Can a Leopard Change?

Personal branding cannot change who you are, but it does change how people perceive you.

CHANGE IS NOT easy. Any time we want to try something new or try to change something about ourselves, certain people are only too happy to smile and say: “A leopard cannot change its spots.”

In saying this, the clear meaning is that people do not change. That maybe we cannot change. And if we could change, it would be incredibly difficult – so much so that we would most certainly give up. That we are what we are, and we shall ever be thus.

Personally, I am not sure how much I believe that. People are changing all the time, but often we do not perceive it. The function of personal branding comes from this idea: that we can affect the perception people have of us, in order to help them understand us as we would like to be understood.

Same leopard. Same spots. But another point of view.

HAVING A PERSONAL brand today is almost obligatory. The need comes from social media and the online culture in which we have immersed ourselves. When someone wants to check us out, or find out who we are, they open Google. What the search engine spits out is the sum total of our existence online. Many HR departments and recruiters insist on perusing the social media sites of prospective candidates, asking the candidate to friend them, follow them, and link with them, and the candidates assent to be “browsed.”

Some recruiters, moreover, take a pass on anyone who either a) has no social media footprint, or b) refuses to share it out of privacy or other concerns. The mere act of writing that sentence made my skin horripilate and break out in goosebumps. The idea of being browsed is bad enough (it sounds like stalking), but being punished for refusing to submit to the prying eyes of strangers? It feels like a sci-fi plot – and a fairly predictable one too!

Nevertheless, this is how we size each other up today, and all the crying in the world will not change it.

If we like you, we swipe right. If not, thanks for playing.

The question we are looking at now, however, how we can manipulate the perception of our personal brand, especially if we effect a major change in our lives or in how we would like to be perceived. This could be as dramatic as looking for a new job, moving to a distant country, or running for public office. Or it could be much subtler: new interests, new friends, breaking old habits, changing old associations.  

Whatever the extent of the changes in your life, you will need them to be reflected in your social media presence, your personal brand. This is especially true if you are a “public” kind of person, posting often about your life. But it is also applicable if you are more discrete, if only to ensure that people know how to stay in touch with you.

Altering Perceptions

THE IMMEDIACY OF being online is both a gift and a curse. On the one hand, it allows you to be in constant contact with many people all at once, imparting rather personal and sometimes intimate information in a rather impersonal way. It overlays a gossamer net of trust over you and your “friends” – they share with you and you share with them. It is a new kind of trust, one that is quite easily given and lost, that the internet and social media engender. Psychologists aver that online chat and communications give rise to a false sense of intimacy among people who do not really know each other. This happens because we project our own feelings and opinions onto the others whenever there is an information gap.

Your personal brand, therefore, is a kind of “persona” that you create for others. People will like, follow, or connect with you because they are attracted in some way to your persona. Because faith in your persona is based on relatively little – some pictures, information, videos, or thoughtful posts – changing any part of it needs to be done carefully. Your online personal brand (excluding people you know in real life) will not include any of the shared experiences that help to create real bonds between people.

If you are looking for a new job, for example, you might consider the kind of people who will be seeing your online persona. Your current boss and colleagues might be shocked to see it, and prospective new bosses might think it a little indelicate. On LinkedIn, there are hundreds of profiles that state LOOKING FOR A NEW JOB in the headline, some of which on profiles of people who are still working.

A subtler way to approach it would be to change your headline from “Sales Representative at Acme Sales” to something like “Proven sales professional in pharmaceuticals”. The fact that you do not refer to your employer, Acme Sales, any more is a clear signal to HR people but perhaps less of a slap in the face to Acme.

What people remember is also something to consider. Last year, under the influence of love and restlessness, I announced to the world that I would be moving to the Philippines. When things did not work out as I hoped and I ended up NOT moving, I neglected to alter my persona. Because it felt like a setback, I failed to communicate it – but I have been answering questions about the Philippines for the past year now!

YOU MAY NEVER be able to change a leopard’s spots into a zebra’s stripes, but by curating your personal brand you can make sure that people interpret your spots in the right way. Our online culture pushes us to make snap judgements about each other based on images, but the tools exist to create a full personal brand online, as long as we do not neglect any part of it.

By paying attention to the details, introducing changes slowly and subtly as opposed to bluntly and suddenly, then you can effect a total transformation of your personal brand in very short order.

Spots aside, the leopard is still a leopard.

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