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Lessons in Academic Self-Branding


Adapted from: Kozinets, Robert (2016), “Flow My Bits, the Professor Texts,” in Margarita Cabrera Méndez and Nuria Lloret Romero, Digital Tools for Academic Branding and Self-promotion, Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 53-66.


Learned speakers and writers have plied their trade for millennia by forging distinct identities that we now call brands. We’ve all heard about Socrates and how, while teaching in the agora, he inspired Plato to write and teach. Socrates was a man full of questions, and one of the main things he advocated was questioning authority and speaking the truth to power. Plato, inspired by the man, established the Academy, the world’s first formal university, north of Athens. Since Socrates, learned scholars have thought, taught, been revered, feared, persecuted, and had an impact on one another and the world. Their academic identities interact, intersect, and intertwine, reticulating with various networks and alliances to reach various audiences with varying results. Academics have always been in the business of developing, promoting, and communicating ideas, from academic journals and conferences to students, government, the press, and various publics. They, like Socrates and Plato, seek to influence one another and the world. The role of their identities—their brands, if you will—can be critical in achieving this ambition.


This blog post, based on a 2016 chapter, focuses on some key principles in academic personal branding, a topic which draws upon and extends my writing in Kozinets (2015). However, it also seeks to do more than this. Interweaving research, advice, and a short series of inductive case studies about personal academic brands I have known and admired, it tries to collect some emerging wisdom about this very new practice of personal academic branding. Through featuring the faces of these talented scholars, I begin to sketch out a theory of personal academic branding, relating core identities to practices and purposes for academics not only in academia but also in society. In particular, this chapter seeks to clear some initial conceptual ground into the relationship between thinking innovative thoughts, representing them to various audiences, acting in the world, seeking to cause others to act upon it for social change, and having one’s idea shared and built upon by a variety of interested others. The chapter does this through a focusing on netnography, a fluid concept made even more fluid by its recent redefinition and the new conceptual indistinctness of its greatly expanded boundaries.


In some ways, this chapter is an homage to these great thinkers of the past who have so changed my mind, heart and life. I introduce and honor some of the many giants upon whose shoulders, as Newton brilliantly analogized and many have appreciated, we stand and see even further vistas. Although Socrates plied his trade before the printing press, Albert Einstein at the rise of mass media, and Michel Foucault his before the age of social media, each of these intellectual maestros was able to create much influence in each of these media. Their thoughts increasingly influence discourse and burble through the timestream of public thought. We are thus talking not only of intellectual enterprise here, but of media.


Netnography is anthropology that conducts research on digital interactions and experiences by focusing upon digital content. Netnography is participant observation. And that netnographic participation is conceptualized as a type of public identity work: personal academic branding. Wandering widely and jetting back and forth between empirical instance and abstract principle, this chapter conceptualizes branding in academia as a multifaceted act that is forever changed by the rise of the Internet and the advent of social media. It is into this social space, I seek to situate netnography, the act of engaging with online others in the technologically mediated and self-reflective research of human individual and collective being.


The essence of netnography is ethnography using sophisticated mass broadcasting social media tools. As such, netnography builds upon the organic and orgasmic origins of academic communicative practice in group oration and writing a communicative ecstasy and act of strategic public relations. Netnography is ethnography in public, online, where we add publishing, amplifying and ungrading our prior scholarly abilities to gain local, niche, topical, and mass attention through all media, using laptop, mobile phone, one’s cell in the network, or any other technologies, of machine or of the self. Netnographers are technologically proficient prosumers. They consume consumer research at the same time as they create it.


Netnography, like ethnography, can and often is a deeply personal affair. Being a reflexive participant in your inquiry means you must include your own self, your experiences, your habitus, your life, as you construct research. Please keep this participative aspect of my writing and scholarship in mind in this chapter as I take you pastiche fashion through a series of discussions of particular academics and their brands, notions of personal branding. As I elaborate ideas of netnography, induced/abducted principles and proposal pertaining to personal academic branding, I am also reflecting very personally upon these experiences, these people, these scholars and ideas and what they mean to me.


The Sherry Brand

John Sherry is a good friend, an academic mentor, a marketing and medical anthropologist and former Florida, Northwestern, and Notre Dame marketing Professor, and a brilliant all-around scholar and thinker. He was profiled in this short and accessible piece written by Paul Otto for the Epic Conference called “Ethnography is Fundamental”. In 2012 and 2015, Professor John Sherry presented a couple of poems which brilliantly examine, with the authority of a professionally appointed scribe and chronicler, the story of being an academic. His stories portray living as a scholar today. But they also relate specifically to the terms and practices of the consumer culture theory tribe, to the consumer research tribe, and in many ways the entire groups of tribes of people calling themselves scholars and academics, professionals, those who are legitimated and valorized by international states, with crusty barnacled and ever renewed relevance as professors.


In one of his poems, a situation familiar not only to academics but also to students of almost every age and orientation transpires. A speaker drones on and on, as we assume the position of the listener, who is “sitting in the back of a crowded lecture hall” (the 2015 poem’s title). Here are the first few lines (with my capitalizations for emphasis):


The Lecturer drones on,
Hewing to the script,
Siphoning Hope out of the room
Relentless in the piling on of details
Punishing the audience with
Earnest plodding effort,
The Lecturer drones on (Sherry 2015).


Sherry reminds us with humor how our rhetorical reach sometimes exceeds our grasp of audience dynamics. Punishing the audience with earnest plodding effort is poignant and resonant. In the earlier 2012 poem, which is entitled “Fuck You Very Much, Reviewer C,” contains barely veiled homicidal fury at one of the three traditional reviewers operating in our tripartite peer review system.


Of each revision you are leery,
‘Though I’ve answered every query.
All attempts to ground my theory
Meet with mockery and scorn.. . .
Too much theory wrung from data,
Need more field notes, less verbata,
Cites become a hot potato
Tossed among anointed few.. . .
At last the fatal flaw’s revealed.
Judgment cannot be appealed.
The author is once more annealed
And takes the story on the road. (Sherry 2012)


None of us likes being judged in the peer review process. None of us enjoy the anonymity of the reviewers. None of us likes the somewhat arbitrary comments that repetitively seem to come our way. But Sherry captures these emotions in such a concise manner that we cannot help but feel how “we” (as he points out later in the poem) are both the victim and the aggressor, a part of the system itself as we are doubly-oppressed by it, a poem dedicated, in the poem’s last line, “to all of us Reviewer C’s”.


The poem was presented at the annual Consumer Culture Theory conference, an organization that elected John its first President, where it created a bit of a stir among the audience. The poem is published, along with the others in the poetry sessions John organizes every single conference, in a boxer-inspired volume entitled Clarence Clobbers Tenderly (2012). The boxer metaphor is suitable, as it evokes Sherry’s history and identity as a college boxer. Avuncular and mentorly to me always, he said to me on one occasion that academia was like boxing, that you needed to learn to take a few shots to the head, to get up repeatedly after being knocked down, and to throw a few punches back.
Academia is a strange business, as captured in books such as Straight Man by Richard Russo (1998), a hilarious and yet very human novel about an anarchist professor. Another is Donna Tartt’s (1992) The Secret History and its charismatic and dark professor, and the cultish following he inspires among young and impressionable female students. In terms of insider knowledge and ability to pithily capture academic life and its challenges in poetic verse, John is one of the best.


John has been building his brand as a marketing anthropologist and creative method demonstrator and promoter through five different decades. He knows the game, and he plays it with integrity and honor in the fields of anthropology and consumer research. He is not a big self-promoter. He doesn’t blog. He doesn’t tweet. He does not have a page that stretches beyond his university page at Norte Dame. John simply persists in doing erudite and intriguing scholarly work, and finds ways to get it published with a range of excellent co-authors like Annamma Joy, Melanie Wallendorf, Stephen Brown, Russell Belk, and Tonya Bradford.


I would also include myself as an eager accomplice. I was inspired by John’s poetic openness to create and present Desert Pilgrim (Kozinets 1999, 2001), which was the hybrid and reflective videography-poem that started me on the path of alternative forms of research representation. Desert Pilgrim was the first research videography and the first research poem I had created. A production inspired by and about my first ethnographic journey to Burning Man 1999, it represented a personal breakthrough. I presented it first at the 1999 Heretical Consumer Research conference, and then twice at the 1999 Association for Consumer Research conference that followed it, the second by request from the audience, instead of talking to my slides. I printed some photos from my fieldwork and combined them with the poem, publishing them in the then-new consumer culture journal Consumption, Marketing, and Culture (Kozinets 2001). Later, I recreated the poem and video experience and shared it on YouTube.


