Why Online Popularity Is Overrated

Popularity has become its own justification

George J. Ziogas
Mar 2 · 5 min read
Image: Kaponia Aliaksei/Adobe Stock

Our culture has been obsessed with celebrity since celebrities have existed. If there is anything that proves the adage here today, gone tomorrow it’s celebrity. Popularity is fleeting. Just look at a magazine from ten years ago — the faces on the cover are all but forgotten, except for the few stars with staying power.

Every major football star, political superpower, major coach, CEO, or A-list movie star fades from view. They all share this one thing in common — once upon a time, they were wildly popular and then their star faded and they fell from grace.

Peyton Manning pushed Tim Tebow out the door in Denver. Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong saw the world turn on them when their secrets surfaced. No one is immune from the end of popularity. Tom Cruise is still in the public eye, he’s still cranking out Mission Impossible movies, but he’s not the box office draw he was once upon a time.

The point is — even the most popular people lose their popularity. It’s all well and good, but popularity comes with a price. If you aren’t consistently producing what the people want to see, then you’re done, it’s over. There’s a pressure to remain online 24/7. It’s not a nice thought, but it’s one that you should consider.

You might seek online popularity, but there are drawbacks.

Let’s state the facts.

Popularity Doesn’t Last Forever

Unless you’re the Beatles, Elvis, or maybe Oprah, popularity doesn’t last. Rather than worrying about online popularity, you should be focusing on the legacy you want to leave behind when you depart this earth.

How do you want people close to you to remember you? Focus on that, because you could be the most popular person on the planet and it wouldn’t count for anything. But if you were the most popular person in your world? Well, that’s everything.

Popularity Pushes You Into the Hamster Wheel of Performance

It takes a lot of hard work and effort to create popularity and sustain it. You are only ever as good as the last performance. This is true of sports stars, A-list movie stars, and even car salespeople. If you aren’t putting on the ritz every single performance, you will get feedback that lets you know all about it.

There’s also the problem of running on the hamster wheel of performance and popularity that prevents you from sharing your opinion for fear that others will reject you.

Taylor Swift is a global star and kept her political leanings a total secret for well over a decade because she was afraid of the reaction she’d receive. She decided to speak out. But, if someone with that kind of star power is afraid to break out of the box, imagine how difficult it is for a normal person who is chasing online popularity.

Unless your political leaning or opinions are part of your brand, it’s hard to keep your life compartmentalized. The more compartmentalized you keep your life, the harder it gets to know who you really are outside of performing.

Popularity Puts Unhealthy Focus On Self

People who care about what others think… those are the people that push the hardest for popularity. The problem with popularity is that you have to spend your time thinking about what others think. You have to think about whether you’re saying the right things to impress them or make them happy.

You have to think about whether your picture is right or good enough to share. You have to worry about every little thing because you’re always concerned with what others are thinking. Even a narcissist would struggle with that level of focus on self. When you spend too much time thinking about yourself, you restrict your ability to develop empathy for others.

There’s a difference between self-care and total focus on self. While being and feeling popular can be nice, it can instill false confidence and even false beliefs that hinder you in other areas of your life. I’d encourage you to think about the popular kids in school and how they behaved and where they are now.

Popularity Is Damaging

The more you chase popularity, the more time you spend online. The more time you spend online, the less connected you become to your work, your world, and the people in it.

It isn’t just damaging in terms of misused time and unfocused energy. The more content you create, the more you post about your personal life, the more attention you get. That might sound great in theory, but attention isn’t always positive. With popularity comes “haters”.

Those people who make it their business to comment on every single post you make, the ones who share and disparage every article you publish. The people who feel entitled to enter your DMs and demand your time, attention, focus, or favors.

That’s the reality of popularity. It’s not even major celebrities that deal with these problems. Even normal people with large online followings deal with personal attacks. When it’s theoretical, it’s easy to believe you can cope with all of that. The reality is so different.

I happen to follow a large Twitter account. This person isn’t famous, she’s a small-time sports writer with around 10,000 followers or so. She mentioned in a post a dislike for an actress without mentioning the name of that actress. Yet, within half an hour, the fans of the said actress had swarmed her replies, hurling abuse at her as though she had personally attacked them. That’s the reality of online popularity. For every person who loves you and your content, there are five ready to tear you down.

Has your desire to be popular in the world stolen your happiness? Because if chasing real-life popularity stole your joy, then chasing online popularity will do the same. But, worse, because you’re opening yourself up to a much wider audience.

If you are popular online, chasing popularity online, or have dreams of chasing it… I want you to think about what that means. Some people have a large online following because they host podcasts.

Some people have massive online followings because they make YouTube or TikTok videos. While others have built their online following around being an influencer. Meanwhile, some people have steadily built an online following over the years simply by posting funny memes, jokes, and pictures.

They all have their drawbacks, of course, but the popularity driven by online presence is not good news for anyone. It would be wise to ask yourself why you are chasing popularity online. If it’s part of your drive to build a strong business model, then that’s one thing. But, if it’s personal… there’s a good chance it will take over your life.

If you feel the need to open social media as soon as you wake up… if you feel under pressure to make a certain number of posts a day… if you feel guilty for taking time off of the internet… then you are too wrapped up in social media as a whole, but it’s time to ask whether it is online popularity that is driving that behavior and how you plan to change things moving forward.

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