“I didn’t want to just wait. I wanted to do something.”

These are the words of 18-year-old Bernie Zak. In April, the high school senior discovered that he will be attending his dream university – University of California, Los Angeles – this coming fall. Bernie set his sights on attending UCLA after taking a campus tour, but after learning that he had been waitlisted, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Bernie devised a Twitter campaign (#AcceptBernieUCLA) to persuade the university to accept him. The campaign tweeted different reason each day why UCLA should be clamouring to enroll him, like Reason #50 “Every school NEEDS a 5’8″ center on their basketball team.”

What is personal branding?

The #AcceptBernieUCLA campaign is not just a clever ploy to get into college, it’s also a pretty neat example of personal branding. Forbes describes personal branding as “similar to product branding. The overall goal with branding is to differentiate yourself (the product) in the market so you can attain your objectives, be those landing your dream job or becoming a famous singer.”

This may seem like a cynical way of viewing personal identity, but teens, whether they realize it or not, are cultivating their personal brand every day. Material posted to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr communicate readily accessible (and enduring) impressions which can have repercussions down the line:  77% of recruiters say they use search engines to perform background checks on applicants.

With one eye on their future careers, teens should not only be careful of what they post on these sites, but they can also seize the opportunity to turn personal branding to their advantage.

Be creative, be unique

Bernie cleverly used a run-of-the-mill internet platform to give himself an edge that marked him out from the crowd. The simple and memorable #AcceptBernieUCLA campaign showcased his initiative, creative flair and social marketing savvy. Even if it had little impact on university administrators’ decision to admit him, the media frisson generated by Bernie’s campaign ensures that future employers who google his name for years to come will be reminded of the personal strengths Bernie demonstrated as a highschooler.

Empowering teens

Personal branding is becoming a fundamental facet of how we present ourselves in the working world. With this in mind, it’s important that we engage kids with the concept early on by bringing discussion about personal branding into our homes and classrooms. By guiding kids to take a cue from Bernie Zak, we can help teens tap to use social media constructively to create a personal brand that will benefit them in the future.

Do you use Twitter or Facebook to help cultivate your personal brand? How should we approach discussion of personal branding in schools? Share your thoughts in the comments.

By Deirdre Kilbride

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Image credits: hackNY spring 2013 student hackathon (hackNY.org) / CC BY 2.0