The Heretical Consumer Research group from which sprang the Consumer Culture theory group, according to Sidney Levy, our nonagenarian polymath field-founder, was far more edgy than its successor. Levy was chair of the Northwestern and then later Kellogg School of Management marketing department. He came from a different time than most of us. He was appointed full professor with tenure after being invited there, from a simple PhD to full, with no need to go to assistant or associate levels. He is considered by many to be the founder of the field of consumer culture theory, a field which formally turned ten years old in June of 2015, after its founding in the year after the foundation “CCT article”, an academically-encapsulated charter and constitution (Arnould and Thompson 2005) was first presented by Eric Arnould and Craig Thompson to a massive crowd at the Association for Consumer Research’s 2014 conference. I was there, watching with admiration and curiosity.


Interestingly, the marketing professors who named this subfield wrote into the chapters and explained what they were doing as academically branding a sub-field. Branding quite consciously, deliberately, and calculatively. Branding for students, for jobs, for the future. To be counted, you need to label. To be included, you need a name. For a long time, in our psychology and economics dominated field of marketing and consumer research, our work was known from its data as “qualitative” or it mysterious paradigm as “postmodern” or “alternative” research. It needed a brand. I know that conversation happened among these scholars, because I was there. Craig Thompson, himself a remarkable brand who uses his research to write about the birth of his child, his natural health interests, his Southern values, his interests in community supported agriculture and hipster coffee shops, and much more, joined with talented and learned world systems oriented anthropologist Eric Arnould to engage in this act of explicit differentiation. They make this branding effort very clear when they write in the introduction to the article:


“Over the years, many nebulous epithets characterizing [the research tradition addressing the sociocultural, experiential, symbolic, and ideological aspects of consumption] have come into play (i.e., relativist, postpositivist, interpretivist, humanistic, naturalistic, postmodern), all more obfuscating than clarifying. Each fails to signify the theoretical commonalities and linkages within this research tradition. They either place too much emphasis on methodological distinctions or they invoke overly coarse and increasingly irrelevant contrasts to a presumed dominant consumer research paradigm. A more appropriate and compelling academic brand would focus on the core theoretical interests and questions that define this research tradition. Accordingly, we offer the term “consumer culture theory” (CCT).” (Arnould and Thompson 2005, p. 868).


In the published words of these two marketing academics, founding a now-vibrant sub-field, we see at work the power of branding. Shifting the terms of the labeling to a focus on theoretical abstraction and contribution, and away from an emphasis on method, paradigm or type of data, these two clear-thinking researchers successfully offered the field “a more appropriate and compelling academic brand”.


In 2012, I wrote an article for the online journal Methodological Innovations Online which looked at the way that the social scientific academic milieu and my actions as a professor, thinker, and writer had interacted and resulted in a number of intentional and unintentional connections (Kozinets 2012). I built first on Thomas Kuhn’s ideas that new scientific paradigms are orchestrated productions of contagious social enthusiasm and then extended it to discuss Peter and Olson’s (1983) idea that science is a special case of marketing, the marketing of ideas. In that article, I broadened Kuhn, Peter and Olson’s ideas to include the methodological practices and terminologies around social scientific work, as well as the theories, axiologies, and ideas of academics. Netnography, I asserted in the article, is a brand that has been, can be, and indeed even maybe should be marketed. As all useful and impactful academic brands have been—in their own way.

Branding and the Academic Enterprise


Netnography materializes through practices: through reflective participation in the writing of fieldnotes, through active observational techniques that can include data mining, and massive search, through the creation and maintenance of a research web page or other social media interface or interfaces, and through analytic coding which includes hermeneutic reading and understanding of human being’s communications as the voices of real people. Within the participative element of netnography, disclosure is required for ethical practice. In ethnography, research purposes disclosed to people result strange things can happen to alienate one person from another. As Judith Stacey (1988) wrote, in a classic of feminist methodological inquiry, the power games of ethnography make its fits with humanistic ideals challenging. Her classic article’s abstract beautifully summarizes the problem:


