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A Key to Building a Sustainable Online Personal Brand

Posted By Darren Rowse 10th of April 2013 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Recently I was part of a panel to launch a new book by Trevor Young called ‘Micro Domination‘.

In the book Trevor identifies a number of what he calls ‘Micro Mavens‘ – including people like Chris Brogan, Jonathan Fields, Marie Forleo, Chris Guillebeau, Trey Ratcliff, Pamela Slim, Gary Vaynerchuk (and he generously includes me too) and goes onto describe their characteristics and how they’ve built businesses around their personal brands.

The book is a good read – particularly for those starting out and wanting to get their head around the idea of building an online personal brand.

As I read through the list of Micro Mavens that Trevor identified it struck me that he’s actually put together a group of people who have a number of very common traits (many of which he outlines in the book).

The Power of Being Constructive

The most obvious trait to me is that the above group of people are a very ‘constructive’ group of individuals.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had both online and face to face meetings with most of the above group and many others listed in the book and in each case I’ve interacted with them I’ve been struct by how positive they are as people.

There’s a certain uplifting vibe about each of them in meeting them but when you look at what they’ve built online over the years you can see the trait again and again.

Day in and day out they use their time to build something that is useful for their networks, readers and followers.

  • The books and blogs that they’ve written have been positive and full of constructive advice.
  • Their tweets are largely positive and the communities that they form are largely positive and constructive too.
  • When they speak at conferences their messages almost always contain inspirational and useful ideas.

While from time to time they probably all have had a rant or have complained about something and they all are quite capable of bringing critical thought to what they write about…

  • They spend a lot more time constructing than being destructive.
  • They build more than they tear down.
  • They focus more upon the positives than the negatives.
  • They focus their energy upon helping those who interact with them to have positive outcomes

My suspicion is that this ‘constructive’ approach is probably a large part of their success over many years.

Destructive Personal Branding

This may all seem quite obvious – however as I pondered the group of people Trevor has written about I found my mind going back through the years to another group of people who took quite a different approach.

Many of those that came to mind rose to prominence in their niches quite quickly through using a more ‘destructive’ tactic.

They often burst onto the scene in their niches in a flurry of controversy, snark and personal attack – tactics that do often cause a stir and get the person behind them lots of attention very quickly.

The problem with this negative or destructive approach is that it is much more difficult to sustain over the long term for a couple of reasons:

Firstly for most people it is particularly draining to be constantly being negative. Controversy, snark and attack doesn’t really bring anyone life and isn’t something most of us can do on a day by day basis without it taking a personal toll.

Secondly creating a brand on the build of a more destructive approach makes it difficult to build a business model around it. While it is possible to build a following with such tactics I find it difficult to think of too many ways to build a profitable long term business on that. What advertiser would want to associate their brand with it? What product could you create that people would want to buy with such negativity?

In the long run these ‘destructive’ online personalities tend to attract others like them and something of a cesspool of negativity emerges around them.

Build Something Positive!

Building something ‘constructive’ is probably not the quickest way to build an online profile but what I find is that it is the key to building a more long term and sustainable online brand.

The rise to prominence may be a little slower but in time what you build is much better. In fact in my observation of the people mentioned above (and many many others) is that in time real momentum can grow when you’ve built something positive over time.

The accumulation of generously helping people over years and years can have a massive return in a business sense but on a personal level it is much more life giving back to you too!

The key lesson to me is to think about how you can build something that gives hope, that solves problems and that genuinely and generously serves others.

I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on this. I’m sure there are a few examples of ‘negative’ brands that have managed to succeed despite their approach and I’m happy to hear about them but I’d also love to hear other positive examples and hear about your experience of this.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. ScottALarrabee says: 04/10/2013 at 2:42 am

    Thank you for this. I agree 100%. I am trying to build a personal brand built on positive thinking and improving yourself and I appreciate your thoughts here! So true.


  2. Agree with all the points. Have been following the folks you mentioned… can’t say it is easy to be as good as they are though/…. :)

  3. I agree on both counts – it’s better to build a brand that encourages and inspires, and it takes time … lots of time. If fact, even when you see the numbers inching up and comments on the stuff you write increasing, it’s still all too easy to become discouraged because you just get – well, tired. The one thing that never fails to get me energized again is receiving a message from a reader who’s been inspired to take action because of something I’ve written. It’s nice when people like what you write, but unless it spurs them to take action, it really doesn’t mean diddly.

