Pamela Chen is the Lead Creative at Instagram, an award-winning photographer, journalist, and storyteller. She shared her advice on personal branding at brunchwork.
Why should we establish a personal brand?
How we think about brands has changed tremendously in the past few years, to the point that people often acknowledge when we act according to our “brand.” We didn’t talk about personal branding nearly as much five years ago, but now it’s ubiquitous. People take notice of your brand – consciously or unconsciously.
A brand is no longer limited to Nike, Apple, or Google. It now includes individuals and how they conduct their work and lives as a whole.
We have the opportunity to be creative in real life and Instagram. This blurring between our online and offline brand is incredible. It’s important that you think about how your actions reflect your personal brand.
What are the first steps to building a personal brand?
Personal branding relies on authenticity. You need to align on your values by clearly outlining what matters to you in your personal and professional life. This is the foundation.
You want to create a vision for yourself and your career. A personal brand helps you reach your ultimate goal by establishing yourself as a respected authority in your industry. Creating content, being active on social media, and showing up to events or conferences are modes through which your personal brand is displayed.
Consistency across all online and offline mediums is key to a successful personal brand.
How can we leverage Instagram to build our personal brand?
Instagram is a great place to experiment, because a brand now goes beyond the limits of what you do and stand for. It includes the things that you see and find interesting, as well as visuals that represent what you care about.
When you post on Instagram, your personal brand can be associated with pictures in a whole new way. There’s a lot of room for creativity.
What advice do you have for pursuing a creative passion?
When your impact isn’t as concrete, there may be an impulse to discount it. As someone with a statistics background, I understand there tends to be an emphasis on measuring impact. Through my arts and journalism career, however, I’ve come to realize that there is power in storytelling that can’t be measured.
My favorite quote that reflects this is: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Put your effort into projects that you believe can have the biggest impact.
How should we choose which creative projects to take on?
It’s easy to feel good when a project is widely talked about and viewed, but constantly chasing accolades isn’t the same as creating impact. It’s helpful to remember that you can be proud of the effect of your work even if it’s not being talked about by everyone. Prioritizing projects that you care about is critical, but only you can define that.
I made a campaign video in Ukraine about poor end-of-life care that was filmed entirely in Russian. It wasn’t widely shown outside of Russia and Ukraine, but it made an incredible difference to the Ukrainian people because it led to change in the law. This accomplishment is a good reminder that I can have these moments of pride for myself.
What is your advice for choosing between competing interests?
I initially pursued a math major in college because my father is a statistics professor and I grew up with math. When I realized that I spent all of my time thinking about photography, I switched my math major to a minor.
My father encouraged me to pursue something that I thought about even in my free time. Because I was so focused on photography, I made it through the moments when I had no idea what my job prospects were or where my life would take me. I realized I needed to enjoy what it is that I wanted to do.
This interview was conducted by Adriel Lubarsky and condensed by Katherine Emley.