The term “personal brand” can come across as narcissistic, but it shouldn’t be misunderstood. What it comes down to is that, once upon a time, there were a select few of us who had our lives documented. That has now expanded to pretty much everybody, so whether you call it a personal brand, or “the entirety of my online persona”, or simply your legacy, all it refers to is documentation.
Right now, the only way you would have any kind of documentation on the day-to-day life of a great-great-grandparent would be if they had been famous, someone who lived in “the public eye”. Now, with every thought and event being captured via text, picture and video, we have dramatically more context to someone’s life.
One big disadvantage of being of being a celebrity – always being on the record; always having your words scrutinized – has now spread to the masses.
In many cases, this has been addressed with technology rather than any kind of changes in behaviour. There is a reason for the success of Snapchat, Secret and other “disappearing” or anonymous apps. They have helped us to continue to be ourselves by allowing us to do it off the record (the way our grandparents did). What users need to be aware of, though, is that what they say now might echo long into the future. Sweeping generations of hearsay or gossip under the rug is not an option anymore.
Here’s an example from a parental perspective. It is going to be really hard for me to tell my children not to curse. A generation ago, they wouldn’t have had access to keynotes where I spent an hour screaming profanity after profanity. My children are going to hear my language and my stance on education, and I am simply not going to be able to be the same kind of hypocrite that parents have historically always been.
When it comes to what happens after someone’s death, your online legacy is an interesting concept, but a pretty straightforward one. It’s going to be another item on your will.
It’s actually an intriguing thought: “All of the login information for my social media accounts go to my son, Barry.” This is going to be a real conversation. In fact, it’s already started to happen and there are a number of different services that have popped up to address the issue.
As for me, I don’t really care what happens when I’m dead and gone. For others, it’s just a matter of preference. Some people leave all the money to their kids and let them do whatever they want; some people put it in a trust and dictate how it can be spent. The same thing goes for your social presences. All of these services are essentially password management systems, so if you want your children to take over the account and post memories, that is just as much an option as locking it down and leaving it alone. I believe that, eventually, it will be figured into the same decision-making process that includes inheritance and cremation.
As for the question of ownership, it’s clearly the family unless the person in question decides otherwise. I think the platforms would have a pretty hard time claiming that the account becomes theirs in the event of a user’s death.
There was a day and age, a long time ago, when the ownership of a dead person’s property wasn’t clear. To get over this, societies had to establish conventions for wills and trusts, just as we will have to do for the passing on of our Twitter accounts. I think that people will leave their online assets to the family members who they think will carry out their wishes and represent them in the way they would like.
In conclusion, all technology has done is exaggerate what already exists. The advent of modern social networks and all the technology associated with them has forced every family to deal with the same things that famous people have dealt with for centuries.
Part of a series on the top ten trends in social media.
Author: Gary Vaynerchuk is an author and social media expert. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Media.
Image: Autumn leaves cover a gravestone in a churchyard in Bowden, northern England September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Phil Noble