  4. Darren,

    As someone who just recently got their online platform underway this was encouraging to read! I’m big on surrounding myself with positive people and creating a healthy and happy life. I hope this is the vibe and sense of community I can build. It makes sense, who would want to learn from someone negative and destructive?

  5. I know controversy can inspire views and get links, but if it’s anything really, virulently controversial, it can easily produce more negative results than positive.

    People who hang out on your site long enough to read something they disagree with and leave an angry comment (or show up to argue with others in the comments on a hot topic issue) aren’t the kind of readers who become followers. And followers are the kind of readers most likely to turn into customers.

    It can be slippery weighing the short-term benefit of something that gets a lot of attention against the long-term benefit of attracting just the right sort of readers.

  6. This is excellent and I am excited to check this book out. Do you know when its coming out?

    Also, I feel as if you summed it up perfectly with this quote:

    “The key lesson to me is to think about how you can build something that gives hope, that solves problems and that genuinely and generously serves others.”

    That just says it all! If your not doing any of those than your missing the mark and probably missing a lot more. Long term always seems to work best in search engines as well. This is creating something organically and naturally that takes time and a process.

    Thanks for sharing,


  7. This is great! Too many people try to make a name by bringing others down, or knocking a business when they should be providing useful content to their audience. It’s easy to point out the mistakes of others but it’s building something of quality and purpose that will attract a real audience.

  8. It is so easy to make a personal brand online but to maintain it with constant growth and its propery image building is heck of the task. You must prove your brand viral and does not have an impression of being dorman even for a slighter time period. If your brand decline one feet it will take much time to get back to previous position. That is why one should be very particular about his online personal brand.

  9. Great post Darren. I am a huge fan of the guys above, Marie Forleo especially, whose Q&A Tuesday vids I await eagerly each week!
    I think they add positivity, a philanthropic attitude and they add so much value to us as their audience.
    I love these figures by far more than the cult icon following “fan girl” attitude seen in the blogosphere where cult is king. Proactivity, education and positivity wins by far ;)
    Oh, and I have hopped on over to pre-order the book, great recommendation!

  10. Dear Darren,

    I agree with you that « positive brands » result in long-term sustainability.
    Positive brand image inspires and connects people, nurtures strong emotional bonds and allows audiences to connect with the brand on a deeper level. Most importantly, it is the authenticity of a brand that counts (even looking at the group of ‘Micro Mavens‘ you mentioned ). But I suspect you already know this :)

  11. I found you point valid because i trust negativity feeds on negativity which is eventually self destructive and the opposite happens with the life of positivist.

    Thanks for sharing about MicroDomination here at your blogs – seems reasonably promising, I am looking forward to read it…

  12. Hey Darren,

    I think you hit the nail on the head.

    Helping people to achieve something worthwhile is by far the more rewarding. Being negative, outrageous and controversial may work for a while but people tend to get bored very quickly. That means going to even greater extremes to keep their attention. That’s a real downward spiral.


  13. In line with the previous article I just read. Be helpful because people will determine your worth. Couldn’t agree more!

  14. I agree on the whole, although I’ll also add that I’d rather read someone who shares the occasional difficulty or challenge they are having, over someone who is in 100% positive, cheerleader mode all the time. I’m not talking about complaining, but about being honest and relatable.

  15. Thanks for the Post
    I also have a brand in my Mind that i need to make it thrive in the Clouds.
    I will take the point (Build Something Positive!) seriously.
    Thanks Darren

  16. I hope to be one of those examples in the future of how to grow success through positivity.

    Long before I thought about blogging as a profession and a business, I made a promise to myself not to waste time rant or tearing people down, and that I would only write about things if I could do so with a positive slant. That’s my personal choice because the world already has so much negativity to bring people down. I didn’t want to be yet another dark cloud.

    Blogging about uplifting things also helps me stay encouraged and positive.

  17. Thank you for this advice. Like anything else in life, what you give out…you get back !
    The fun of writing a blog is at times mixed with trying to take in everyone’s advice and the confusion that leads to.
    Sometimes it is better to listen to a few, then a lot. Of course a dose of healthy common sense never hurts…
    Again thank you for your great articles.

  18. Needed to hear this today! I was thinking about posting a negative rant this weekend in retaliation (long story…) but you’re SO right. I don’t want to be associated with negativity and I’m sure my advertisers don’t either. Mahalo!

  19. Thanks for this post Darren. Positive brand is the right way to do things and in the long run will help you become successful. There are many who have made the negative brand name work. However like all bad apples in the barrel eventually someone or thing will remove it from the batch.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  20. I spent the better part of five years trying to fade into the background and be generally ignored online. I had all the requisite online profiles, but branding was not on my radar. Recently that’s changed a lot and posts like this are a huge help.

