I just read this article by Sarah Lacy where she describes part of her journey into becoming a brand and then attempting to leverage her new positions. The pivotal paragraph for me was:
Sarah: That take-on-the-world morning, I was having coffee with Steven Levy, then of Newsweek, now of Wired, who challenged this whole idea of whether this “Sarah Lacy” brand was actually translating into things that mattered, like book sales, money, something real and tangible, or whether it was a just smokescreen of hype. And I granted his point. I’ve long been dubious of Internet celebrity’s staying power. It seems the Internet famous hit that moment where they’re on the Today Show, and just about to close a deal with ABC or HBO or pick the big money, you’ve-made-it acronym, but it never really materializes.
I’ve watched this happen several times since I entered the scene in 2006. Internet Celebrities attempting to take their game to the next level. The first, and most obvious example from the paragraph above being Amanda Congdon, formerly of Rocketboom fame, who went on to do Amanda Across America and then a derivative show for ABC where they attempted to emulate Rocketboom, but severely overproduced Amanda, stomping the life and fun out of the personality that she had brought to the Rocketboom anchor chair AND forcing 30-second pre-roll advertisements that had lots of people clicking off the site before they ever got to Amanda’s performance.
Another example would be Lisa Donavan (LisaNova), who went from YouTube to MADtv and then back to the internet. Then, there’s Ze Frank, who made up his own brand of show and viewer interaction, soared to immense popularity, deliberately quit his show after a calendar year and last I noticed, was on the lecture circuit.
So the question is whether the Personal Brand you’re creating “is actually translating into things that matter”. I touched upon this in August, 2008, in Conversion of “Cred”, but Sarah sums up my own personal experience here:
Sarah: But when it comes to stats, the synergy and the cross promotion hasn’t been as easy as it would seem on paper. I’ve been pretty aggressive about linking between things, and if you follow me here or on Twitter, you get a pretty clear day-to-day account of my life. Yet, I’m stunned by how many people read this blog, but never go to TechTicker. Or how many people watch TechTicker, but have no idea I write a BusinessWeek column. Or how many people follow me on Twitter, but still think I’m on staff for BusinessWeek full-time. Or– I swear to God– the number of people who know me from any of those platforms and say, “You wrote a book?” If my life were a reality show, you could insert a montage of all the times I’ve said “my book” in the last year and it would be a mini-series in length. Whenever I get recognized and someone asks if I’m Sarah Lacy, I smile and say yes, but then coyly ask how they know me. Because I’ve learned it’s different every time, and it’s never all-of-the-above.
What I’ve found is that people in general tend to cherry-pick when it comes to content on the net. There *is* no overall “Let me see what Bill Cammack is doing now”. Instead, it’s actually “Let me see what Bill Cammack is offering me that I’m interested in at this particular point in time”. Actually, it has nothing to do with ME in particular. It’s just that I happen to be talking about or showing them something they came to the table already interested in.
This is the reason why when it comes to your Personal Brand, there’s no crossover. People in general are interested in ONE aspect of your character or personality. Without something drawing them to feel like they want to get to know more about YOU as a person, they will NEVER find out about the other elements of your Personal Brand.
I believe it was Hermann Mazard that replied to one of my Twitter posts about Personal Branding with something to the effect of “Doesn’t defining yourself as a brand limit you?”. The answer to that question is whether or not YOU are limited as a person, personality or character. The reason I mention this is that Sarah Lacy is saying she’s a brand with multiple branches or elements. If you’re only willing to “advertise” one element of your brand, then “yes… It is limiting”. Otherwise, your brand is actually a COMBINATION of the different skills and qualities you’re bringing to the table. The only limit to your personal brand is YOU… and the amount of “YOU” that you’re willing to publicize.
However, as Sarah points out, there’s a difference between broadcasting several elements of your Personal Brand and each viewer or reader receiving all the elements you’re publicizing.
This became obvious to me rather suddenly, as I was hanging out at some party last year, in what I refer to as “mixed company” (people that don’t know each other, but know me). Someone that I hang out with every chance I get and that I also know reads my DatingGenius dating advice column was visibly and audibly stunned when this other person he had just met mentioned that I was an Emmy Award-Winning video editor. So, this guy that I’ve been hanging out with for MONTHS already and has been reading one category of my blog never ventured into any of my OTHER categories or looked at my sidebar, where it’s clearly marked, what I do, and what I’m into. 😀
That’s when it REALLY clicked for me that people cherry-pick. Personally, I’m the opposite way. Once I determine that I’m interested in one aspect of a person, I E-Stalk them until I feel I have a full grasp of who they’re expressing themselves to the internet to be. I Google them and look for them on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. What I’ve found when it comes to what people absorb or take away from the media I float out onto the internet is the exact same thing that Sarah states. They know me for ONE THING, and not the combination of things that I project/express.
Having said that, 😀 Before this particular article, my only awareness of Sarah Lacy was that Twitter blew up one day, talkin’ ’bout some chick interviewed the Facebook dude and asked him a bunch of questions that put him on the spot. This was accompanied by videos and other commentary. So I knew what Sarah looked like, I saw the video of her interviewing Zuckerberg, and I saw one or two other videos on the net of her speaking about that incident, and that was the extent of my “knowledge” about her. Essentially, had I met her in person, I would have fallen into the “oh, You wrote a book?” category of people.
