The personalisation of the internet has been occurring for years. What’s more fascinating is just how long it’s taken to reach this point – where the face of the entire publishing industry is changing to being identified with people, and not just mastheads.
Everything happens in circles. During the 1990s, the benefit of the internet was anonymity. Chat rooms and bulletin boards were built on the notion of being able to communicate with people halfway around the world, without ever having to give your full name.
This early approach, of disguising your real identity, set the tone for the internet in general – it’s what made parents of 90s kids so wary about doing anything online, and it led to videos like this:
In the 2000s, that approach shifted. The growth shifted towards identifying yourself online with a real name. This has guided the popularity of social so much the whole concept of “personal branding” is built on the idea of making your personal presence known as far and wide as possible on social networks.
The rise of Twitter is probably the best source for this trend. The early days of seeing which personality would be the first to hit one million followers was another example and iteration of celebrity-driven culture.
It wasn’t just social media, though. A growing link between personalities and their content has been steadily growing during the past decade, to the point where readers identify so much with their favourite bloggers or writers, just as television viewers did with news anchors such as Walter Cronkite during the 20th century. It’s only human.
As this content became more professional, the personalities started being noticed more often – and by established institutions. Ezra Klein was picked up by the Washington Post, Nate Silver had his statistics blog FiveThirtyEight snapped by the New York Times, and Andrew Beast went on after The Daily Beast to found The Dish – one of the first examples of a website basing its success on the personality at its centre.
There are plenty of others. Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher left the Wall Street Journal to start Re/code, with its success mainly built on the fact the two names are recognisable and trusted in the tech news community.
It’s no wonder, then, the other two writers of their own went to start publications – Ezra Klein at the newly launched Vox, and Nate Silver with the statistics-driven data journalism masthead FiveThirtyEight.
The launch of these publications, and the early success of several, isn’t too hard to pin down: people identify more with personalities than a publication. It’s the same reason why LinkedIn is starting its own publishing platform, and it’s exactly why YouTube subscriptions are going through the roof – people want people they like giving them content only that particular person can provide.
It’s not as though this is anything groundbreaking, but it’s curious to see more of it happening in the mainstream media. At this point, it’s not far-fetched to suggest these new media publications, filled with multiple personalities with social media followings of their own will become the new norm for news – and bypass existing publications.
But what effect will this have on the rest of digital society?
It’s easy to see this type of trend as justification for allowing staff to be on social media more often, to build up brands for themselves and in turn, to draw in more consumers. This is all true, if fairly obvious, and yet another reminder of how important it is for businesses to be socially savvy.
But the more important trend to recognise here is that personalities are now becoming much more a part of everything we do, whether in business or otherwise. Digital business, then, needs to incorporate this idea of personality much more intrinsically.
And this goes beyond content marketing or making a particularly visible writer the head of a company blog. It means creating moments within the business that personalise it more and more.
At the SocialBiz14 conference held in Melbourne earlier this year, Trevor Young, known on the internet as the PR Warrior, gave a talk about making sure businesses remain relevant online. His advice was this:
“If you’re not opening up your organisation to meet with the people behind the scenes, then you’re wasting your time.”
Whether it’s video content, writing or whatever else, connection between the consumer of the content and the personality providing it is more important than ever. For individuals, this provides more power than ever before, and for businesses, a higher responsibility.