On social media, personality is the new brand

Hey, it’s me. I’m sorry for going AWOL for so long, but I have a great excuse.

My company, Gold Miner Digital, has gotten to the point where we’ve recently won business over the likes of VaynerMedia. Yes, Gary Vaynerchuk’s company.

Along the way I’ve become a paid speaker, built a home gym, traveled a decent amount, picked up tennis (I’ve been missing out - what a fun sport!), and slowly have been learning how to fly fish from my father-in-law.

It’s been an incredible ride these past 10 months, and unfortunately my writing time has taken a back seat to everything else. But, there’s no time like the present, so let’s jump into this edition of The Social PHD and one of my favorite subjects: why you should be focused on personality instead of “brand” on social media.

Personality is to social media what brand is to marketing

“Brand” has been one of the more polarizing words in business for decades. Like Santa Claus or Tupac’s death, some believe in it, some don’t. But when it comes to social media, your brand – in the traditional sense – doesn’t really matter.

Here’s why:

  1. Branding is old news. Like, Don Draper old. I’ve worked with over 100 companies and not once has a client’s brand guidelines been helpful in developing an effective social media presence. In fact, I’d argue they’ve mostly only gotten in the way. But that can be its own article for another day.

  1. If branding was the solution, then why do so few brands ever generate meaningful consumer interest online? After all, there are far more prosperous brands on Earth than there are successful brands on social media.

Clearly there’s something else going on.

Those brands that have generated meaningful consumer interest online have mastered what I call the Secret Art of social media: personality.

My thought process here is incredibly simple:

We trust those we like. And we like people who are similar to us.

So, in order for our brand on social to be trusted (i.e. worth following, listening to, and amplifying) we must first build a brand with a character that reminds our target audience of themselves.

We can think of this as creating a personality that moves the brand away from the commercial plane and closer to the “people like me” type of tribal connections we have been curating online for the past decade.

Much has been said about Duolingo, but this is their secret sauce. They were one of the first brands to position their strategy around the idea of making their social media content seem like it’s coming from a creator instead of…you know…a “brand.”

“I reevaulated our [initial] failed strategy and pitched the idea of our mascot being a creator himself. At the time, it was almost a sense of satire that a big green owl could participate in internet trends and be an influencer. From there, we really see each piece of content we create as a way to tell the Duolingo story in a non-traditional way. You get to experience our company culture, a flavor of working for a big green owl, and ways a language learning app interacts with the world.”

- Zaria Parvez, Global Social Media Manager at Duolingo

The Duolingo team nailed the transition from a lifeless, failed strategy that looked like every other brand on the internet to a personality-driven strategy.

Defining your personality is simple, but not necessarily easy

For those of us who patiently (and sometimes painfully) endured the inauthentic, heavily-filtered influencer age of social media, we are now entering our golden age. Or, the age of personality.

Gone are the poolside travel influencers selling an unrealistic persona, replaced instead by compelling and real personalities. The pandemic may have played a big role in the sudden shift (nobody wants to see an influencer in your brand’s content sipping mai tai’s in Bali when they can’t buy toilet paper), but this was destined to happen regardless. Because nothing changes more frequently than social media.

Before we move into a couple of examples, let’s take a second to appreciate the differences between personas and personalities:

Which of these occurs more organically in people? Hopefully it’s pretty clear that a persona is akin to a social mask created to influence others’ perception, whereas personality is something you’re naturally born with.

Take Chris Gerbig, the Co-Founder and President of Pink Lily, one of the fastest growing online fashion retailers in the world. Chris hired me to coach him as he embarked on his social media journey with a goal of reaching 100K followers in three years. He got there in 7 months.

But it almost didn’t shake out that way.

When I started working with Chris, he didn’t know how to present himself or his ideas to the world. He’d achieved remarkable business and real estate success over the previous 10 years, but he’d done it all offline. Nobody knew him.

When we set out to define his social media presence, he chose “basic” as one of his personality descriptors. Not to pick on him, but “basic” doesn’t sell. Never has, never will.

Instead I pushed him to go deeper and we ultimately landed on a much better personality unlock: “not for everyone.”

You see, Chris came from humble origins but built a net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Anyone who reaches those levels of success has to be armed with an ironclad confidence. For Chris, this confidence manifests in strong beliefs around finances and a world class BS detector.

Fed up with all the business and real estate gurus on social media touting nonsense, Chris decided to bring his message of radical candor to the world. After all, he is someone who has walked the talk.

So, “not for everyone” became Chris’ personality northstar. His rallying cry. Every single piece of content originates from there. Does he receive a fair amount of negative comments when he showcases his mansion, his 50 acre manicured lawn or the trampoline park he built for his kids?


Does he care? No. He embraces it because he’s not trying to be for everyone. Chris knows what it takes to reach the highest levels of success and he’s not going to sugarcoat it for anyone on social.

Those who don’t like it can find someone else to follow.

And, yes, Chris’ account is a personal account, but the practice holds true with brands as well.

Take Calculated Industries, for example. They make the least sexy product on the planet (construction calculators) but we doubled their previous 13 years worth of social media traction in less than a year due in large part to our efforts on the personality side.

Our team’s research revealed that the brand’s core audience was what we deemed “elevated blue collar tradesmen.” These are people (mostly men – 95/5 ratio) who identify not as hammer swingers or grunts, but masters of a craft.

We built upon this insight in two important ways:

  1. We knew we needed to make it feel like the content was coming directly from a fellow craftsman and not a brand with the agenda of growing revenue. So, one of our core personality principles meant we’d never directly sell the product in content – we’d only show it solving real world problems that the brand’s target audience frequently encounters.

  1. Most tool brands speak to their audience like they’re stereotypes. Gruff, blue collar dudes covered in grease and grime. We identified a gap on social for these craftsmen to be spoken to more like scholars than Tim the Tool Man Taylor.

And so we developed a social media personality built around intelligence and quiet confidence.

Does this slightly different personality ever cause friction on social amidst this blue collar audience? Oh does it ever!

Look through some of the comments and you’ll see a lot of guys commenting (sometimes angrily) how they don’t need no stinking calculator because they either are A) so naturally smart or B) so proud in their ability to just roll up their sleeves and Git-R-Done without using math.

Remember the old stereotype about men being too proud to ask for directions? It’s kind of like that.

But what these people don’t understand is that this polarity is perfect for our client. It drives engagement and allows us to stand confident in our approach. We get to flex the quiet confidence in both the tone of the videos and in the comment section, which helps us attract the RIGHT people.

Notice the 206 likes on just a single comment in the comment section. This is the power of using the right personality to attract the right people.

Our strategy isn’t currently to convince the more traditional audience segment (although that could come in future years after we saturate our current target audience). Instead we’re selling tens of thousands of dollars of product to our narrowly-defined audience who are seeking to grow as skilled craftsmen.

And the personality we’ve instilled in the content works as a magnet to the brand.

A short, blunt conclusion

Personality first, brand second.

Personality touches every part of your social media efforts. So, if you’re not going to develop (and then consistently execute) a compelling one, your brand should not be on social. I’m dead serious.

Stick to more static channels inside The Sliver that don’t require as much thoughtful nuance: SEO, PPC, ads, etc.

Anything less is equivalent to lighting money on fire.

Until next time!