Why I’m Glad I Haven’t Monetized Myself
2023-02-11 13:10:00 -0600

I recently watched a YouTube video (What Does It Mean to Monetize Yourself? by Money With Katie) that was all about personal branding. Not the “how do you brand yourself”, but rather the pros and cons of self-monetization and self-branding, and whether it should be aspirational for 25–45% of Gen Z-ers to be an influencer. And this video particularly piqued my interest because they’re pros and cons that I’ve been weighing for years, ever since I started this website and started building a mini-brand. So let’s dive into my true thoughts about influencer lifestyle, why this blog is so haphazard and small, and why I haven’t self-monetized myself.

Monetization is the act of turning a non-revenue-generating item into cash. So therefore, self-monetization is the turning of yourself into cash… AKA you are the product. Personal branding or self-branding is the conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of yourself. So when I say self-branding, I mean curating a perception of yourself for public consumption, and when I say self-monetization, I mean turning that personal brand into cash.

When I was in school, I learned that there were certain things I could do to “brand” myself quite easily. My resumé and cover letter should use the same fonts and have the same visual style and arrangement. I should add a tagline or description to all of my social media profiles that are very similar and have the same “feel”. I should use the same profile picture across multiple platforms with the same name so I’m very recognizable. And, I still do a lot of these things because, for the most part, all of this is easy. But these are just the beginning.

The truth is that, most of us have already monetized ourself in some sense. There’s this saying and belief that if you’re not paying for a product with dollars, then you are the product. AKA, the product has your data, your attention, and the company is selling, mining, or using that in some sense (cough cough, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc). This is pretty normal, and for the most part, it’s generally accepted by almost everyone in the modern, digital world.

However, there’s a second level. This is when you use your life (waking up in the morning, errands, household chores, traveling, family, etc) as inspiration and content that you give to the world online. Much of modern society in 2023 has now grown to associate the ability to earn massive amounts of money without lots of work with the ability to present oneself in consistent and authentic ways online. And there is an allure to all of this. There are stories of people in regular jobs (think teacher, nurse, office management, etc) who leave their 9–5s to become an influencer and they make substantially more money. It’s seemingly easier, less time consuming, and the payout is larger. This has become normalized. It’s now normal to show off your morning routine on the internet for everybody to see and criticize. And, it’s now normal for coffee companies to sponsor those videos… AKA give you money in exchange for drinking their coffee on camera. You get free swag and perks. More popular posts = more attention on you = more sponsor 💰 = good 👍🏼. But the truth is that all of this is hard to gain (it either takes months or years or you come up with a genius idea to hit it big), and easy to lose.

Want to take a two-week vacation? Better make some videos and posts while you’re gone, otherwise you’ll lose all interest. Want to break away from working with a sponsor whose product you never actually liked? Well, if that was your biggest source of revenue, then you might be scrambling to find an alternative. Make a mistake and accidentally post something a little controversial (or have your heart in the right place but phrase something wrong – put your foot in your mouth)? Then suddenly you’re canceled and you’ll never be popular again. Really want to post on something important to you, but it’s not “on brand” with your persona? Then you may not be able to pull off the transition elegantly.

As Money With Katie said, “it’s very easy to lose yourself in the blurred lines of a personal brand that you’ve monetized to the hilt. Where does life end and work begin?” When you are influencer famous, anything and everything you do is now an opportunity for content. And choosing which parts of that are good enough to maintain or grow popularity—importantly, the right kind of popularity—is taxing and exhausting.

As Emma Chamberlain once said, with a lack of healthy boundaries, “burnout is inevitable”. When your whole life is “on” (on camera, written about, photographed, etc), you can never really be “off”. And that’s a heavy mental weight to be shouldering all the time. AKA, being an influencer is probably not the greatest for your mental health, and it’ll be interesting to see in 50 years what happens to the influencer phenomenon and what the eventual repercussions of this sort of self-monetization lifestyle are.

