Today, a post by my online friend Ali generated a lively exchange where all the participants agreed on one point: how we were all fooled by the idea of turning our online presence into a brand. I was surprised by the instinctive nature of this collective refusal, like a second nature kicking in as soon as the topic arises. Ali wrote:
My personal blog is my personal blog. I write whatever I want and won’t care if you think blogs should only be for one subject.
After liking his post, I replied:
One of the greatest mistakes we’ve ever done was to fall into that trap that we should be promoting ourselves as “brands”. You know, with all the ‘create a persona’ that would reflect your best work on social media and the rest of the crap. Fuck that.
Brandifying my online life was a mistake
Can’t precisely recall when the faze started, though I vividly remember how during the production of my debut album I fell for this absolute bullshit of an idea. Can’t even assign blame to someone in particular because nobody convinced me, I did it to myself.
What makes my choice more baffling is that, even when the word influencer didn’t exist, I’ve always disliked the same type of public figure. Back then, it was people who were projecting a successful persona, obsessively focused on one thing. That thing, repeated to death, would become the key aspect making them recognisable and ultimately build their brand. A single-topic identity revolving around a job, their output on social media reflected the same push, consistency and reiteration.
Nevertheless, in late 2016 I took an online marketing course, started following certain people in the audio field, watched their online material and read their articles and books. I was establishing a new online presence centred around my music production skills and writing a debut album, so I fell for the same honey trap. Unfortunately, that also implied wasting a lot of time on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I’d been into the one-person brand mantra for four long years. In the same Mastodon discussion, Silvia added:
It’s something I now see as an Instagram thing.
Which makes perfect sense to me, because Instagram is arguably the peak of this deranged approach. To cut the story short, I quit mainstream social media in August 2020, regaining sanity along the way.
On its own, leaving the dumb circus of people who keep convincing themselves they’re riding the algorithm was cathartic. The choice was a revelation: I felt free from a shitload of ridiculous shenanigans that had no point other than having me playing someone else’s game.
Words are crucial, therefore changing the lexicon was the first step. I stopped considering the web as a place where to find an audience. I quit using the word users, switching to people instead and rewrote my pages to reflect my true self.
Eradicating the marketing jargon was also paramount. I don’t produce content, I write and record sounds and sometimes lyrics. Songs, music, sound effects should evoke an emotional reaction and content doesn’t reflect any of that. The commodification of art has been overdone already, corporate conglomerates don’t need small actors to be part of it.
I refactored my website. In line with my long-time interest in degrowth, I ditched Wordpress opting for a static site instead. The choice alone caused a shrink in size by almost 90%. Then, I removed the obligatory redundant huge headers featuring wasteful big images (impactful!). Stopped looking for the perfect elevator pitch because I gave up the idea that I should be selling something at all costs. I joined the Indieweb.
Since I don’t like being spied on, why whould I do the same to others? I deleted my Google Analytics account and wiped its code. I don’t pry on people who read my site, what’s even the point? To ride the SEO?
No comments on the site. I don’t need to show engagement to prove some point, I prefer private asynchronous communication. If people have their websites, they can use webmentions to reply and exchange opinions. Or even better: they can write plain old e-mails through the easy link at the footer of each post.
I wrote a short manifesto collecting some of my principles.
A few years ago I wrote a free ebook and made it available on this website. As a stealth remnant of my brandified days, the download was still tied to a small form where people would give me their e-mail address and silently being added to the newsletter. All they wanted was to read a free ebook but I still subscribed to that model of fishing users. I removed the form and left a simple link, no strings attached.
The work isn’t done yet. I’m sure I still have bits here and there that I hadn’t noticed. Get in touch if you find one.
I accept the fact that I’m never going to understand why I fell for this awful concept. But, as with every failure along the way, I prefer to focus on something positive. Building a more authentic self online and offline is an example and the very Mastodon debate that prompted this post is proof that it works.
Leaving the idea of a permanent fake perfect mask brought me closer to a genuinely caring — and openly prone to mistakes — real me.