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Burg: Take a lesson in personal branding from Taylor Swift

Madeline Burg, Columnist

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Last week, the career fair passed in a haze of haphazardly thrown together business casual outfits and painfully plastered-on smiles as students crowded into Norris University Center to kickstart their professional futures. College has always been a time to try to figure out your life, but lately college is less a platform for cultivating your mind and more a launching pad for the version of yourself that’s going to take a place in the fast-paced business world of today. These four years are your trial period for discovering not yourself as a person but yourself as a product, as a hot commodity for prospective employers to trip over themselves to hire – because you’re worth it.

These days especially it’s all about creating an image of yourself as a neat little package bursting with personality, no matter the career path. Competing with hot young professionals means you not only have to know what’s going on in your chosen job arena, but also you have to be charmingly unique, personable and, preferably, a proficient yet noncontroversial source of social media output. In a world where the line separating real life and internet life is increasingly blurred, you are a brand. Cultivate your brand. Learn it, live it, love it. Be #onbrand. And if you need a model to study the ways of successful, subtle but relentless branding, look no further than Taylor Swift. I’m being serious.

The pop-country sensation has slowly shed the “-country” portion of her appellation in a frankly brilliant series of secretly calculated moves over the span of a few years. If we’re being real, TSwift’s publicity team is undoubtedly the force behind the actual logistics of this image shift. But the lead-up to the late-October release of the singer’s newest album, “1989,” has been characterized by an impressive deluge of social media interaction that appears to be mostly the handiwork of Swift herself (a result of careful coaching by her team, I’m sure, but shhh).

She’s been teasing the album since last fall, but the media push began this summer in a way that, at the time, you wouldn’t have even thought of as a single part of a larger whole. But in retrospect, it was most likely a carefully plotted sneaky little aperitif for the publicity feast yet to come. Taylor’s Fashion Tour of New York City’s Gyms, chronicled snarkily by fashion bloggers Tom & Lorenzo, featured the singer exiting the gym on various summer days in outfits so coordinated and trendy and with hair so perfectly coiffed that there is no possible way she had just spent an hour sweating on an elliptical. In the beginning of August, Swift began posting hints on Instagram about an exciting announcement that she then made on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” revealing a Yahoo! live stream event taking place on Aug. 18, during which she would state that “1989” would officially be a pop album. Cue the combustion of the internet, a media firestorm that would rage intensely, fueled by an in-depth Rolling Stone profile and Swift’s own relentless expansion of her social media presence, a presence unique in its apparently truly personal quality.

Swift’s new thing is that even amidst the cat obsession, the eternal bright red lipstick, and the achingly hipster decor of her disgustingly chic Manhattan apartment (the Rolling Stone profile was thorough), she’s self-aware. Pics of her wearing a yellow t-shirt printed with the phrase “no its becky” have surfaced. This is an allusion to a Tumblr meme featuring an old high school candid of the singer captioned with the assertion that it’s actually a girl named Becky. Swift has been active on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, replying to posts not directed at her, retweeting followers and commenting on ‘grammed reposts of paparazzi photos of her at the grocery store. This past week she hosted 89 fans at her house in Rhode Island for what she hashtagged on Twitter as one of many “1989 Secret Sessions,” a house party she carefully documented through retweets of her guests’ frenzied gratitude plus innumerable Instagrams of self-conscious polaroids of her and the fans frolicking around the dimly-lit beach house.

We could go on: the “Shake It Off” video is full of fans plucked from social media and behind-the-scenes footage is being released weekly, tweeted by Tay herself. Or her team. The point is the girl knows what she’s doing; she knows how to present herself the way she wants to and how to utilize the burgeoning juggernaut of social media to do it. This is expert branding. And while you’re not an international no-longer-country pop star, you’re about to need some branding too. So when you hand over that resume,  smile really really hard, be charming and don’t forget to be #onbrand.

Madeline Burg is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at madelineburg2015@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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