Alternate Title: Your House Won’t Clean Itself
Alternate Alternate Title: Communities Don’t Have Roombas
There is a saying that we have in the design industry, and it goes something like this: branding is everything. If you google this saying, you’ll get well over 44 million hits as of this post, and for good reason. Branding really does make or break a company, person, or product.
Branding is one of those topics that everyone likes to talk about, and it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, but many people don’t really know what it actually is. So for those of you who don’t know what branding is, here is a succinct definition:
Your brand is owned by your customers, the people you work with, and anyone else who has an impression of you. Your brand is other people’s perception of what it’s like to do business with you, work with you, or be with you.
Nothing is more important than your brand, because it’s what defines you, regardless of the work you do. […] The essence of building a strong brand is simply this: keeping your promises and creating great experiences for others.
[…]You literally have as many brands as you have customers and people who have an impression of you. If those impressions are bad, or if you don’t keep your promises, then your brand is weak. (source).
In other words, your brand is how you are perceived as a person, company, product, or organization. It’s what people think about when they think of you or your services, products, etc. It’s literally anything and everything you ever do, say, produce, or put out into the world.
Your branding is literally everything, and companies are made and unmade based off of the accuracy and efficacy of their brand.
“But what does this have to do with me?! I came here to read about Pagan and polytheistic topics, not about design!”, you are probably thinking (because I have branded my blog to be about those topics specifically). Thing is, branding effects you, too. You as an individual are also a brand.
Don’t believe me?
If you have a blog on the internet and you talk to people- whether it be on Tumblr, WP, FB or in forums, you have a brand. How you interact with people creates an expectation about who you are, what you stand for, and how you treat others. If you consistently answer people bruskly and harshly- you will be branded an asshole. If you smack people over the head with “True polytheists only do XYZ”, you will be branded, possibly, as part of the Piety Posse. If you post ahistorical stuff as canon, you may be branded as someone people can’t trust. And so the list goes on.
We are all individual brands because our interactions with others creates a perception about who we are and what people can expect from us. But there is more to it than just that. Our communities have brands as well. And I’m pretty sure we all know it on some level or another.
To test this out, I want you to take a minute and think about the various sects of the Pagan/polytheist community. Think about Wiccans and Heathens, Hellenics and Kemetics, Ceremonial Magicians and Canaanite polytheists. When you think of all of these groups, what comes to mind? Whatever impression you’re thinking of is the brand that each of these communities has made, intentionally or otherwise.
Each person is going to have a different impression of each community. This impression will be based off of a number of things: personal interactions with people of the community, things that they have heard through the rumor mill or hearsay, personal biases towards certain religions or religious sects, etc. But usually, given enough time a trend will emerge, a stereotype if you will. This stereotype, this brand can make or break your community and how successful it is.
And its something we should be paying more attention to.
I’ve seen people lament that their community has bad PR. “Everyone thinks we’re a bunch of assholes” they’ll post. “Why is our tag filled with jerks?” they’ll cry. And every time I see these posts, I want to ask in return: “Well what have you done about it?”
You see, branding will happen whether you try to control it or not. But all of the best designers know that branding shouldn’t happen by accident. Branding happens on purpose, by design. That’s why people hire us- to help push the brand of a company, person, or product in a particular direction. And if you want your community’s brand to change, you have to play a role in making it happen. And when I say you, I mean you reading this right now. When I say you, I mean all of you. It takes everyone working together to make consistent, lasting change.
The pagan community has a really bad habit of whispering to themselves about how someone’s bad behaviour is ruining it for everyone else, but then I never see these people actually do anything about it. You have to actively combat the bad stuff in your community and replace it with good stuff in order to make an active change in your branding. In the same way that your house won’t magically clean itself, your community won’t magically clean up it’s act on it’s own, either. You have to actively destroy and remove the bad apples that are in your community tree. Just like the NTRW fighting isfet each and every day- making a community’s brand better requires consistent work. It’s not something you can do every few months and expect success. It’s not something you can put onto one or two people and expect success. You have to all work at it all the time. Otherwise, those bad apples will crop up again, and your PR goes down the drain.
If people think that your community is filled with sexist jerks, the only way to change that is to find a way to remove the sexist jerks from your community. Whether this be through distancing yourself from them or flat out removing them from the community (this isn’t always possible). If the loudest names in your community are assholes, then it shouldn’t surprise you that people will begin to think that you’re all assholes. And the only way, again, to improve the PR for your community is to shout louder than the biggest names or to denounce the behaviour that they are exhibiting.
In other words, if you want your community to improve, you must actively work to improve it. Trust me when I say that passively ignoring horrible people in your community doesn’t work. The Kemetic community proved this last year when a bunch of racism began to crop up on various forums. On the surface, it may not look like it made much of a difference, but I assure you that people paid attention. And because of the passivity exhibited by many of the forum administrators, people have expressed discontent and a lack of trust in these groups.
These groups had their brand weakened (because branding is built on trust, which is built on consistency) because they refused to take an active stance against racism in their ranks. Many Kemetics lost faith in these groups which resulted in a number of things- from membership loss to no longer recommending these groups because racism seemed to be actively supported by the administrators.
And that’s really the caveat to a lot of this. You don’t have to actively be a dick in your community to appear to support dicks. All you have to do is remain silent, and no one knows the difference. There is a phrase that says “guilty by association” and it is apt in our communities as well. If you don’t actively speak out against things that you don’t want in your community, people will begin to assume that you are in support of this type of behaviour. And so the behaviour will persist, and the community becomes associated with the behaviour that appears to be supported- regardless of whether it actually is or not.
Perception is everything. And everything is branding. If your branding sucks, your community is going to suffer and you shouldn’t be surprised when you get lumped in with the loudmouth who is also in your community who also happens to treat people like crap. In addition, if you link to people who are jerks, you are essentially supporting those people by giving them views, and you shouldn’t be surprised when you get lumped in with them as well. Guilty by association is pretty common in all sectors of humanity, and if you don’t want your brand infected by people who are scum, you have to learn how to distance yourself from said scum.
Branding is everything. And if your branding is lacking, I recommend you take a hard look at your community and figure out what exactly is going on that is causing people to have that impression about your religion. And from there, I encourage everyone within the community to take action to create the type of community you want to exist in. Because that is the only way that anything will ever change.
How often do you think about the branding of your religious community? Have you ever worked to change people’s impressions about your religious community? If so, what was the result?