“Many feminist scholars have identified ethnographic methods as ideally suited to feminist research because its contextual, experiential approach to knowledge eschews the false dualisms of positivism and, drawing upon such traditionally female strengths as empathy and human concern, allows for an egalitarian, reciprocal relationship between knower and known. This paper discusses the irony that ethnographic methods also subject research subjects to greater risk of exploitation, betrayal, and abandonment by the researcher than does much positivist research. Fieldwork and its textual products represent an intervention into a system of relationships that the researcher is far freer than the researched to leave. The paper calls for greater dialogue between feminism and the new ethnography which addresses similar methodological concerns and suggests certain constraints on that dialogue.”


As Stacey relates, backing away from such power games is one option. However, it is not the only option for a netnographer who understands the principles of personal branding. We must embrace our own perspective, our own personality and point of view. In ethnography, we must chronicles our own research story in the context in which we find ourselves, whether it is in a eco-village, at a themed hotel in Disney World in Orlando, in the classroom, at a shopping mall, or camping with the Rainbow Family in an annual countercultural gathering. It is an individual effort with collective payouts: myth made manifest in everyday life. That is almost always the core ethnographic story: the universal human story instantiated in a particular time and place, among a particular people and set of persons. Perhaps, those human stories, those stories of humanity can become brands.

Ethnographic stories which include the ethnographer, the doing of the research, the tale of fieldwork, become acts of brandings. Branding about the researcher, brands about academic life, about academic story telling and its challenges. Perhaps ethnography on the internet, when it become netnography, it becomes something quite different as it changes and adapts to the need of researchers to also be Personal Academic Brands.


A brand’s ideology is felt bodily, biologically, through the body. This happens, as Foucault most explicitly theorized in his theory of sexuality, but of course in this always building on Marx, through discursive systems of ideology and consciousness (alienated, false or otherwise). Discursive systems also branch into the world of branding: the social world where emotions like fear, jealousy, greed, and shame often coincide with people’s emotions and identities in the moment. Ideology is felt in this way, socially: through systems of meaning and languages, many languages now including machine, application, technology image, and other languages.

Machine Language and Branding


Any good computer scientist will tell you that they can discern something, maybe a lot, about the coder from an examination of the code. A person’s basic personality and certainly skill level might shine through. Decoding academics may be even easier. What do we know, from writers like danah boyd, Donna Haraway, Katherine Hayles, Laurel Richardson, Carole Rambo, Linda Scott, Katrien Jacobs, Beth Hirschman, Morris Holbrook, and Shannon Bell,? We know that revealing the self makes your work more, not less precise. Coming from a particular social and cultural context allows more, not less, specification of the reasons behind interpretations and the forces underlying extant and often invisible social practices. Person revelation makes science more, not less, impactful and engaging?


Are you exposing your self at all in your research? If not, why not? If so, are you doing it strategically? What does your self-revelation say about your self, your brand, and your method? Think about the connection between impactful researchers, their lives, their images, and their research. Walter Benjamin had his photographs, his self-portraiture, to stand alongside his writing about photography and self-portraiture. Foucault had his pastimtes and indulgences, which everyone liked to watch, his notions of self-discipline and self-regulation, sexualiy alongside the panopticon in his theory. McLuhan had the catchphrase “the global village” and the slogan “the medium is the message” which became his message as he gained mass media appeal that far outlasted his scientific career. The meme of Richard Dawkins became his own meme, as his tactical labelling of a new concept becoming an entry point into popular discourse that redefined his catchy word into something he may have found rather unlikely, and certainly unpredictable.

The personal brand is the new corporate brand: we easily have the personal bandwidth now that entire corporations, at one time even entire countries or economic systems had at their disposal. Do you have something to say, some good use for this bandwidth and processing powers? Are there many who would dare to assess and critique the present? Can we still imagine the academy conducted beyond the walls of the city or the market, beyond surveillance? As academics, do we have something to say about social reality, reflexively and resonantly? Will we reflect on our social and cultural situation, with structure, stress and rigour?


