates, calculating how every action affects our positioning.[…][A]mong the more remarkable places to watch the spread of off-message personal branding is in the very message-conscious world of diplomacy.
In the United States, for example, the State Department has allowed tech-savvy senior officials like Jared Cohen, Alec Ross and Katie Stanton to maintain robust personal brands. On Twitter, they report on affairs of state and encourage giving to Haiti, while also offering lighter fare, from daily minutiae (“best diplomacy training is coaching my 7 y/o’s basketball team”) to film reviews (“Soderbergh’s ‘The Informant’ was pretty mediocre”).
Mr. Ross and Mr. Cohen have Twitter fan bases of around 300,000 each, while the State Department’s official channel has about 14,000.
Recognizing this disparity, the State Department sent an unconventional delegation to Moscow last week with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the actor (and feverish tweeter) Ashton Kutcher and the tech-savvy Mr. Cohen as models of what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calls “21st-century statecraft.” Some at the State Department worry about security risks and misstatements by diplomat-tweeters. But Ms. Stanton, who once worked at Google, said that personal brands — her Twitter biography is “Mom. Public Servant. Cupcake Connoisseur” — might convince skeptical foreigners to give the United States another look.
“It’s easier to trust individuals than institutions,” she said.
The author concludes that “Personal branding will, of course, change not just big institutions but also the lives of brandable individuals. Will it improve job security or simply increase our anxiety? Will it divert power and influence from the well-educated to the merely well-branded? Will brand-building distract us?”
And he left us with some food for thought: “But is the society always better off with the undigested utterance, the instantaneous attempt at positioning? And in marketing ourselves, will we neglect the pursuit of actually improving?”
Two of the three individuals mentioned in this article are I’m guessing, political or limited appointees who came in with Secretary Clinton (Jared Cohen came in 2006 during 66th tenure; don’t know if he is Civil Service).
I added active links above. Read the whole thing here.
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