Being loud, controversial, and in-your-face is not how you build a strong personal brand.
It’s easy to be fooled into thinking this when Instagram’s algorithm rewards exactly that: showing up frequently and sharing polarizing content to spark engagement. Those who are playing this game get served on our feeds more, which leads to this line of thinking even more.
If 2 + 2 = 4, then according to Instagram, being loud + controversial = online popularity.
But gaining online popularity is not the reason for having a presence online.
Think about the people you genuinely admire. I’ll go first: Seth Godin, James Clear, Brianna Wiest.
Would you ever call them “loud”? Could you imagine them going on Instagram Stories and ranting about some hot topic of the month?
No. They’re quietly doing their work—work that matters deeply to them—and simply sharing it in a public way that can be noticed by others.
Personal branding is simply that: the confidence to use your voice. And the scary question we have to ask ourselves is, do we think we’re worthy of having a voice online?
Often, behind our proud statements of, “I don’t care about showing up online!” is a lurking belief of, “What if my voice is not worthy of being shared online?”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, I was still at Shopify. I’ve shared many times at how immensely grateful I am that I was, for no other reason than having Tobi’s rationally optimistic lens of the world grounding me (and the rest of the company) during those hyper-loud, hyper-controversial, hyper-panicked times.
My running thought all of last summer was, “the world needs more Tobi”.
While the news outlets spewed irrational pessimism, he continued showing up as our company leader with rational optimism. We had our clear mission of spreading entrepreneurship through online commerce, and the pandemic was our time to double down on that. (Not to get caught up in the-world-is-ending narrative.)
The same juxtaposition was happening on my Instagram. My feed was getting louder and louder with fear and controversy, replacing any ounce of optimism that may have existed. And yet, my private DMs painted a different picture. I was connecting with so many other rational optimists who of course felt discomfort in everything happening, but who also didn’t let it suck the life right out of them.
It felt like there was one type of conversation happening in the public forum, and a very different type of conversation happening behind closed doors. Everyone’s experience during the pandemic vastly differed depending on which room they were in and who was in that room with them. Isn’t that what privilege is at the end of the day? The room in life you end up in?
I was privileged to be in a room with some of the greatest Shopify minds. With a network of highly spiritual minds from my time at Mindvalley. With my wonderfully optimistic clients.
I’ve never really reflected on this, but I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I launched my website and newsletter at the end of 2020. I was the hypocrite saying “the world needs more Tobi” and yet, here I was, not sharing my own rational optimism online.
I vividly remember being angry with how the loud and controversial voices were creating so much unnecessary drama in the world. Did you feel that too? Like you were watching a shit show of noise for a full year?
What we needed was more diversity of voices online. We needed more of the quiet and calm voices online. The ones who didn’t engage in fear mongering for higher ratings. The voices that weren’t rewarded by the algorithms.
I don’t know about you, but over the past year I’ve stopped accepting what the algorithm serves me and have gotten more intentional with hunting down the people I want to hear from. I’ve emptied my podcast to a handful of people’s voices I want to hear from. I’ve completely flipped my Instagram following from influencers I felt like I needed to follow to smaller accounts that shared meaningful messages.
We can curate our own rooms online. Fill them with the James Clear’s and Brianna Wiest’s of the world.
Who do you follow that you can recommend? I would love to follow more of these kinds of prolific thinkers.
And… just planting a seed here… what if you are one of these prolific thinkers? Please don’t be selfish and keep your magical lens of the world away from me! I need more of it. The world needs more of it.
The idea that we have to be loud is what keeps many of us out of the online world. It’s why personal branding scares us. We see how it’s being done and we want no part in it.
But diversity only increases when those in the minority have the confidence to show up alone, trusting that others will follow. It’s the difference between thinking “no one else is like me, so I’ll just sit here quietly” and thinking “I have to show up so it gives others like me the permission to show up too”.
If I can contribute to paving the way for non-loud, non-controversial, and non-fame-seeking thinkers to show up online, then all of the angst I’ve felt doing it myself will be oh so worth it.