    I’m a positive guy – I try to focus on the positive in everything, even when it’s hard to find – but it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying negative things, being destructive about other brands or just plain ranting. People don’t respond to it – in fact a client of mine pointedly mentioned a blog post I had written that rubbed her the wrong way. It wasn’t the opinion I stated but how I stated it. A great reminder to look on the bright side of life :)

  21. I agree with building something positive. I’m a fiction writer. The topics I work with are psychologically dark, but the overall themes to the stories are positive. That can be a tough brand to build.

    • I can appreciate what you say. “psychologically dark, but the overall themes to the stories are positive.”? Does that mean “they all lived happily ever after or the characters learned some thing? I am trying to write fiction. Which for me is sort of like pulling my teeth. I know the stories are there but I have to really work to make any thing worth reading. Best of Luck Bob

  22. Thanks for sharing – great information. Interesting journey reading and learning about the individuals mentioned in Trevor’s book. I know Chris Brogan and he has done an excellent job building a strong community and truly believes in helping people. Loved Trey’s travel photos! This post is a keeper!

  23. I’m not so sure I get your meaning of positive and negative here. I’m not a fan of the whole ‘positive thinking’ thing as advocated by so many self help books. My outlook is more a benign realism. Benign insofar as I don’t go looking for problems to attack but realistic in that I’d like to remain willing and able to sort the wheat from the chaff. I’m not so sure there’s any value in sitting around visualizing where I want to be in 10 years and am far more concerned with positive action than positive thinking. But, and it’s a big but, I will always reserve the right to make what others may consider a negative comment. I dont see the harm in criticism ,either positive or negative, and personally would hate to live in a world where it was frowned upon or indeed outlawed. We really cant expect to live in a cocoon.

  24. I guess it comes down to who you’d rather spend time with. someone positive, or someone negative…

  25. Donna says: 04/11/2013 at 1:00 am

    Thank you for sharing!
    The books you recommend are always packed with helpful ideas.
    Have a great day,

  26. Great timing with this post! I was frustrated the other day and was going to slam out a Manifesto of my blogging frustration, attacking everyone (not by name) that pissed me off by treating me like cheap, slave labor. And then I stopped, because I wondered if this is really the energy I wanted to put out there about myself, my blog and my brand.

    Hell no!

    So I started a new eBook that will help dog rescue groups instead.

    Thanks for this great post!

  27. Reciprocity is one way that humans evolve. But not in the way that we expect something back from the community while giving. Value addition should be a gift and works best when well received by the other party and no returns are expected. Businesses and individuals are learning this fast and the gift culture is coming back again from the olden days into the internet age.

    The growth is usually exponential and its a snowball effect. When you give, it comes back manifold – and when you don’t expect it.

    A well written post Darren! Will come back to read this again!

  28. My build has been slow, but I’m completely in agreement with “build something positive”. My space on the web is about treating life with gratitude, the lessons learned and sustainable wellness. I don’t want to slander, rip or call people out – it’s not my nature as a person and would never translate as a model to build traffic (it might, but it wouldn’t be authentic). Thank you for this great piece and reminder to stay true and on track when building a personal brand.

  29. I totally agree with you!

    Personal brand help you to become successful and become “visible”.

    Great post, thanks for sharing with us!

  30. Thank you for the great post Darren! You always have inspiring articles that help improve our brand and business. Looking forward for more amazing posts!

  31. I can think of one person who has built her brand on being positive and being the greatest help she can be to her audience and that’s Carrie Wilkerson. I’m working on building a brand that is synonymous with service and integrity … if I’m not changing lives (in microscopic ways), then I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing now.

    Thanks for your post, Darren.

  32. What a great perspective to give. Yes, in general, most of the popular pins and bloggers out there get attention for bring DIY instructions and/or inspiration to others. But I can think of some negative brands out there, though they are not all from the blogosphere, I’m thinking the likes of howard stern, perez hilton, vice magazine when it started

  33. This is a wonderful reminder. It’s easy to come off intently controversial, negative and snarky when, in fact, the writer in question may just feel very passionate about her subject matter, feeling herself to be a voice of reason or a hero in the face of criminals of the common. That may be true in some cases but it’s good to pay attention to where you put your energy. Also, I do suspect that these days, people are getting tired of reading and hearing people carping for the sake of carping, and most reasonable readers can sniff out the difference between a fashionable 21st century brand of pseudo-cynicism and a very genuine concern. The shelf-life of vulgar cynicism for its own sake is about as long as that pint of milk a bachelor just can’t ever seem to make it through.

