The Zaxxon Rule

ONE OF MY FAVORITE PODCASTS is NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” a roundtable discussion where four panelists who cover different media for NPR (music, television, movies, books) dissect current pop culture works and trends.

Every show ends with the same segment, “What’s Making Us Happy This Week,” wherein the panelists share recent pop culture discoveries in the hopes of spreading interest in works of pop culture that their target audience could seek out and enjoy on their own. I love this segment – it has led me to discover many fantastic TV shows, podcasts, musical artists, YouTube clips, et al. that I might not have otherwise discovered on my own.

Early in the podcast’s run, the music critic Stephen Thompson purchased a stand-up arcade machine of the classic 1982 game Zaxxon, and for several weeks his contributions to the “What’s Making Us Happy This Week” segment all revolved around his giddiness over owning said machine. Shortly thereafter, the four panelists convened and decided that Stephen’s Zaxxon love was not fulfilling the mission statement of the segment since most listeners likely did not have a Zaxxon arcade machine in their possession and could not share in Stephen’s experience.

Now whenever one of the panelists mentions something personal that the listeners cannot also partake in (such as having a fun weekend visiting their nephews), the other panelists will call them out on breaking “The Zaxxon Rule.”

Mixed Feelings

I have mixed feelings about The Zaxxon Rule; on one hand, I get a lot more utility out the segment when the panelist share things that I have equal access to, but on the other hand I get to know the panelists better whenever they break the Zaxxon rule and talk about their personal life, which increases my affection for them when they are talking pop culture recommendations. (It helps that the Zaxxon stuff is right up my alley, as a classic video game collector myself.)

I’ve been thinking about The Zaxxon Rule in relationship to building a personal brand through social media. For example, Twitter is an ideal vehicle for sharing links to articles you’ve enjoyed in the name of spreading ideas, much like the “What’s Making Us Happy This Week” segment described above. By becoming an expert curator of preexisting content you can be of great use to followers who have similar interests.

However, if your Twitter feed is just a non-stop stream of links to articles you’ve read, it may lack personality. Sure, people will get a sense of your interests through your choice of article links, but they won’t get to know you as a person, which may limit the connection they feel to you. However, if you tweet incessantly about how great your chocolate mousse recipe turned out, that won’t have a lot of value to most of your followers because they can’t partake of your mousse in the same way they could partake of an article you’re shared.

Mars Dorian

As I have been writing this post a few of my classmates that I follow on Twitter shared a blog post by Mars Dorian on this same topic. Mr. Dorian talks about the importance of letting your personality shine through your posts, maintaining that “keeping a cool, perfect and professional online presence seems to be the way to go, but it also got the emotional pulling power of a frozen brick. Marketing is all about evoking emotions. It’s tough to go personal and open yourself up, especially with all those trolls out there, but that’s the only advantage you have over robots and computer-generated content.”

So if Zaxxon can provide a window into your soul that will make you human, relatable, and likeable, then it seems advantageous to use that. But how do you know?

In 2009 I started a semi-weekly feature on my blog called “Sesame Street Tuesdays,” where I would pick out a vintage Sesame Street clip from my childhood to share with my peers who grew up watching the same era of Sesame Street, and to pass down to my nieces and nephews. They started off as simple, “Here’s a Sesame Street clip that I like”-type posts, but they soon grew to be elaborate ruminations on recent events in my life filtered through classic Sesame Street moments. It was a unique format and it was popular among my friends and family, but when I made a major life change and shifted away from music and toward business, I wasn’t sure how Sesame Street Tuesday worked with my personal brand anymore. Would it jeopardize my credibility in the business world, or would it be a differentiate me from the typical business mold by highlighting my fun-loving and optimistic personality? I still don’t know the answer to that question, and Sesame Street Tuesday has been languishing on the shelf for the past year.

What Do You Think?

So, classmates, what do you think about The Zaxxon Rule vis-à-vis social media? How do you achieve a balance of providing utility to your followers and building your professional brand while still maintaining your own personality and voice?


  1. I’ve been struggling with the exact same thing. How do we find just the right balance between personal and business. Our guest, Mindy Gledhill, has moved me much closer to personal than I was. I appreciated her openness, genuineness, and vulnerability. At the same time, she seemed to have enough focus on the business side of her brand. In my opinion, Mindy found just the right balance between personal and business. I hope to be able to walk that fine line as well as she has.

  2. Question for the ages, Brian! I think you’re exactly right that there has to be something personal in there to engage your readers and give them a reason to keep coming back to your blog. The content is richer when you understand the lens through which the author is writing. I have recently been doing research on practitioners in the poverty alleviation field, and found the blog for Jonathan C. Lewis. While his blog has lots of content about microenterprise and poverty, it also has a page dedicated to his favorite hot dog stands around the country. I honestly don’t know anything about this guy, but i FEEL like I could know him, and somehow through all the people I’m following and all the content streaming through my Twitter feed, I always give him a second more of my time to see what he has to say.

  3. Brian- great question. I think of all the people I look up to or admire, the one thing they have in common is that they’re just real. That’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but we usually know when someone is being phony (too branded) and when they’re just being who they are. I’ve been surprised that the job/internship interviews I’ve had that have gone really well and led to offers have usually focused a lot on the “personal” section of my resume, not on all the blah blah stuff that everybody has on their resume. I’ve had some of the same questions- does this or that fit my brand? Maybe I’m an idiot, but I think if it’s coming to those sorts of thoughts, I’m probably thinking too hard about trying to CREATE (sorry for the caps) a brand, rather than just owning my own brand. So I say, unleash the Sesame Street Tuesdays!

  4. Great post, Brian! I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit myself over the past month. I am a fairly private person, but I recognize the value of managing your personal brand through social media. I love what Joel said about creating your brand verses owning your brand. It can be challenging to balance being yourself, relevant, engaging, professional, etc. etc. That being said, I don’t think it’s possible (or worthwhile) create a strong person brand through social media without sharing your personality. I’m a big fan of just being you.

  5. Trapper Yates

    March 6, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    I completely agree that is important to let your personality shine through in virtual interactions. I actually wrote about this briefly on my blog this week as well. It is easy for me to be myself and share my personality in face-to-face interactions. Opening up and creating those real relationships either online or through the telephone is challenging for me, however. The importance of this will increase as workplaces become more global and face-to-face meetings become less common. Thanks for the insights!

  6. I have zero interest in engaging with someone on social media that doesn’t open the door enough for me to get to know them a little more personally. On the other hand I also have zero interest in someone that is preoccupied with inflating their sense of self-importance. All this emphasis on “building your brand” seems a little backwards. We put on a facade reflecting what we want people to think we are instead of just being who we are.

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