Self-motivation as a lever for personal branding

Last week, my music blog completed 17 years in existence. For context, it is older than my daughter and just a couple of years younger than my son 🙂

On some of the blog birthdays, I write a music industry update of sorts, if I find something interesting to write about. But most other birthdays, I just mark it with a simple tweet and Facebook update – nothing more.

I had simply tweeted that on July 22nd, when a Twitter follower replied that he was following it for over 10 years and how he shared a note about it to all in his family and friends circle because it deserved more followers!

That was a sweet gesture, but the point of it deserving more followers really made me pause and think.

Of course, he was pointing that out from the perspective of getting more people to be aware of something he gained from himself (in terms of awareness of new music), but see it from the point of view of how significant that followers number has become because of social media and the intrnet making it a very big deal.

I consider my music blog simply as a hobby; a hobby that I love indulging in for a few hours every week, week after week, for 17 years… and God knows how long 🙂 And I’m perfectly content with its existence in an obscure corner of the internet.

What used to be our hobbies before social media and the internet arrived?

I remember my hobby of collecting matchbox covers while I was a kid growing up in Srirangam, near Trichy. I clearly recall my classmate Vijay Sundar (I wonder what he is doing now, and where!) and I used to scour the roadside across the few streets in Srirangam looking for newer, unique brands of matchbox covers… those were simple, innocent days 🙂

It was much later in life that I realized that this was a serious hobby with a name: Phillumeny!

I also used to collect stamps while in school in Coimbatore.

But in both cases, very few people even knew about my hobby! And my own focus used to be not to collect a LOT of matchbox covers or stamps, but to collect more unique, interesting matchbox covers and stamps.

With no external validation about my hobbies, I sustained interest in them only based on my own passion and prerogative. The matchbox cover collection stopped when we had to move from Srirangam to Coimbatore, and the stamp collection stopped when we had to move from Coimbatore to Salem (my dad was in a bank, and we moved cities every 5 years or so!).

Nowadays, nobody sees what they do online as a hobby. I see a lot of people using Instagram exclusively to share their photos with photography being their hobby/pastime. Or sharing pictures of plants and flowers when gardening is their hobby. Or even comic books that they buy and read. But it’s hardly ever called or seen as a hobby even though it most definitely is.

The point is that there is a difference between indulging in a hobby and talking about it. The former is a personal indulgence for the sake of enjoying the process, and the latter is to share with the world (with whoever is willing to listen).

But what usually ends up happening on the internet and on social media is that the sharing part takes precedence over the personal indulgence and enjoyment because it offers instant, visceral reactions from others. And those reactions, by nature of being live and persistent, seem more interesting to hold on to over the quiet and personal enjoyment where you are the only participant.

If the online sharing is integral to the hobby (like my common-man music reviews; they exist in public and not in a private note with me), you cannot isolate the sharing from the personal act of indulging in the hobby. And this is where things get mixed up inexorably.

I view all this from the perspective of personal branding. The premise of my definition of personal branding is about online identity and not online popularity.

To be sure, for someone wanting to make their online identity their full-time profession (social media influencer), both could merge, and this is perfectly understandable.

But, for most people who do not think of themselves as social media influencers, merging the two makes a mess of everything. They end up obsessing over the metrics that the social media platforms show them to gamify the time spent on them… and we fall for them hook, line, and sinker.

Instead, the premise of my identity-based approach is to understand the why part more than the what. WHY are you spending time online? Is there something that you can gain from building your identity? How can you make it work for you, purposefully?

Ideally, this should be taught in schools so that children, when young, understand the context around whatever they would end up doing when they are older. But because social media is free, there is no education whatsoever. It’s simply monkey-see, monkey-do.

Forget hobbies. The very act of sharing anything online is a window to your world for others. Every single thing you share online creates a perception about you in various peoples’ minds – various strangers’ minds! It can be beneficial to you, or it can work against you. You have no idea when it would work for or against you. You don’t even have a handle on when people/strangers may stumble upon what you wrote online many months ago.

And the more you obsess over numbers (followers, Likes, Shares, Retweets, etc.) the more you’d try to do more of what gets you those numbers. It’s an addiction like any other. Eventually, you may be contorting and pandering to the metrics more than simply expressing yourself.

This happens a lot more common than you think, even beyond social media and the internet. Think about TV news channels and their mad scramble for TRPs/viewership. In order to sustain that, they look for content that would get them the largest number of viewers and anything becomes ok because of this pursuit. In the end, the chase for numbers subsumes their identity.

Coming back to my little music blog, I rarely look at numbers. I post almost every weekend and I don’t know how many people read my post. I know that there are about 6K+ followers on Twitter and something similar on the Facebook Page too, but I really do not look at any numbers on an ongoing basis.

So the only reason why I continue to indulge in this exercise week after week for 17+ years is that I personally enjoy the process of finding new music, listening to them, understanding my own feelings towards each song, the songs that appeal to me, why a song appeals to me, try to articulate the why in my own highly limited musical vocabulary (given that I have no training in music whatsoever) and upload them on the blog.

I don’t want a million followers – though, I’m human too – a million followers would be fantastic 🙂 If it happens because a lot of people like it and find some use in it, then so be it. But that’s never been my priority or focus, so I couldn’t be less bothered if it remains very, very low either.

Ditto with this blog too, or the many things I share on LinkedIn or Twitter. Sure, when something goes far and wide, I’m a bit surprised at the virality myself, but such occasions are far and few, and fairly rare. I also try to learn from some of those instances, to decipher the signals that could have made them so popular or viral, for me to understand as a communications professional. But there’s no point in using them to try to repeat such content. Because then, I’d be thinking like a social media influencer (which is not bad; I mean to say that it’s just not me).

Instead, my priority is to find things that make me think within the areas of my interest – all-things-communications: marketing, advertising, creativity, design, PR, social media, and so on. I find joy in the thinking, in the understanding of the why behind what I observe, and in articulating it all in simple, easy-to-understand language.

In a way, it’s just like how we share Wordle scores on Twitter/social media. Do we share it because of social validation? Hardly. No one is going to be impressed with those cryptic boxes that we share day after day. At best, it merely signals someone else that they have yet to do that day’s Wordle 🙂 We indulge in Wordle daily because it gives us a small window of time to exercise our brain – that is the reason why we do it every day. The sharing aspect has no bearing on our enjoyment.

Just like my music blog, instead of writing them down on a personal note, I choose to share them so that they could help at least some people. When it initiates a conversation on LinkedIn or Twitter, I gain from others’ perspectives and this adds to my understanding too. But the sharing is almost incidental.

I do look at the basic numbers in terms of the blog post readership. But it remains largely average with occasional highs of some posts. There’s never a massive hike in the numbers and I presume I simply have a small, dedicated reader base. Some posts go outside this base because they could be about something topical that has a broader interest.

We tend to seek inspiration from the outliers, generally. People who have done exceedingly well in some areas. So it’s natural to seek inspiration from people who have millions of followers or readers, but not everyone can have a million followers or readers and may not even know how to handle all that attention (and persistent chatter).

But if the inspiration is internal, it may be a lot more fruitful, personally. Researching to learn and writing to express myself are the two aspects that have helped me tremendously. It helps me look forward to each day with excitement.

I try to impart this in my corporate personal branding workshops too. The participants do not go on to accumulate thousands of followers or become influencers. They simply find a better process to shape perception about themselves using social media channels. I help them understand how to measure what is working and what is not, but that’s to understand their own powers of articulation and persuasion.