Inventing Anna is a dramatised docu-series available on Netflix. It tells the story of fake socialite Anna Delvey (Sorokin), who got wealthy New Yorkers out of pocket. And, I think, a solid lesson about building a personal brand.
It has all the hallmarks of a great drama: a gripping story, characters you can’t help siding with, characters you want to see fall, blurred lines that make you question who’s the real villain here, toxic relationships and downward mental health spirals. All neatly packaged with a great aesthetic package, of course.
It’s an easy binge, but not one that is free of intellectual depth. “Anna Delvey” could easily have been my friend, bonding over our opinions of the art world.
A lot I dislike only becomes apparent as time goes on, but I can relate to some characters she seduced. I would so watch a spinoff with Nora and Val (both entirely fictional, so they could easily have their own AU series. Please, Universe 🙏🏻)
Authentic personal brand in the age of Instagram
Something striking was how New York society was such a hall of mirrors that Anna was praised for her authenticity. It’s likely these red herrings were dropped intentionally, but it’s a topic I’m passionate about so I noticed.
A while back, I read an article about the comeback of “Casual Instagram” in the wake of TikTok’s popularity. I disagree with the author’s comparison with the early 2010s as nostalgia for an era that never existed.
I was there in the early age of Tumblr, when “poser” was the greatest insult you could hurl at someone. Even though we were mostly kids of an age where finding yourself had to mean trying on all sorts of identities first.
Curation is about intentionality
We were all hyperaware of fakeness, trying to fit in with an in-group and avoid social shunning. The unhinged IG of empty peanut butter jars was as curated as things are now. It was just curated through (seemingly) raw honesty. It sold relatability in coloured filters and grainy snapshots of life as it happened.
Now I hold a smartphone whose camera equals the quality of my DSLR from the late 00s. We are also older, and our lives are different, themselves more curated. Perhaps it’s our societal focus on making it all instagrammable. Or just what happens as you grow older and settle down.
Casual Instagram can exist, but it’s never going to look like early Instagram because the world doesn’t look like the early 2010s anymore. It’s like the golden ages in one of my favourite films, Midnight in Paris: things always look better when you look at them in retrospective.
Anna’s personal brand
Inventing Anna shows some snapshots of the casual early Instagram: selfies at parties, mundane moments and photos of places. Albeit such that paint a social dreamworld the average person can only taste vicariously.
Was she ahead of the curve, curating a lifestyle brand before influencer culture was a thing? Or was she simply doing what everyone else was doing? Just she did it as a wannabe entrepreneur socialite while the journalist’s friend embodied the ditzy relatable broke millennial?
The paradox of engaging in social media is that you have a personal brand just by virtue of existing. People perceive you a certain way even whenever you leave the house. For most of us, the knowledge you are being watched by others influences how we behave. Very few people aren’t influenced by the deeply rooted and biological need to be accepted and liked by the tribe. After all, it used to be our only way to ensure our survival as a species. It’s powerful stuff.
5 Lessons about Personal Branding
Personal branding is the art and science of being proactive about how people perceive you. De-influencing and casual Instagram nail your mast to a specific ship just as highly curated as aesthetic instagram. So, here are 5 lessons about personal branding we can take from Inventing Anna:
Your personal brand is about your target audience, not you.
You are only in control of what you put out there, not what meaning people attach to it. Your brand is in the interpretation, so you are not your brand. The brand is you. It’s a subtle difference, but there’s a difference. “The brand is you” is about blurring the lines between personal and professional in order to create a personable brand that is relatable, appealing, and sets you aside from the crowd of people who offer your same service. It’s about doing away with the arbitrary ideas of what’s professionalism that our parents’ generation have. But you exist first and foremost for yourself, so you are not the brand. You’re so much bigger.
A brand persona you embody can be a powerful ally in social situations that are outside of your comfort zone.
This falls, in my opinion, under the realm of glamour magic, which historically was less about lipsticks and lingerie to transform you into a femme fatale, and more about hiding your true identity for protection. Likewise, our personal brands are a situational entity and not the totality of who we are. It can be helpful to create a distance between our core self and the social self we present to the world, so that we don’t take the interactions too personally when they don’t go too well. And if you are into witchy things, you can use items to mark that switch, like if you have to abide by a business dress code that marks the time you’re in work mode away from your free time.
Being referable is your greatest asset.
One of the biggest benefits of having a clear and memorable personal brand is that you become easy to remember and easy to talk about to other people. Anna’s scam hinged on being introduced to potential investors for her business idea, which is the normal way of doing things in the startup world. She was known as the girl who was opening an arts-specific Soho House-style members club, so she was introduced to people who had the money and the interest necessary to aid her venture. Her scam was effective because it was specific, and specificity made her look serious and legit because you need a certain level of establishment before you can run multiple ideas at once and not be seen negatively for it.
People connect to heartfelt stories.
I mentioned earlier how this story is so complex it’s hard to see Anna as the sole villain in it, and the whole story of her life is a key plot point for her lawyer and the journalist covering her case, but even Anna Delvey the “rich kid from abroad” had a sob backstory of her own, and people admitted to finding her likeable because of it. Scams take advantage of our human tendency to relate to others through empathy because we can’t help it, so they work. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather connect to people with good intentions instead, so you should consider bringing vulnerability into your personal brand.
Everything we do creates our legacy.
Perhaps the most poignant (and morbid Scorpio Moon in the 12th house insight) is that our choices today translate into our legacy tomorrow. There are a number of situations that in a completely fictional drama could have reasonably ended with the protagonist dying, and that got me thinking about how important our personal brands are.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t take care of things that belong to us and us alone, but when we are gone what is left of us will be our memory in the people who knew us. And that’s not limited just to our family and close friends. People we worked with, clients, and nowadays strangers on the Internet. Anna could have died Anna Delvey, ambitious entrepreneur in the art space, ready to take the stuffiness of the field by a storm, but she will die Anna Sorokin the scammer. Personally, I want to be remembered at my best, and that’s why I strive to live with intentionality.