"Seek ye first the proper profile pic . . ."
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
March 17, 2011 - It has now become commonplace to talk about one’s personal “brand identity.” College students, in particular, are frequently admonished about the importance of brand identity in relation to career. Success in securing that coveted-job, so the story goes, depends, in part, on cultivating a desirable personal brand identity. To put it somewhat cynically, this means that students must learn to market themselves in ways which make it appear to prospective employers that they, the students, are worth “buying.”
Practically speaking, students are encouraged to manage their brand identity by keeping their social network profiles and Twitter accounts “professional.” This is because an increasing number of employers use such information to perform what amount to background checks on unsuspecting job candidates. If one’s Facebook profile projects an undesirable brand, one’s chances of securing the job in question might be diminished.
As a piece of practical wisdom, there is nothing inherently wrong with advising young people to think about the long term consequences of their present actions. As the wise know, this is not something that young people are naturally prone to do. But from the standpoint of the Gospel – which calls believers to conform to the image of Christ – the heavy accent on brand identity is problematic.
For Christians, what should drive decision making about present acts is not concern for profile management, but conformity to Christ. These two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, neither are they inevitably congruent. This is why cruciformity must take priority over advertising.
To place the emphasis on brand identity in giving practical advice to potential employees is to reduce the concern for personal integrity to image management. For the goal of such action is not integrity itself. Rather, it is the successful acquisition of the job. To follow Christ is to focus on conformity for its own sake. At times, this may result in successful employment. At others, it may not. Thus, educators, especially in Christian colleges, do deep spiritual disservice to students in teaching them to think about leading godly lives in terms of brand identity. Perhaps this is part of what Christ meant when he said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”