There's only one thing no one can copy: you
Trying to 'game' social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter with clickbait, thinkfluencer spam, copy-paste lists from Wikipedia etc doesn't accomplish what you think...
I am frustrated with something I continue to see more of that I thought the internet had moved past. And I actually believe most of the thoughtful humans have, so this post is not for majority of you.
It’s for anyone still unaware of a simple truth: your digital reputation is your real world reputation. You need to think about this carefully before using any social media platform in a way designed to grow your audience and brand (personal or otherwise). And I am not talking purely about ensuring posts have no spelling errors or that couldn’t be found ‘fire-able.’ Who doesn’t already understand that? I’m talking about actively cultivating a real, human reputation.
A quick quote from Robert Greene’s 48 laws of power (I know we just did a Robert Greene post, bear with me for a moment) helps clarify what’s at stake:
So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life
Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once you slip, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.
Your reputation as a marketer, blogger, journalist, employee, analyst, investor, executive or any variety of professional active online in social is now your greatest asset. The notion of ‘personal PR’ really matters, especially in an environment where titles are increasingly meaningless. It’s vital on several levels:
Personally – you are a company of one and your reputation follows you everywhere you go
For the company/agency you work for – what you say publicly online is tied directly to the reputation of your employer, or if you are self-employed/run a business, it’s exponentially more critical
For clients – your clients can and do read content you put out on the web on any of your social outlets
With this …almost no one considers the optics of how they go about engaging online. They are stuck playing games to win meaningless KPIs and amass arbitrary numbers such as ‘likes’ and ‘follower count.’ And actually, going about this makes it appear as though you are in a community to take and not give. That you don’t really value or wish to connect with others. That you think ‘high scores’ of non-critical business metrics are important. So basically, you’re going about torching your reputation with all the people it’s actually important to have a reputation with, in order to feel good about things that don’t matter, and ultimately build a low-quality, high volume following we all see right through.
If you are actively following the “viral” playbook so many people can’t resist using to make posts that look like this, you need a digital intervention of sorts…people have been copy-pasting posts like this for years to try to mindlessly bait for attention:
Using growth hacks is essentially creating a digital Potemkin village. If unfamiliar with the concept…
A "Potemkin village" signifies any deceptive or false construct, conjured often by cruel regimes, to deceive both those within the land and those peering in from outside.
In politics and economics, a Potemkin village is any construction (literal or figurative) whose sole purpose is to provide an external façade to a country that is faring poorly, making people believe that the country is faring better. The term comes from stories of a fake portable village built by Grigory Potemkin, former lover of Empress Catherine II, solely to impress the Empress during her journey to Crimea in 1787. The original story was that Potemkin erected phony portable settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to impress the Russian Empress and foreign guests; the structures would be disassembled after she passed, and re-assembled farther along her route to be viewed again as if another example.
This is all a big tapestry of misunderstanding the social proof that actually matters, because it’s so easy now to game the parts that don’t. I’ve gone through this in detail for companies but it all applies to individuals too.
What I’m seeing more of lately: everyone’s trying to be a ‘growth hacker’ or otherwise game algorithms for ‘engagement’
The obvious examples of reputations being ruined are people losing their jobs from inappropriate/unprofessional photos on their social networking profiles, which we’ve all seen examples of and as mentioned above, I think most people understand not to do that. But what’s not so obvious is using social in such a way in which you are taking and not giving, being ‘exploitive’ of others for cheap algorithmic wins (which actually don’t matter, we’ll get into that shortly) or otherwise being an inauthentic and manipulative human being. Smart people frown upon all those things. And they notice them. Trying to be a ‘growth hacker’ is really one of the worst ways you can approach the internet. I have also written previously on the dangers and misguidedness of ‘growth hacking’ and what to do instead. There is a reason tenured marketers do not engage in such things, as they understand the importance of optics, long term reputation and building something sustainable.
Re: controversial topics, I’ve written before not to be afraid to have opinions or take sides, and I stand by that. But, discussing something intelligently and backing up what you’re saying with facts, observations or opinions is a far different animal than being outright negative to someone you disagree with merely because they rub you the wrong way.
Social media was never about large numbers
There’s a simple axiom that is true both in your digital and physical life: the law of attraction is a very real thing. It means that people tend to attract people who are similar to them. This is amplified several orders of magnitude online, where your thoughts and ideas go to 100s if not 1,000s (or far more) of direct followers and then ripples out as you add concentric circles adding further 0s to your ‘reach’ but also since in all likelihood you are less known to them, the importance of such reach (will they want to connect with you, learn about your life, buy from their business etc) is variable. It’s variable based on a number of factors but I think the key one is simple: are you …being, well you?
We had an old saying back in the SEO industry in the early 2000’s: optimize content for humans first, then search engines second. And really what ended up happening over the long term is you could basically optimize purely for humans and search would mostly handle discovery if you weren’t a fly-by-night operation and real business. Of course, there were those who were more concerned with checking silly (and honestly pointless) boxes such as “keyword density” within each web page, which for a hot minute might have mattered the tiniest bit (but really was never existential). And this is what processes were built around. The page being ranked highly in Google was all that mattered to these people, content and users be damned!
