online presence

I open my browser bookmarks, read through my daily news blogs and find a common theme nowadays: offended people everywhere.

Someone said or did something on the net that someone else finds “deeply problematic” which then winds up the outrage machine. Social media users go on a virtual witch hunt, trying to ban/censor/take-down the offender.

We live in a hyper-sensitive world. Perhaps some day soon just opening your mouth will be considered an act of offense. How dare you abuse the air with your sound waves appropriating them?

Seriously, with today’s outrage culture, creating content means navigating through a potential minefield. Every word you mutter on a podcast, every sentence you write in a self-published book or blog can, and will be, used against your online presence. It sounds like a dystopian nightmare à la Hunger Games, but it could also be your greatest opportunity.

Because in an online world where everyone’s timid and playing it safe, the courageous ones stand out … and maybe even make big money.

Learning from controversial and successful figures

Let’s start with Trump.

Yeah, that T-R-U-M-P. Hate or love him, he’s impossible to ignore. Heck, just the other weekend, I was at tiny local pub on the outskirts of Berlin and some guy at the bar counter started mumbling about Trump’s over-the-top personality in a discussion about ‘Merica.

That’s the impact of an outspoken personality. Most people forget that Trump makes a huge amount of money from licensing his name–there’s Trump Ties, Trump fragrance and even Trump Vodka. His controversial statements may not get him the nomination, but it boosts his personal brand power and sales, thanks to the free publicity provided by the media.

It’s still true–there’s no such thing as bad press, because even bad news equals attention. And attention means everything in today’s over-stimulated world.

But you don’t have to be a billionaire tycoon with a perpetual hair problem to make waves. Plenty of smaller fish use their courage to be honest and authentic to attract hate and love, and more importantly, turn attention into money.

There was the uber-controversial #gamergate Twitter hashtag in 2014.

It started as an “ethics debate in game journalism” debate and then turned into a sh*tstorm about alleged misogyny, bomb threats, and ended as a battle of ideologies. The online Twitter debate became so explosive, even Stephen Colbert, Wired, NBC and The NY Times reported about it.

Self-proclaimed gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos, a pro-gamergate follower, has taken his journalistic career to online stardom thanks to his outspokenness and willingness to turn against the mainstream opinion during the debate. He wrote on behalf of the gamers, which are often falsely represented by the mainstream media. Over the course of #gamergate, he attracted over 50,000 Twitter followers in the span of six months, wrote a book and now gets speaking engagements across the western world.

The inflammatory ‘Are you beach body ready?’ campaign?

The little British company called Protein World created a London billboard that featured a young, attractive blonde with a slim body, adding the line “Are you beach body ready?” to promote its fitness product.

Feminists and sympathizers worldwide were outraged on Twitter and other networks, claiming the ad was misogynist by promoting an unrealistic beauty standard and thus fat-shaming the overweight. They even managed to have the billboards taken down for a brief time.

Instead of backing down, the founders of the company defended their ad choice on live TV and Twitter, revealing that more than 80 ppercent of their customers were actually women. They refused to say sorry for a project that they stood fully behind, unlike big corporations that tend to shut down at the slightest hint of conflict. That rare instance of a company standing up for its beliefs resulted in a boom of sales: the company said they added more than 5,000 new customers during the controversy.

Now, what do all these examples have in common?

Well, they all feature individuals and companies that are outspoken about their views and don’t back down, despite the online outrage they face. A courageous stance of being truly authentic is a rare feature in our online world so when it happens it leads to attention and even sales. They attract like-minded individuals that turn into fervent fans and customers.

Something to think about. Are we actually limiting our brand potential by trying to please everybody? By backing down on controversial stands do we sell out on our most passionate fans?

“Be authentic” sounds like bland advice but what if we took that advice seriously?