The Perils & Promise of Internet Fame

The positive response I got to my article in Fast Company surprised—and overwhelmed me. It took several days to handle the response. It also got me thinking about a common marketing misconception: that internet fame is something to covet.

Before you pursue it like a squirrel going after a nut in late fall, consider that all internet fame is not equal.

You might go viral. However. Unless you’re lucky and the event is closely related to what you’re selling, most time going viral is a modest blip that often doesn’t lead to measurable results. Internet fame does not always equal financial success and not all types of internet fame are equal.

There are three types of internet fame:

  1. Viral memes
  2. Platform stars
  3. Platform makers

When you think about internet fame it’s easy to think about those viral memes that take over or “break” the internet.  Think: the blue/black or is white/gold dress, ermahgerd girl and the left shark. Most fall under the funny or silly category while others become controversial. Generally, these memes don’t do the creator, or the person featured in the meme much measurable or lasting good.

The second type of internet fame is the platform star who generally rocks one channel really well, for instance youtube or Instagram. A platform star can create an account that can easily number in the hundreds of thousands of fans. Despite large audiences, most channel stars struggle to pay their rent with these revenues.

The third type, platform makers, is often a much slower build because it's based on adding value. Think of examples like the blog post turned phenomenon The Crossroads of Should and Must. This kind of fame is most often an extension of hard work in real life. Platform makers focus on creating value rather than a shallow metric of Likes or Followers. When you’re thinking about what does well on Instagram, you’re thinking about making that platform successful. When you thinking about delivering value you you’re focused on how to make your customers or audience more successful. Those are two very different things.

Internet fame, grown over time can prove successful, but it all depends on what you build that fame around and how you use it once you have it. 

Useful Internet Fame

There are four things you need to do in order to become a platform maker. 

First, it’s going to take a bunch of effort, probably the Herculean sort. Be ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work at your keyboard until your fingers and brain hurt. Garnering attention isn’t easy, especially attracting the right kind. You’ll probably spend far more time working on your craft than you anticipate. Creating something that is beautiful, insightful or meaningful, changing people’s careers or well-being takes a lot of effort. This can easily take hundreds if not thousands of hours. Even a blog post or podcast can easily take half to a full week’s worth of effort.

You can just ship superficial, hastily put together work over and over again but it may not give you what you're looking for. Don’t believe the hype that you can quickly and easily achieve success with a minimal amount of effort, it's an internet fame unicorn. Lasting success takes time, concentrated, focused effort and stellar work.

One of the best example of hard work leading to something wonderful is Sandi Metz who has always been focused on creating excellent work above internet recognition, though she now has it in spades. If you’re not familiar with her, just google her or check out her Twitter mentions and you’ll see what I mean. 

In order to achieve anything meaningful with the attention you’ve garnered, there are still three more things you need to do: 

- Get the right kind of attention

- Capture the attention once you’ve got it

- Build it into something sustainable

Becoming a platform maker isn’t easy, but it can be highly valuable to your career.

Despite all this talk about internet fame, there’s one more thing to note.The reality is, a huge audience isn’t actually a prerequisite for business success. Often a smaller, but highly engaged audience is enough. Aside from working hard to make well done creations of whatever ilk you choose, a more localized awareness or owning a niche is a far better strategy than aiming to be super well known.

Wherever you choose to put your focus, it all comes back to others. Rather than focusing on internet fame, focus on adding value to real problems that people want solved. When you have a positive impact on the lives of others, you'll have all the attention -- and business -- you need.