are personal branding websites a crock?

A reader writes:

What are your thoughts on personal “branding” websites? I’m talking about websites where the home page is usually a few brief sentences that provide a snapshot of the person’s profession, a casual picture of the person (sometimes engaged in a hobby, such as playing an instrument), and an About Me section that focuses on personal hobbies and interests. There is nothing interactive about these sites, so I don’t even understand who the intended audience is. It just seems like a half-hearted attempt to bolster “online presence.”

Do these details help? Unless a person has (a) an explicit service that they can only offer via a personal website or (b) a blog where they’re sharing thought-provoking insights, personal websites seem sort of silly to me. Most of them read like a goofy, less informative version of a LinkedIn profile. Am I being too dubious, or are these websites as frivolous as I suspect?

Yeah, they’re pretty superfluous. Those sites often have resumes included too, so it seems clear that it’s intended for job-searching, but I can’t figure out how they’re being used or what they’re intended to achieve.

I think you’re correct that they’re usually being done by people who have been told that they need to have an online presence but don’t realize that that means something more than what’s essentially an online business card. Online presence is about things like a fully fleshed out LinkedIn profile, a more expansive website (when relevant; not just to have it for the sake of having it), a well-maintained blog, thoughtful participation in online discussions on other people’s sites, etc. It’s not about staking out a little piece of the Internet and just putting your name on it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if career counselors or campus career centers were behind this — it sounds like the type of thing that the mediocre of those professions would tell people to do, without understanding what it takes to do it well or why employers would care.

As for personal branding more broadly, that’s a perversion of the concept of reputation. Reputation matters a great deal, but it’s not created by a three-page website with little content; it’s created by doing great work and operating with integrity and generosity. Of course, that’s not a concept that the personal-branding evangelists — who are looking for something to hawk in an already overcrowded marketplace — can make money off of, so they’ve turned to gimmicky concepts of “branding” instead.

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