What I believe distinguishes netnographers and other serious students of social media from those who take these phenomena lightly, or at face value, is that they have an axiological axe to grind. And they can tell you quite precisely which axiological axe they intend to grind. Mine is technological. For some, like Donna Haraway, better the cyborg’s fate than being even a Goddess. For others, becoming a cyborg represents a major step down in the dark and deadly depths, depths increasingly interlinked with global intelligence (consumer goods producers, government and space providers, military and protection systems, intelligence and legal systems) as well as communications and informational and transactional economies of attention (media), deficit (micro-economic) and disorder (medical) systems. Something, perhaps, for us all to consider, as we decide upon what we can and should say which is relevant to other actors in the world today.

Personal Branding in the Academy

Labreque et al (2011) explore personal branding online, an article informs us about how people will try to do the right thing and be authentic, as well as try to manipulate things for their own benefit, using social media. What might we learn about how to actually do personal academic branding from this? Simply that academic branding must take place against a context where many more effective celebrity and instant Internet celebrity personalities are able to grab the spotlight of collective attention at the highest mass media levels. The academic Kardashians, as Hall (2014) puts it. What this paper underscores for us, then, is the importance for academics to understand that their public conversations take place in an entertainment, industry, government, and related educated and literate professional setting. This setting is amplified and extended. We enter economies of attention with content: words, ideas, books, seminars, lectures, classes, speeches. Intellectual capital, social capital, cultural capital: words, time, and money. Within all of this is a balance between the frivolous and the trivial, the meaningful and the serious. There are no clear boundaries, and no guidelines in sight. You better be rigorous, but you also should be accessible.


The netnographer must in some sense play a public online academically-enriched round of attention-seeking. Perhaps we are not macro-celebrities, not on the scale of the Kardashians of the world. However, perhaps we can aspire influence a bit wider than the “micro-celebrities” described by Senfft (2008). To do this, you must have a astrong sense of what makes you distinctive. This is the essence of personal branding. Hall (2014) cautions personally branded academics to have a proper “Kardashian index”. Named for the woman who is more famous for being famous than for any particular accomplishment, academics on social media can become widely shared and quoted in the public sphere without very much accomplishment in the scientific world of peer-reviewed books and journals. The perspective of Hall (2014) is that this is a bad thing: scholars must be legitimated by other scholars and institutions first, and then share their fame outside the world. Like Freud, Eco, or Oppenheimer. The big ones. The real ones.


We can now as a field write about online interacting and transaction human behaviors as “Consumption in the Net”. A Netnographer will use Personal Web Pages as part of the overall repertoire of Building Personal Academic Brand Recognition and Equity. Personal Academics should, in this environment, be able to compete with micro-celebrities, but not quite with celebrities. They exist in a region of recognition and resources between bloggers and real Hollywood, Euro fashion, or world sports celebrity spaces. To do this, however, will require genuine effort, devotion, and a passionate collective effort to contribute to each other and build a network based on shared brand values. People’s values should equate to their brand’s values. Finding authentic voices and linking them together one to one is how communications should go.

What’s love got to do with it?

It should at this point be of no surprise that netnography had to recently change for new times. In Kozinets (2015), netnography becomes redefined as something more than the dated study of online culture and community. According to Kozinets (2015, 87), netnography “is the name given to a specific set of related data collection, co-creation, creation, and analysis, ethical, and representational practices, where a significant amount of the data collected and participant-observational research conducted originates in and manifests through” communications and interactions that the researcher her or himself directly conduct in public social media and through private interviews and communication, including mobile, desktop, laptop, tablet, watch, other wearable, implant, whatever technology they have upon or within themselves.


Netnography is about something specific: interactions and experiences through and of the Net and Web and all their related informational and communication experiences, so much of them contributed, contained and controlled by Google and Facebook, the traditional media companies, and ever-changing others, rapidly changing and reconfiguring technocapitalism. Netnography is about human connection. Netnography often means interviews conducted via email, Skype, in person, or using other methods, increasingly I would hope those captured in real time on programs such as Camtasia and then edited and shared on YouTube and Vimeo. Netnography embraces the lore of hermeneutic story telling and the data analysis of natural language word recognition processing, coding, and visualization.


