Going off-brand is on-brand

The random deviations in our personal interests say more about us than the personal brands we cultivate.

This post was originally published on Side Quests before it was rebranded to Amuse-Bouche.


People mostly know me as the “Miss Frizzle of Food.” As the host WHYY’s Check, Please! Philly, a television show about dining in the Philadelphia region, and a contributing Food & Travel Editor for USA TODAY 10Best, much of my public persona focuses on exploring the historical and cultural context of cuisines around the globe. I love it and am extremely fortunate to turn my passion into a career. But I’m more than just an avid foodie, just like all of you are more than your 160 character Twitter bios.

Many moons ago, when the Newsfeed was called a Timeline, we were served content from a wide pool of interests. You’d see a post about gardening just above a post about video games followed by a poem waxing about Harry Potter. These posts weren’t random. They were served chronologically, hence the name Timeline, and were based off of all accounts you followed, which meant you could be exposed to a multitude of experiences, ideas and interests within minutes. Stumbling upon something new was as easy as scrolling to the next post.

That sense of discovery ended when the algorithms came. At first it was neat how these algorithms could anticipate our interests and serve us relevant content. But over time the pool of interests in the then-Timeline-now-Newsfeed shrunk to only a few topics and narrowed down to a small handful of influencers. Our multitudes have been reduced, diluted and dominated by algorithms. Instagram doesn’t even show me my own husband’s posts anymore.

This lack of variety has also extended into the way many of us use social media and the internet as a whole. Many of us, especially those who work in media, have spent the good part of a decade cultivating personal brand identities. We have been trained to stay on brand and focus on topics that we know will be engaging to our audiences. And our careers kind of depend on it. We are torchbearers moving our industries forward. We are ambassadors for the companies we work for.

I appreciate and enjoy food immensely and love discussing the topic with my industry peers and those who follow my work. But sometimes I want to talk about Star Wars, cartoons, murder mysteries, psycho thriller novels, conspiracy theories (not because I believe in them, but because the deductive reasoning is fascinating), working out, the history of branded snack foods, house plants and hydroponic gardening.

Most of the time when I post about topics that fall outside of my main brand I get no response. The point isn’t about getting engagement — I hate chasing clicks. I’m setting the stage to ask the question:

If a Tweet is irrelevant to the algorithmic identity you’ve been assigned and no one will see it, is it worth Tweeting?

My answer is yes, it’s totally worth it. We deserve space to celebrate the nuance of our individual identities. We change as we grow and part of that growth means experimenting and exploring new aspects of ourselves, and that requires going off-brand once in a while.

Last November, I tweeted about the #Furby on Instagram, an amusing trend centered around a nostalgic toy inspiring some really weird art, and hardly anyone in my audience responded. No one wanted to travel down the Furby hole with me.

Six months later, and a friend in a group text thread asked us if we had ever heard of a “Long Furby.”

I was delighted that he had stumbled upon such a bizarre corner of the internet, but I wondered if Twitter had robbed him of six months of Furby joy because the algorithm gods weren’t in our favor. It is an irrelevant topic to both of us — he, an illustrator, and myself a TV food personality — yet it also resonates with us deeply. How many serendipitous interactions are we missing out on because they don’t appear in our Newsfeeds?

Algorithms don’t account for the random deviations in our personal interests.

That’s what Side Quests is all about. This “muse-letter” is a departure from my usual online presence. It’s a repository for my off-brand work — everything that doesn’t make it on TV and doesn’t get published elsewhere. Fear not! I’ll likely still talk a lot about food and culture, but it will be interspersed with essays about Freakazoid and an analysis of the economic impact of Beanie Babies. My hope for this newsletter is to become more mindful in my self exploration and to bring you along for the ride as I document the simple satisfaction in the seemingly mundane.

I’m Kae Lani Palmisano and I’ll be your guide as we detour off the path of relevancy.