There are a lot of incentives for working “for yourself” and becoming a gig worker or an influencer. There’s potential to strike it big and never have to work “for the man” ever again. But it’s also possible for what you’re doing to fizzle and die. Many of us (myself included) have wanted at some point in time to have fame and fortune. Being popular, wanting people to like me and follow me, wanting people to talk about me, etc. But I’ve already weighed the difficulties of trying to build a personal brand, and the truth is, I’ve probably already decided at some point in my life, that it’s just too much work. It’s easier for me to work “for the man” with consistent pay, health insurance options, a predictable schedule, and the ability to turn my work off at 5pm.

When I first built my blog, I realized that I really should have a theme. Writing about topics all over the place wasn’t going to resonate with niche groups on the internet as much as having a “travel blog” or a “tech blog” or anything like that. But, I didn’t want to be limited in the content that I write. I wanted to be able to write about anything in my life, and not feel like I had to make up stuff just so I could write about it. If I was actively trying to build a brand, that’d be the type of thing I’d have to seriously consider. And so instead, I went with the “whatever suits me, this blog is for me to have fun with”. And now, I have a LEGO page, a theatre page, a work experience and career page, and I write blog posts on literally whatever I think is slightly interesting enough to write on.

I also don’t have many readers. My partner and mom say they read my blog, but the truth is they’re probably just being nice most of the time. But that’s okay. My blog is for me. I don’t have negative comments in my Disqus threads, and I don’t feel compelled to change what I write or what content I output in order to suit what others want. And again, if I was actively trying to build a brand, I’d have to put more focus (and attention and stress) on all of that.

And lastly, there’s a lack of privacy when you’re exchanging your personal life for attention and cash. For example, now all of my (two) readers know that I watch/listen to Money With Katie. By writing this blog post, I’ve made the decision that I’m okay telling that to the world. But what if it was something more personal? What if it was seeing the inside of my house? What if it was allowing photo metadata to expose my exact location to the world on Instagram? What if it was making a video of me in my front yard, openly showing the front of my home and my house number to the world? So much of our lives and data is already public or easily gathered on the internet… and being an influencer is just making more content for people to extract and expose.

For example, in the mid-2010s, a lot of celebrities found their nude or private photos leaked on the internet. How did the pictures get there? Well, for most of these cases, the celebrity (or a family member/friend) didn’t intentionally leak them or send them to someone who leaked them. What actually happened was online hackers targeted those individuals to hack into their Google and/or Apple accounts, where people commonly store photos. And the hackers knew which accounts to hack because they knew (from preexisting photos) who had iPhones and who had Android devices. And the hackers then viewed and downloaded all the photos and chose to do what they wished with them. Well, lots of other random folks also had Google and/or Apple accounts in 2014, and probably lots of other folks also stored private photos on those accounts. But those accounts weren’t hacked, and those photos weren’t leaked. Not because the other accounts were any less susceptible to hacks, but because the individuals weren’t popular enough targets. AKA, all the hackers on the internet didn’t care enough about them.

Well, becoming famous, even just as a TikTok influencer, makes you more likely to be a target. Hackers, data seekers, stalkers, etc are more likely to try to find out personal data about you, and being an influencer or being famous for selling yourself as the product has made a plethora of information for them to easily get.

So, to sum all of this up, should so many millennials and gen Z-ers want to become an influencer? There’s lots to gain by being an awesome influencer. Check out people like Emma Chamberlain that earned a (literal) million dollars in 2021. But there’s also a lot of hidden costs. Mental load and stress, willingly selling your privacy every day, having to deal with online praise, but also online criticism and hate, and having to be always “on” and trying to figure out what to post next. And, I really wonder if there’s a lot of societal benefit from having tons of influencers. Does having tons of influencers out there create value for society? There are influencers for good, such as (I believe) Money With Katie, or other people in the world that try to help people become better, healthier, and safer. But for the teachers and nurses that left their jobs to make short videos about their morning routines… they were probably doing a lot more good for society in their former job. And I know for a fact that I help the world way more doing what I do now, than if I decided to leave my 9–5 to build my brand and monetize it.

But all this, it’s just my opinion. But to be honest, my opinion is why I built my tiny little blog in the first place. And if it needs to be tiny in order for me to write what I want, when I want, without millions of critical eyes 24/7, then I’m okay with that.

Here’s that YouTube video I watched that was the inspiration for all of this… thanks for giving me lots to think about: