For a long time I’ve heard people talk about the trend of personal brands and professional influencers. I once heard a business executive say something along the lines of ‘If you don’t have a personal brand by 2020 you’ll be out of a job’.
I’m 9 months away from bankruptcy it seems. Things seem ok though. Although I do see some sliver truth to the cliché prediction. The rise of self-employment is pretty evident particularly amongst knowledge workers. Add the gig economy to that and it isn’t difficult to believe that soon enough we’ll all be working for ourselves (although as I mention in Tech Monopolies, the Uber driver isn’t actually really working for themself, they may not be employed, but it’s the rich getting richer from the workers hard work, the worker is left for automation as soon as possible). I also think it’s an over-simplistic and individualistic fortune cookie like prediction that ignores the fact humans are hugely tribal.
But ignoring the question as to whether this is true or not, I want to mention an implication of this that bothers me. I see this pattern whereby people become either very good or very passionate about something. Whether this is an expertise in a particular field or a passion for a broader topic or particular purpose. Then that person after receiving sufficient validation decides that they now want to make it. Suddenly their instagram is filled with videos sharing fortune cookie like statements reducing huge complexity into bite size quotes. They're now posting pictures from everything they’ve done.
And now they have a new job. The job of being a marketeer. And where the goal was to do great work or work for a particular cause, the goal is now growth. More views. More likes. More shares. The goal is to be seen. Where that person’s job was to write, or make, or help, their job is now to be seen to be writing or making or talking. The analytics and numbers are now the job, and that person has forgotten the actual job they were doing in the first place.
I know about this because I’ve found it tempting too. I’ve dabbled and copied others and after a few times of trying, I can say that I find it incredibly uncomfortable and intensely unrewarding. Time and time again I’ve been given the advice by people that I need to do more of this though. To make loads of videos. Be more visible online. Edit my talks into 10sec quotes. Producing, producing, producing. Being seen is the goal. Then I’ll get more ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ and ‘Fans’ and even ‘Friends’ you see. I see how this would benefit me. I see that I would have a bigger following, or more customers, or more money or that some things would happen quicker, but… I just don’t want to. I’ve tried recording and publishing regular selfie videos. I’ve tried doing some personal marketing. Some of it has worked. But I just don’t want to…
I could spend all that time reading a couple of books per week. Or I could continue to write about topics and ideas I care deeply about. Or interview people who stimulate me. Or create online courses that change workplaces. I don’t want to be a social media marketeer and self-publicist. I want direct relationships and conversations. I’d rather do all that work and not have social media accounts at all.
I fear that the ascension of personal brands, influencers, social media, solo-consultants, leads to a system where there is too much noise with too little care. Where people have long to-do lists of micro-jobs marketing themselves where they could be creating valuable things. More than anything, it’s perhaps this culture of comparison that worries me. Many people in this situation left the corporate ladder to have more freedom, only to find themselves a few years later chasing social media analytics. It ends up like that dark episode of Black Mirror where that poor person is trying to get her personal like score up. Gross.
I’m not saying I don’t want to communicate online. I do. I’m doing it right now. It is a part of me doing some of my purposeful work. But it is not my work. I am not a marketeer. The difficulty is how to do one with doing the least possible of the other. It’s not easy. I haven’t found my way. I will keep trying to learn the best fit for me, for my voice, for the integrity of the topics I work on, but for now, I will most likely lose out on numbers and followers because I’m not sending many messages to many people every day. Rather I’m choosing to send few messages, to a small group who have supported my work for several years now.
I’m sure I’m making the wrong bet if I want to sell more, or get more views, and ultimately make more money. But I’m making the right decision for my work to have intellectual integrity, for my lifestyle not to be inundated with fast communication and therefore to have a healthy mind, considering the topics important to me. I’ll certainly get to spend more time with my family which is cool. I don't know it's tricky.
Perhaps it’s the slow food of marketing. Instead of growth hacking perhaps we should be 'slow hacking'?! Or something like that…
Anyway. Enough of this blogging nonsense. I’ll go read a book.
Take care and be sure to like, comment and share this post. Haha.
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