Friday Riff: Split Personalities and Atomized Brands.

How the Internet Helps us Express Every Part of Ourselves, and What that Means for Brands

Hey, welcome to the Friday Riff: Where I give you a stream of conscious on what I’m seeing; Today’s Tea Leaves and Tomorrow’s Givens.


In 2020+ our relationship to our own Identity changes, because online it’s beneficial to have split personalities.

Online, we’re unbounded.

Rather than one personality spread on every network, networks demand specified and altered personalities.

Each site, forum, and group we join expects only for us to speak the language of the group and culture. We don’t care where you’re from. We don’t care what your nationality is. We don’t really even care about our real name. We only care if you’re adding to the discussion.

Let me use a real example:

Bill, 42, Lives in Plain City Nebraska:

  • On Etsy Bill sells Honey-Bee candles.

  • On Flickr, he’s a fine photographer.

  • On Facebook he’s known as dad and uncle.

  • On Reddit, he discusses obscure science-fiction books under the name altered_equivalent.

  • If you were to tune into Bill’s Spotify stream, you’d see a mix of Lo-Fi, and Grime music.

  • IRL he Drives a Truck for a living.


We’re all multi-faceted, and it’s time to embrace that.

IRL, we conform to groups because one of our greatest fears is that we are thrown out of our tribe.

As I alluded to in my post about Pseudonymity is Useful, but How.

Fear of expression was based on tribal scarcity. But now we have tribal abundance, as the number of people and niches online expands to fit every interest and desire.

When you're not bounded to only your localized tribe, you can suddenly exist and experiment as every part of yourself and your diverse interests, without risk.

Without information control and censorship, Taboos break.

In a wide enough network, edge case interests and desires are matched by others who share in them, rather than those that reject them.

You no longer have to fit in a box enforced by peer pressure.

And you can explore the range of interests you have by joining interest groups who know you only for your contributions to that area.


Tribal Scarcity lead to singularity of identity. Now we have Tribal Abundance.

Reputation matters as it builds and keeps trust among a group of others you care to interact with or rely on. But reputation is now Atomized.

And our interests are atomized as well.

I remember growing up in Toledo, OH and feeling like there was this giant discussion going on in Silicon Valley or in New York that I was simply not allowed to be a part of.

I started reading fashion forums and following blogs that gave me bits and pieces of interests that I had, which weren’t shared with any of my teen friends at home.

In the past we felt angst about these desires.

And, we attempted to put ourselves into a defined container.

Our nature was to make ourselves into a binary being, we thought “I have all of these interests, how do I tie them together so that *I* make sense?”

So we apply labels.

Well today you don’t have to.


Kanye voices this struggle and lives this narrative.

"You don't realize, I am so frustrated. I am so frustrated. I am so, I've got so much I want to give. I've got ideas on color palettes. I've got ideas on silhouettes. And I've got a million people telling me why I can't do it.

You know, that I'm not a real designer, that I'm not this. I'm not a real rapper, either! I'm not a real musician, either! Like, I don't know how to play the piano. I'm an artist. I went to art college.

You can exist in different groups and be known for a part of who you are, without having to worry about having everyone having to accept or know about every part of you. You can exist in different groups and not fit the stereotype of who you’re supposed to be.

Like Bill, you can simply say…

“Yeah, I like Grime music. Am I a candle maker? Yeah, I guess that’s part of what I do. But my nephew knows me as Uncle Bill who takes him to the race track.”

So you’re into cars? Well, yeah, but I’m also a nature photographer…

So you no longer need to explain yourself. You can simply just show up and show proof of work for the people in the group that you’re communicating with. On Etsy we don’t care that Bill drives a truck. On Reddit, we don’t care that Bill lives in Nebraska.

With this comes a loosening of our inherited attachments. But that’s a post for another day.


Atomized Branding.

  • You don’t have to build one unified message, you can exist as a fractured form across networks.

  • Resonating with sub-cultures and groups matters more than being monolithic. P&G split its brands apart because it knew it would sell better to identify and connect with specific demographics.

  • Every social channel can be a different you, and in fact trying to unify your message might be a liability.

  • Don’t be surprised if your customers surprise you. Don’t be surprised if they’re not who you expect. This is a good thing.

  • Don’t feel like you need to explain everything all at once. Information overload means show up as the part of you that is relevant to who you’re speaking with.

  • Think in campaigns and projects, not in monolithic updates to who you are. Cut what fails. Keep shipping to delight sub-groups.

  • Your audience is the atomized-self. You don’t own a person’s attention. You own a portion one one’s attention. As a brand, you are only relevant to a subset of a person’s attention within a specific industry of interest.

  • Even if your customers identify with your brand, they identify with all types of different other brands, too. We don’t live in a vacuum. We don’t live monolithic lives. And we don’t have explanations for our varied interests.


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