I read Hank Green’s “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” earlier this week. I’ve got a review coming for Wednesday, 10/17, but there’s so much I wanted to say about it that it didn’t fit in one post. I couldn’t even figure out how to string it together in one post, so these are the bits that have less to do with critical analysis and more to do with my reflections on the book, all of which kind of built from when I started reading until long after I finished writing this post. And they’ll probably keep going long after this post goes up.
While I wouldn’t say that this book really presented any new ideas to me, thanks in part to my own moment of being semi-viral on a small subsection of Twitter and the excellent speech Hank Green gave at the book event I attended, it still changed the way I was thinking. I’ve always been aware of the idea of the person-as-a-brand thing creators tend to do with their social media and the way that we all tend to be specific parts of ourselves when we’re online rather than our “whole selves,” whatever that means. I’ve even spent a lot of time thinking about it and trying to find a way to make my “brand” fit as closely with who I am that there’s little real difference. The problem is, by sticking to being myself, I’m actually losing opportunities to grow my following. Brands are simpler than people are. There’s a message to stick to and an idea to form everything around. People are more complicated and some of us like to just listen or observe before weighing in. I am a listener and I tend to save my words for when I think they’re important or valuable, so constantly posting and trying to stay “On Brand” is super difficult for me.
Beyond that, there’s the whole idea trying to fit your content to your platform, what content does well on a platform, how to generate an audience on whatever platform you’re on, and then how to stand out from all the people doing the same thing that you are. Twitter seems to be the preferred platform for most writers, but it isn’t really a place that we can host our content aside from the people who produce content that uses fewer than 280 characters. Most of us go there to connect with an audience and other writers, but constantly send them away from Twitter to view our content. We’re essentially trying to use a platform that doesn’t really support us, despite the fact that (at one point) Facebook literally had a way to post large chunks of text or specifically formatted text on the platform itself. I mean, I like Twitter better than Facebook so I get why we’re there (easier to generate a new audience, especially after the changes Facebook has rolled out and then changed over the last few years), but it makes it really difficult to be anything but a sound bite, so to speak. There’s limited room for expression of the self, just like there is on all social media, but it feels even more constrained on Twitter. Facebook has never tempted to me to distill myself down to 140/280 characters but Twitter is constantly challenging me to see if I can (this is an expression of how I feel about the platform, nothing else)
The thing is, you are who you pretend to be. If you distill yourself down to a brand that can fit into the space created by a single tweet or by a habit of tweeting throughout the day, morph yourself so you can fit into the social media mechanisms and algorithms, then you eventually become that. If you’re doing it on multiple platforms, then you become all of that. If you read yesterday’s poem, you can see I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I’ve talked with friends who work in social media and they’ve all said I need to “develop my brand.” The thing is, it’s super tempting. I have trouble connecting with new people a lot of the time, so the idea that I could find a way to be easily understood by people in a way that I also understand is super appealing. To be able to find a place I fit and have people support me because I fit sounds so great that it’s a constantly battle to hold myself back from fully committing to “Chris Amann: The Brand.” Because I could do that. It’s all a giant puzzle you can solve and I absolutely love puzzles. I could be good at it since I’ve got enough of an amorphous personality to pretty much fit into whatever space I want to.
But that’s a constantly battle. There’s no end to trying to stay relevant if you want to ride the social media train. There are exceptions, of course, people who managed to create their own niche rather than by conforming to the spaces social media creates, but that’s not really something you can plan on or prepare for. I mean, I’ve posted to this blog every day for nearly a year and I still have days with no views and struggle to break past the average of five or six views a day. Sure, I’ve had some big moments where I’ve gotten a lot of attention, but every single one of those has been from playing the social media game and leveraging other creators audiences. Or from that time I went semi-viral because it didn’t occur to me that Writer Twitter would go bonkers for someone who was willing to review books for free since it also never occurred to me that I could make money doing this.
I mean, this blog isn’t about making money. I specifically chose to not make money on this and had to actually do work to disable advertisements since I want this to be 100% about holding myself accountable for writing every day. I’m fine doing reviews for free since I want people to read good stuff and I know a lot of people who do great work but don’t necessarily have the money to pay for reviews and promotional services. Plus, I don’t exactly have a huge audience. I’d feel weird trying to charge people for reviews when 95% of the people who are going to see that review are their own twitter followers when they retweet my review.
All that being said, I still like social media and I’m still going to keep up my writing accounts because they’re a platform I can use for good things, advocating for positivity and kindness benefits from a platform of any size, and I can express myself however I want to on the internet. I may struggle to avoid reducing myself to a brand and I may get a little too addicted to feeding my anxiety by constantly scrolling, but I still think I benefit more from social media than I suffer from it. I’ve made some good friends, I’ve gotten exposed to some amazing media, and there’s a sense of community that springs up if you give it the time and space to grow. A lot of this same stuff can get used in crappy ways to spread fear and hate instead of kindness and connectivity (and indeed seems to be used primarily for those things), but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. We just have to work a little harder.