Despite social media no longer being new, our industry still has an unhealthy culture of chasing shares and engagement instead of actual outcomes that will affect their business. That’s not to say more shares and engagement aren’t a good thing. They speak to your success creating content and experiences that resonate with people. That’s one of the magical parts about social: instant feedback. You know almost immediately if what you did resonated or fell flat.
Shares and engagement of content are key performance indicators (KPIs) of success, not the goal in and of itself, but an indicator metric. I doubt most businesses participate in social with the explicit objective of generating more shares, but instead are hoping to use social to improve customer service, raise awareness and impact their bottom line.
Unless you are one of the rare people who actually work for a social media platform, this is not your reason for being. Yet what I’ve seen in my experiences is that marketers start with a legitimate business goal, but along the line they get addicted to engagement – more KPIs, more followers, more shares, and lose sight of the whole reason for being involved.
Some thoughts on what to do instead: standing out in a world of infinite choice, in a way that matters
We’re surrounded by horizons of information that stretch seemingly forever. I won’t go into statistics, you’re well aware of the countless numbers of blogs, websites, online stores, social networks, publications, companies and individuals vying for our attention every second we’re conscious. For all intensive purposes, the web is made up of infinite choice and infinite content.
So you either blend in or stand out. In a world of essentially infinite content, being anywhere in between isn’t very desirable, and in many cases might as well be invisible.
Humans and machines as content filters
Web services, search engines and savvy users filter the infinite down to what they have deemed the sharpest pieces. Save for a few that manage to game the system, in time the best resources of information will rise to the top and claim their place as owner of a niche. Corporations and individuals are on equal footing when it comes to getting through the filter, and we see examples of both daily.
Getting through the filters of the web (human or automated) successfully is a matter of standing out. You can only game a system for so long before it turns against you, and that is never a smart or sustainable strategy. Also, while it is not gaming the system, web advertising is really a band-aid, and not a great one at that. Your product should shine enough on it’s own that the need for advertising is minimal.
I’m not saying advertising can’t help you, especially if you’re just starting out, however realize that in a world of infinite choice, with filters that get sharper each day, paying for anything more than superficial levels of attention becomes increasingly difficult.
Trying to gain the focus of people for your blog, your business, or yourself can seem like an impossible task, but it is possible to win the game of infinite choice for those with perseverance.
Here’s some better ideas for standing out against impossibly large numbers, without pandering or doing hacky formulaic posts (which make you basically appear as if you are an AI):
Don’t be afraid to let your true personality shine
You see again and again the successes of the information economy are made up of people/services/businesses that have personality and cultivate culture. When the majority is made up of faceless, neutral or watered down content, strong personality is a breath of fresh air.
Only participate when you can show real passion and dedication
Passion is a secret of the social web. Those with passion also tend to be dedicated to the point of obsession. Seth Godin writes some sage words on being irrationally committed, and he’s right on all accounts:
Parents or other adults who are irrationally committed to a kid’s well being make a huge (perhaps the biggest) difference in that young person’s life.
Entrepreneurs who are irrationally committed to their business are far more likely to get through the Dip.
Salespeople and service providers and marketers who are irrationally committed to customer service can completely transform an ordinary experience and make it remarkable.
Is being irrational irrational? Of course it is. That’s why it often works.
If you’re looking for the sensible, predictable, long-term strategy, this probably isn’t it. Except when it is.
Transparency and honesty are vital
In a low trust world, real honesty and transparency go a long way to set you apart. You can’t fake this, eventually everyone’s true colors come out. Use authenticity as a way to set you apart as a more positive choice. The filter of the web is smart, and getting smarter each day – being inauthentic is not a sustainable strategy.
Solve both complex and simple problems
If you can truly help others solve real problems – whether those are problems they are conscious of or not, you will set yourself apart from the masses. Not just complex problems either, offer solutions for simple problems that may be obvious to you but you still see others struggling with.
Sometimes many of us struggle with complexities when all it takes is a good dose of simplicity to clear things up in an instant. We tend to look to people, business and organizations who can show us a simple, elegant and refined path.
Be compelling, not thirsty for the sake of it
Yes, much of what gets quick attention on the web is gimmicky, novel, or controversial purely for the sake of triggering engagement events. But, if you want real staying power and want to stand out long term, what you’re doing needs to be compelling to people with a brain, not just those with the attention span of a gnat.
Go against the status quo
This is a bit of a cliché I know, but it’s true. People who challenge the status quo and offer a more appealing alternative can reshape/redefine a niche and break through the clutter.
Blending in and being just like others is no longer an option for business or individuals. Amazingly it used to be, as is apparent when you look at how normalized much of the world is today. Our society previously praised averageness and went so far as to put it on a pedestal.
But the world has changed.
Being like others is no longer a desirable trait, and neither is having a business or running an organization that is just like everything else. The world has moved in a completely different direction.
So in summation, I would like to see actual humanity on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter and way less engagement-bait/thirst-posting. Be real with each other. You are allowed to use humor and share opinions. You can even curse if that is your style. You don't need to use ‘growth hacks’ or spammy tactics to try to stand out (again, this actually works against you in ways people clearly don't realize). We’ve used forums since the 90s: social isn't new and this isn't hard to get right in a way that's useful and genuine. And good news: we already think you are impressive and interesting! So you should be yourself, it's what we all want to see most.