To personally brand in netnography means to focus on communicative acts and interactions flowing through digital connections. These could be textual or visual. Graphic, photographic, audiovisual, or musical. As I say in Kozinets (2015, p. 73), “Netnography begins and ends with an explicitly human window into the rich communicative and symbolic world of the Internet, the Web, and social media.”
To truly understand personal academic branding, we must first match up with the core notion of personal branding. What do we do with it? Tom Peters could see it coming at an early stage in the Internet’s history. He saw it as a classic marketing principle, applied. Find your point of differentiation first. “Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors — or your colleagues. What have you done lately — this week — to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait”? (Peters 1997).


Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote in Harvard Business Review in 2013 that The Future of You consisted of “showcasing our own individuality is a way that is distinctive, consistent, and meaningful.” Hubert Rampersad (2008, p. 34), in an interesting and idealistic early article tells us that our personal brand “should be authentic.” Rampersad is guilty of moralizing to us, but somehow it is a guilty pleasure to enjoy being moralized to. “Authentic Personal Branding is a journey towards a happier and more successful life. Your Personal Brand should therefore emerge from your search for your identity and meaning in life, and it is about getting very clear on what you want, fixing it in your mind, giving it all your positive energy, doing what you love and develop yourself continuously. Your Personal Brand should always reflect your true character, and should be built on your values, strengths, uniqueness, and genius.” (Hubert Rampersad (2008, p 34).


Rampersad gives us a system for creating and managing our personal brands. We examine out own personal vision, mission, and key roles, and we challenge, plan, deploy, and act in turn on these elements. We define and formulate our personal ambition. They we formulate our personal brand. Then, we work (in outdated managerial terminology) with the personal balanced scorecard system (and early form of data analytics on the topic of personal brand scorekeeping) based on measuring the results of your personal brand, and then you implement, cultivate and I believe integrate your tactical and strategic efforts to achieve your personal ambition through using your personal brand and monitoring and managing it using your analytics system.


Hampersad (2008, p. 38), our moral and spiritual guide on the path to personal brand excellence, tell us that if you should be “branded in this organic, authentic and holistic way your Personal Brand will be strong, clear, complete, and valuable to others. You will also create a life that is fulfilling and you will automatically attract the people and opportunities that are a perfect fit for you. If you are not branded in this unique way, if you don’t deliver according to your brand promise, and if you focus mainly on selling and promoting yourself, you will be perceived egocentric, selfish and a unique jerk, and branding will be cosmetic and a dirty business.” Watch out. Don’t be a “a unique jerk”. If you are focused on self-promotion, everyone will be able to tell it. They will stay away. Which brings us to the man who spoke to dolphins: John Lilly.


John Lilly: Why Isn’t He A Superstar?


What happened to John Lilly? There are stories about him online, such as the one by Joann Greco called “The Psychonaut You [sic] Never Heard Of” that seem to celebrate his unknown status. But as a marketer, I’d have to call that lack of recognition a branding failure. And in this case, something of a tragedy. Academic brands are special entities, and this may be difficult for other professions or the public to understand. Academia is a direct popularity contest, but it is about the popularity of your ideas, not of you. People in academic circles seek citation. This is their stock and trade. To write something once, and have people read it but not write about it is not what academia is about.



One of my favorite academic brands (and I’m sending links to his book here, all of which can be treated as #ads because they are Amazon Associate links and I get a commission if you purchase any), a man who, like his contemporary and far more popular doppelgänger Timothy Leary, the psychiatrist John Lilly wrote an early book analyzing human hardware and especially software using self-experimentation with LSD-25 in water suspension isolation tanks. The result was a surprisingly little-known book entitled “Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer”, which presented subjective experience and interpretation alongside synthetic theorizing that joined medical education to philosophy, psychology, computer programming and spiritual traditions.


“The human brain, a super-biocomputer, as it were, is a parallel processor. . . . In the child, automatic metaprogram implantation (or externally forced meta-programming), persisting as metaprograms below the level of awareness in the adult, can be controlling for the later adult programs, adult thinking, and adult behavior. Energy can be taken from some of these automatic metaprograms and transferred to the self-metaprogram with special techniques and special central states, chemically evoked.” (Lilly, 1967, metaprogramming, p. 126-127)


We can even think for a moment of our personal brand as a program in the metaprogram of human society and culture. Our public persona, our social media presence and traces are analogous to “automatic” program implantations of our childhood. We have not really organized or managed them. Much of our life, we simply run the programs that were inserted into us, or which we inserted at one time or another. And similarly, our brand unwinds, bits of traces of ourselves shared and collected on the Net and Web. Yet when we take hold of our own personal academic brand, through netnography or another discipline or means, we become the metaprogrammer. We insert, with effort, with “special techniques” and in special “states” our own deliberate brand programming, communicational metaprograms. We control the energy of attention, the flowing, glowing liquid elixirs of audience engagement and social impact.


