“Social media is the only way to build a personal brand!”

…Said every major marketer in 2018.

Well you know what? Every marketer was wrong.

I just deleted my 118,000-follower, verified Instagram account.

That would have been worth tens of thousands of bucks, if I’d flipped it. It would have been worth gold to any digital marketer.


(Screenshot from July 2017)

Over the course of two years, I did an extensive analysis of my spend vs. my ROI on my personal brand. I invested well over $100,000 into content creation, PR, speaking engagements, strategy, and pro level tools to amplify my personal brand on every social channel out there.


But what I’ve come to realize is that the social media part of personal branding is crap. It’s about attention and nothing deeper. You can invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and you’ll get likes, engagement, virality, and vanity metrics – but you won’t get the one thing that matters.

You won’t get business.


People act like this kind of crap is meaningful. But it’s not.

People think ‘personal branding’ is a way to become the next Richard Branson, all because you posted a bunch of quotes on Instagram.

The truth is, that kind of thing is fleeting. Sir Branson didn’t get where he is by posting #InstaInspo. And the people who do? Here today, gone tomorrow.

They don’t last. They don’t matter. They promo a couple of products, pump out some hashtags, and then call it a day.  

If your goal is vanity metrics, if your goal is clicks and likes and feeling popular for five minutes after you post something that goes viral – fine. Become an influencer. Knock yourself out.

But guess what: the people who make it with that kind of strategy aren’t actually doing entrepreneurship. They’re doing interviews with thought leaders. The entire process is based on documenting the story instead of actually living it.

And it’s an endless clout chase.

If you wanna know how to get to a million followers, it’s not complicated. You simply collaborate. You hang out with people, share clout, and have them shout you out to their audiences you can pick up some following.

But no matter how big that following gets, it doesn’t mean sh*t for you as an entrepreneur.

Because likes ≠ business.

In that world, the world of clicks and likes, your entire personality is just another commodity. You may feel important because you have 100,000 followers, but make no mistake: you’ve turned yourself into a commodity.

There’s nothing differentiating you from every other account with 10,000 followers, 100,000 followers, 500,000 followers. You have no surefire way to stay relevant, because what you’re offering isn’t special. If there’s a change in the market, in the economy, or even the user demographics of your social platform, then poof – it’s all gone in a heartbeat.


Even before it’s gone, you’ve already given up something crucial: exclusivity. If people have constant access to your every thought, they lose interest and respect. Keeping yourself more exclusive, being a little more private, maintaining a sense of mystery – that’s interesting to people. In a world of Instagrammers posting 5 times a day, that’s what cuts through the noise.

Look at Seth Godin. Once a dot-com executive, he’s now a New York Times bestselling author, tech thought leader, influencer – whatever you wanna call him.

The only way to get on his email list is to go to his webpage and opt into it. He doesn’t broadcast his message or syndicate it on other social channels. It’s on one exclusive medium, so if you want it, you have to pay attention to it.

His e-mail list is the A-list.

And guess what? Thanks to that exclusivity, he’s the most searched-for term. If you type “Seth” into Google, “Seth Godin” is the first search result.

That’s the power of exclusivity. Of focusing on what really matters instead of the clicks, likes, and vanity metrics.

It’s effective. It works. It plays out and it pays off.

So if personal branding is a dead end, what does work?

Speaking at conferences yielded the highest ROI with easily 10X return each time last year.

It cost me $1,000 to speak at All Thing Social Media Event or at Soho House on growth hacking. I was able to generate at least $10,000, in some cases even 100X on my spend.

After that? Email marketing, messenger bots, and good old fashioned word of mouth and referrals are the next big drivers. LinkedIn brings some big deals under $100k but I consider these “growth hacks” more than personal branding.


Earned media is great for social proof. Whenever I get a mention, I retarget it to my audiences, send updates via email newsletters, and constantly remind my clients and prospects why “I’m the best in town.”

And of course, the most important part of all: I measure everything. And I don’t measure in clicks or likes – I measure in dollars. Because all too often, the stuff that doesn’t get you a million likes does get you a million dollars. It’s the unglamorous, non-viral drudgery that truly builds your business.

You know what all of this has in common?

It’s old school. It’s classic. It’s tried and tested.

And it’s not the flavor of the month.

These are the tactics that people we look up to have actually used to become as recognized as they are.

Rather than worrying about how to build your clout, get a blue check, or get 100,000 views, worry about how to turn a profit.

Because most influencers and entrepreneurs aren’t thinking that way. Heck, most VC funded startups aren’t even thinking that way.

But you can.

And that’s the path to real influence and success.


CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.