I think that part of the reason for this is that this is a search-based culture, which is why Google’s doing so well. People want to know about what they want to know about when they want to know about it. They search for specific things, serially, and really aren’t interested in HOW they got the information or from whom. So if someone searches “Dating Women NYC” and hits my site, they’re not concerned about WHO IT IS that gave them this informaton. They’re concerned with the information itself.
This is why there’s no crossover. People can come to my site looking for dating advice and not care about social media posts, or care about social media and not production & post-production or care about text blogging but not videoblogging…. It’s actually even more specific than that. They can show up here looking for one particular topic and then not delve into ANY of my other posts on the exact same topic! 😀
I think that what this amounts to is “You can’t take it with you”. I had this discussion with Tyme White back in March, 2008. The question was, essentially, “If there’s a hostess (Eye Candy) of a show, and the show fails, does that become a negative mark on her resume?”. Tyme said “yes”, because the actress would be associated with a failure. I said “no”, because it’s clear to people that the Eye Candy has NOTHING to do with the actual content or production of the show. She’s merely reading a script, so that’s the extent of her culpability. As long as she looks good and can read as if she graduated from college, she’ll thrive regardless of a history of failed shows that she hosted.
Similarly, in response to Hermann’s question and Sarah’s personal observations, I believe that people cultivate several simultaneous and completely separate brands, under the “umbrella” of *A* Personal Brand. This is why a personal brand is not limiting… because you can make as many of them as you want. It’s also why you can’t cross-monetize. People that love one aspect of your umbrella of brands don’t give a damn about any of the other aspects.
IME, people that like my dating blog don’t care about my social media blog. People that like my social media blog don’t care about my videos. People that like my videos don’t care about my bike. People that like my cycle stuff don’t care about my video editing content. People that like my video editing content don’t care that I hang out with a bunch of chicks all the time. People that like my photo sets don’t care about what I do to get money…..
So, ultimately, it comes down to how “sticky” your fans are. There’s no guarantee that you can say to your dating blog fans “Hey! Check out this social media post I made! 😀 ” and that they’ll actually look at it. ‘Matter of fact, there’s no guarantee that you have ANY ability to persuade ANY of your viewers or readers towards doing anything at all. Sarah pointed this out, and I think her point is valid & documented:
Sarah: I’ve written before that one of the advantages of the Internet– the relatively low barrier to click on something– is an advantage for building brands and gaining distribution online, but it’s also a disadvantage. People flock to you as a side-show, but don’t actually want to invest real dollars to support whatever you are doing. Honestly, how many of Tila Tequila’s million MySpace friends buy her CDs? There’s a currency in mild watching-a-train-wreck-fascination and even hate online, that doesn’t exist in the offline world in the same way. And, to date, it hasn’t translated.
I think the ‘side show’ analogy is perfect. People will come to see the bearded lady IN THE CARNIVAL, but if she releases a CD of Barry Manilow covers, nobody cares. They were fans of hers as a FREAK, not fans of hers as a talent that they wanted to hear/see more from. As soon as you take the freak out of the carnival, you hear the crickets at her performances.
Another issue is that you can’t discount the effects of the fishbowl / echo chamber. A lot of the internet fame that’s generated amongst “geeks” can’t be duplicated amongst “real people”. Let’s say you’re a reporter who talks about gadgets or tech stuff. As soon as you’re placed in front of an audience who doesn’t care about that, you’re finished.
On top of that, there are a lot of people that “follow” other people on the net because of that person’s access to information, as opposed to them actually thinking that this person has any “sticky” personal value. This is another reason why crossovers don’t tend to work out. People weren’t paying attention to that person because of their actual personality. They were looking at their physical appearance or leeching off of the fact that that person would get information about tech gadgets before other people. If you remove them from the genre or niche that they’re internet-famous in, they have no star power at all.
So, the song remains the same when it comes to MSM. You’re not going ANYWHERE unless you have some form of talent or personality trait that people outside of the fishbowl are going to appreciate and latch onto you for.
Meanwhile, there’s no cross-monetizing Personal Branding elements under your umbrella. You have separate audiences for each of your niches. The amount of TIME that you dedicate to maintaining your internet presence will determine how many of your branches you can cultivate simultaneously.
This year, 2009, is going to be all about Personal Branding and positioning. It doesn’t help you to have 5,000 Twitter followers if you can’t get a job from ANY of them. It doesn’t help you to host a tech gadget show if your aspiration is to be an actual actor/actress. It doesn’t help you to create social media destination sites if nobody wants to socialize with YOU, or, more importantly, with EACH OTHER.
The game’s going to change this year. Live Broadcasting & Character Development are going to be the route to developing Passionate Viewers and consequently “sticky” Popularity / “Cred”. Just like rap music, internet video has gotten to the point where ANYBODY can get on the mic. The only way you’re going to successfully cross over and gain traction outside of the fishbowl / echo chamber is by demonstrating UNIVERSAL value.
As opposed to the sum total of your branding efforts, your position & success in 2010 is going to depend on the branch(es) of your Personal Brand that you invest your time cultivating and demonstrating to people that you’re a viable, universal talent that can make it to AND THRIVE IN “The Big Show”.