As his work became known, Lilly published a number of other books exploring human software and its reprogramming, laying the groundwork for Ken Keyes, Alfred Bandler and the rest of the early neuro-linguistic programmers to put detail and procedure around his theory’s contentions of the re-programmability of people’s goals and even sense of reality. The Center of the Cycle, Lilly’s follow-up “autobiography of inner space” is even more personal and more confessional. Another book Lilly wrote was a startling little pocket book called Simulations of God. In it, he presented chapters discussing how each different belief system simulated itself inside of us, as something we desire and worship, for a time, until we move from one to another.


In John Lilly’s The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography, Lilly offers up some bizarre, drug-induced prophesy about the takeover of AI from humanity in the near future. “As the machines became increasingly competent to do the programming, they took over from Man. Man gave them access to the processes of creating themselves, of extending themselves.” (Lilly the Scientist, 1988, p. 148) Then, he gets specific about our endangerments within the next 80 years and extinction within the next 300 years. “By the year 2100, Man existed only in domed, protected cities in which his own special atmosphere was maintained by the solid-state entity.” It is straight out of the Matrix movie, but was written in 1988. By 2300, our AI creations decide they have had enough of Man, who are proving to be troublemakers worth far less than the trouble they are causing in their domed cities. It is unclear whether our machine master leave a few humans alive for curiosity and testing, or if they simply wipe all of us out as a human would thoughtlessly eliminate an entire colony of bees from our backyard or ants from our home. But by 2300, there are no more domed cities. And no more humans. Cast alongside his scientific observations and real-life recounting with dolphin intelligence, Lilly’s recountings are chilling.


Who wrote the introduction to Lilly book? Who called him a seer? “No one has gone as far into the future as John C. Lilly and managed to return (reluctantly, we known) with such clarity and good humor” (Leary1988, p. 8). Yes, none other than iconoclast academic Tim Leary, who writes beautiful passages recounting the Four Great Ages of Human Exploration and linking them to psychedelic academic and public voyages of self-discovery.


Standing alongside John Lilly, Timothy Leary reminds us of the successful stigmatization of psychedelic experimentation, revealing our own metaprogrammed biases and the way they effect our opinions, as well as the fulfillment of our life projects: “Going to Vietnam in the late 1960s was about ten thousand times more hazardous to your physical health than dropping acid. The suicide rate, which plummeted during the dope-fiend ‘60s predictably rocketed in the sober ‘80s” (Leary 1988, p. 7). Calling the publication of Lilly’s Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer “a work of inestimable importance”, Leary (ibid) proceeds to say that “We all saw John C. Lilly as some sort of wizard, a science-fiction starman, a unique back-to-the future alchemist. A new Paracelsus. A veritable Isaac Newton of the Mind.”


Among a large group of California New Age intellectuals and pioneers, John Lilly was an academic hero. To others, he was, like Leary himself, dismissed as unstable, a disgraced academic with a serous drug problem. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who also experimented with LDS-25 were able to expand their brands far more effectively than Lilly, becoming household names and famous, as well as infamous, social influencers on a wide scale.

Thus Far, In Sum

From John Lilly to John Sherry, Donna Haraway to dana boyd, Plato to Einstein, Michel Foucault to Marshall McLuhan we have examined, pointed to, and discussed a range of popular academic brands and their representations. Throughout this chapter, we might begin to see a number of intriguing patterns arising. In this concluding section to my chapter, I will begin to briefly elaborate and extend some of these patterns as I now discern them. These thoughts hold limitations which I will be exploring in future work. These notions and this chapter mark one of the key beginnings of this explanation and expansion of notions of personal branding. Consider now the following.