  34. Marcello says: 04/11/2013 at 10:52 pm

    Hi Darren,

    good thoughts! But i have to say that this really depends on the audience you are targeting. Like any othr product, when you brand yourself, you have to think about your audience.

    I have a very international background, having lived in US, UK and Italy which is where i’m originally from. This said, a positive approach will work best in country like US and probably you can a good success in UK too.

    But not in Italy. In countries like Italy (and I assume most of European countries) you need striking ideas that many times conflict with the common thoughts. This could be better achieved by a more controversial approach (rather then destructive or negative).

    Hope this helps,

  35. It takes years to build a good reputation,,so, one should promote brand with great care…
    I agree with both points Darren..

  36. “The key lesson to me is to think about how you can build something that gives hope, that solves problems and that genuinely and generously serves others.” I think you hit the nail on the head here Darren and could not agree more. Sure, being negative or critical will get more attention and draw more people in…at least in the near term. However, if you have a long term view in mind offering something positive that actually helps people is vital to bringing them back time and again.

  37. You see a lot of negativity in the IM world for example you probably have seen posts like “Why You’re Still Failing Online”. These are normally trying to use negative psychology to manipulate you into buying the newest push button software. This is a low demeaning tactic that while it may help you make one sale will not produce any trust or loyalty in the customer.

    With product reviews though I feel like some negativity is needed to let the user know that you will not just endorse any product for the sake of a commission. That you will be honest when a product just doesn’t work or do what it is supposed to do.

  38. Many thanks Darren (a) for the shout-out, (b) for being part of the launch event, and (c) for reading the book and extending the conversation around the shared characteristics of micro mavens. What you say is 100 per cent spot-on, indeed if I get to write a second edition, I might have to add an additional characteristic to the seven already mentioned in the book (with attribution, of course!) – The Power of Being Constructive…love it! Constructive is such a powerful word, it doesn’t mean they’re gushy or cloying in their positivity, just that they build up rather than tear down, as you mentioned; they’d rather move in a forward direction and bring people with them, which is why they each have significantly sized (and growing) tribes following and connecting with them. Thanks again! – Trevor

  39. Thanks for this post. At the moment I’m at a crossroads between personal branding vs building something bigger than myself. One other thing these “micro mavens” seem to do is build something useful therefore upping their own brand in the process. Interesting read!

  40. Wow…I felt like you were talking about me exactly with the snarky negative deconstructing thing. However, I have a blog design business that is booming because of the popularity of my blog.

    I can see your long term points about staying a villain, but I think if I turn nice or positive people will call me a sellout and get bored with me quickly. How can I transition?

    I did however just begin a that offers free design tutorials…so your article made me feel good about that decision.

  41. Thanks for the post Darren. I’m just getting my on-line presence started and ensuring a positive message is a critical aspect of my messaging that I strive for. Thanks to you and Trevor, for providing the names of successful people who embody this approach. With so much negativity in the news, fear-based marketing, etc. it’s really important to see examples of people who’ve succeeded doing the opposite. Ironically I read another article today with a similar theme.

  42. Really interesting tips. I too agree that being positive is much easier and better for personal branding then being negative.

  43. Thanks for sharing Darren,

    My personal philosophy on blogging is positive all the way. I can’t remember who said it, but ” If you can’t make the Internet a better place, why bother?”. This saying resonates with me. Presently I can’t think of a better blogger than Pat Flynn for positivity. He is always positive and helpful to everyone he can help on many platforms.

    With the huge rise of social media, people will undoubtedly gravitate to who is helping them and keeping it positive. I feel Gary V is spot on with where the web is heading in terms of customer service. If he’s right, positivity will be the only way to come out on top.


  44. Many thanks for share this one.

  45. Hi Darren

    Thanks for your wise words – I couldn’t agree more. There is far too much negativity in our world – it adds no value and drains the human spirit. What we need are words and actions that energise us – positive energy that enables us to thrive despite life’s challenges.

  46. It comes back to that good old fashioned saying: it’s nice to be nice! I truly believe that people who are kind, generous and genuine will always do well in the long term. This post is a good reminder to keep your digital presence mostly positive as it is all too easy to have a rant, especially on social media!

  47. Good read! Thanks for the booktip! Always looking for good and interesting businessbooks!

  48. Yes! Great observations. The power of positive thought and emotion is always stronger than the negative. I love to read articles like this where you are reaffirming and constructive. It’s so important for us all.

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