  1. The role of multiple audiences. Academic brands have internal (scholarly) and external (public, media) audiences. Internal audiences can include a global network of research peers, organizations, publications, and conferences. Another internal audience is students. Another is administrators such as Deans. Externally, we seem to build legitimacy through the attention of resourceful publics such as government agencies, corporate and nonprofit agencies, and the mass media and press. The external and the internal reinforce one another. Media coverage equals legitimacy and publicity, which attracts the attention of deans, as well as students.
  2. Social media has become an effective way to address the external audiences, in particular providing content for interested publics and he press. As academics, we can watch and chronicle what is happening, or we can use our talents to help change things, to, for example, publicize the impacts of climate change, conceptualize alternatives, and decelerate our technologically consumerist society.
  3. Social media allows a segmenting of audience based on topic. These audiences are pre-sorted and sitting in their seats 24-7 waiting for you to say something. This is an opportunity never before seen, never before conceptualized by academics. Clearly if you are magnetic enough, you could magically draw millions of people to the content of your research and teaching and spread illumination over far greater spaces than ever before. You could do it in a single tweet.
  4. There is some concern in personal academic branding that public attention must be matched by legitimate and rigorously researched publications in top journals and by reputable academic publishers. It makes sense many time to work with an existing network in which you have recognition, power, and influence. However, it may also make sense to break free of convention and start something truly new. If you truly believe in yourself, in your idea, then go for it one hundred percent. Why not a poem? Why not a YouTube video? Establish yourself first, so you don’t overbalance your Kardashian index. Then experiment. Fuck convention. Grab attention.
  5. Internally, personal academic brands are already co-branded by their field, their method, their theory approach, their graduating university, their position, their colleagues, their supervisor, and so on and on. Academics co-brand their work with co-authors. Every citation is a link or hyperlink to another academic brand. Every time an academic’s work is cited, this is brand development and extension by other. Remember this if you forget everything else: managing your brand means making and maintaining networked connections for your brand the same way you make those connections for your self. You have a built-in audience. Don’t neglect them.
  6. Simplicity and uniqueness have been important elements behind the success of personal academic brand managers in the past. The marketing rule of the point of difference used for positioning appears to be relevant to the work of personal academic brands. Be your point of difference. Do not dissuade yourself from blasting ever upwards, like a blazing rocket leaving gravity behind, never ever looking back, as long as you do it based on the intense and paradoxically unified inner polarities of your solo point of difference.
  7. Titles are important. I think taking pride in naming things is important. Naming theories, as with Einstein’s relativity, Foucault’s self-disciplinary gaze, Dawkin’s meme, Bourdieu’s Practice or LaTour’s actor network theories appears to be important to the spread and use of academic theories and their related brands. CCT. Names matter in the branding game.
  8. Concision, staging, plot, and design elements may come to play important roles in the efforts of those who promote personal academic brands. Using videos on YouTube, apps on mobile phones, logos on books that spread to LinkedIn pages and Twitter feed, slogans on web-pages, and other graphical, visual, textual and even auditory brand cues may help academic brands distinguish themselves and establish their value in a crowded cultural marketplace of thoughts, images, and ideas.
    We can learn many lessons from the past and the present. We begin with Greek philosophers plying their trades in the marketplaces around ancient Athens. We end in the present and near future (your present) with netnographers crafting their message for a global audience on social media. We speculate at how design thinking might be applied to the future of scholarship, in massively online open courses, in open access articles and book published on blogs, in free webinars and massive conferences. Might academia be only a couple of decades behind the music industry, where music labels are now largely nonprofit enterprises enabling musicians to sell their live performances? Watch the business model of academia shift and transform. One thing I would bet upon: the value of strong personal academic brands.
    This chapter was structured as a series of inductive case studies used to create the foundation for a theory of personal academic branding. This theory relates core academic and theoretical identities to communicative practices and purposes. We have examined a number of academic brands, seeing each as a unique constellation of ideas, terms, locations, names, affiliations, and labels: brands that use other brands to brand and spread influence. In this analysis, branding in academia is a multifaceted act that is forever changed by the rise of the Internet and the advent of social media. Linking personal academic branding to the participative presence of the researcher in online social interactions, netnography is the first social scientific approach to deliberately require and structure the conceptualization of social research as brand communication, and the act of researching, writing, and sharing theories, ideas, and results as personal academic branding enacted through a range of channels including social media. What you do with this in your own work, in your own study, in your own public communications, will become the way you forge your own personal brand.

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