Monday, July 19, 2010

Jerk or a Superstar?

Justin Kownacki, a fellow blogchatter, posted a really interesting blog post today about Social Media Myths. Justin said something in a comment response to me that really got me thinking:

There's a whiff of entitlement and a delusion of equality in some
social media conversations that I find detrimental to a more coherent
(and, ultimately, more beneficial) understanding of how social media
(or any other system) works. If a person can't honestly evaluate his
or her own contributions, or tell the good (or relevant) apart from
the bad (or irrelevant), how can s/he expect to identify what needs to
be improved? 

See? Thought provoking. Here's where my thinking took me. 

On Libraries and 9/11

When I was pursuing my Masters in Library Science 10 years ago, the news seemed pretty darned bright. To listen to Library and Information Science professors was to hear that people would virtually beg for you to work for them once you got an MLS degree. Librarianship was generally speaking an aging profession. Tons of people were going to be retiring. There were going to be so many job openings it was actually going to become a serious problem.

Folks in the post 9/11 world met a very different reality. The money libraries used to get was now going to Homeland Security. People were still retiring, but those jobs were being merged with other existing jobs. Nobody was hiring new and inexperienced MLS grads. A lot of people who graduated around the same time I did felt deceived and betrayed. Some even accused their professors of lying.

A lot of the talk in the world of Social Media reminds me of my heady days in Library School (there's a phrase you might not have heard before). Everywhere you look, including here in this blog, there are posts, articles, tweets, status updates, and more telling you how to gain 5,000 followers, 2 million "friends," and a blog that will make sites like Mashable drool. All you have to do is 5 steps, or 3 steps, or 8 steps, or 2 steps. This information is out there because for somebody, those steps worked. Really well. But they won't and can't work for everyone. And that might cause some people to feel a little left out. Maybe even a little deceived.

Not everyone can be a superstar

One interesting thing about Justin's post is that he pointed out a sad truth that you don't hear a lot these days. Not everyone can attain the status of a Chris Brogan, a Seth Godin, a David Meerman Scott, a Mari Smith, a Denise Wakeman, or other marketing geniuses. This, indeed, might be difficult for some people to tolerate, and there are two reasons for it.

1) Marketing superstars like the aforementioned are accessible and willing to help, making one think that you might just be at that person's level, or that that level is easily attainable

2) You might be doing all of the same things. You're twittering, Blogging, answering questions on LinkedIn, promoting yourself but not too much. As Bill Murray says in What About Bob, "I'm doing the steps! I'm Baby Stepping!" In walking the same path as these superstars, it's natural and easy to think that you will end up at the same superstar destination.

If you consider the millions of people who use Twitter, for example, and then count the number of superstars that come to mind who use Twitter, you will see that statistically, your chances of attaining the same status are rather small.

Being a superstar does not mean you're a jerk

A lot of people have been kind of snipping at these leaders of the marketing world because they don't follow many people, they don't always comment back, or they seem to only reply to a select few. "They say they want to help but I can't get nary a one to guest post on my blog."

Ok, now it's entirely possible that some people who have become successful actually are jerks, or pretend to be nice when really they are quite mean at heart. However, in my own personal experience, this is not the case. When I see Social Media or marketing superstars, I see the following:

1) They are being demanded not only in the places we see (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs) but also in places and in ways that we don't see, like telephone calls, their full time jobs outside of connecting with everyone, speaking engagements, preparing for speaking engagements, etc.

2) They didn't attain their status because they were easy to like. They all worked their butts off. We know them and of them because they are trying to teach everyone else how they did what they did. That, in and of itself, seems to tip the scale away from "mean," but I could be wrong.

3) With such limited time, for every comment or reply that is made, there are likely dozens if not hundreds of others that get passed by. I worry about problems like that and my follower list on Twitter is like a pebble compared to Jupiter.

4) Superstars are, generally speaking, human beings. If you come at them with criticisms (or tons of buttkissing that is inauthentic) you will probably not succeed in communicating. All humans, no matter how successful, need a little give and take.

5) Sometimes superstars want to banter with friends and family online, and they might do that instead of bantering with someone they don't know. Maybe that makes them a jerk. I generally think not.

What do you want to get out of Social Media?

If you're engaged in Social Media because you are shooting to be the next superstar, you're probably going to have a bad experience. If you're looking to get famous or position yourself to write a New York Times best seller, you're probably going to find yourself dumbfounded at your lack of success.

I am engaged in Social Media for 3 reasons. I want to learn. I want to share knowledge as I get it. I want to help people market their products, and I believe that I, with the company I work for, can help make that happen. I am not shooting for a specific number of followers or fans. I don't need 27 comments per blog post. I don't need to be a superstar, but I know I don't want to be a jerk.

My realistic expectations, I hope, are that I can help someone work a problem, tell someone something they didn't know that might help them out, and learn the same way from other people. To that end, based on my goals, I'm already quite content with where I am. And I have to say that I have never had a moment where I thought these geniuses we all talk about were jerky. In fact, I have found their kindness to be authentic, their knowledge to be rock solid, and their friendliness to be genuine.

I know that I will not be the next superstar, and I am quite fine with that. Are your expectations on a level with where you are in life? Are you shooting too high? Are you expecting too much? It's difficult to become a superstar. It's easy to become a jerk. We should all make sure we stay far away from the latter.


Justin Kownacki said...

Superstar or not, everybody's pulled in a million directions at once. Imagine how that increases exponentially for the famous and the popular. And when your coworker or your cousin doesn't get your full attention, she thinks you're being a jerk. Now multiply that to Chris Brogan or Ashton Kutcher levels and there's no telling the number of people who feel slighted.

And that's just the people we don't realize we're aggravating. Now factor in the people we actually DO dislike, distrust and avoid. At that rate, I'm surprised anybody has a positive reputation at all.

I don't think it's a choice between "jerk or superstar." I think it's a choice between "being good at what you do" and "being concerned about whether or not people think you're good at what you do."

You'll never please everyone. So please yourself, or please someone you deputize as "someone who matters." The rest will fall where they may.

Chris Brogan said...

The biggest emotional kick in the nuts a guy can feel is thinking that he's been a disappointment. Now, with the benefit of thousands and thousands of little touches from individuals, I get to disappoint hundreds of people a day. It's been really hard on me, that little facet.

On a totally different point, the way I got to be a "superstar" was really tricky and yet simple:

1.) Be there every day.
2.) Have a new actionable idea every day (or two).
3.) Promote other people 12 times more than myself.
4.) Share the spotlight.
5.) Sacrifice tons but rarely talk about it.

Seems easy enough, eh? : )

Real Life Mad Man said...

@Justin I think we are basically saying the same thing. It's easy to call someone a jerk, but a little analysis reveals a lot more!

@Chris I would imagine. I feel a lot of pressure to answer the pidley amounts of stuff coming at me. Having that multiplied exponentially is really, really scary. I feel ya!

sandy said...

Guess I'm ok cause those names you mentioned mean nothing to me, so no problem trying to be like them or attain whatever it is you say they've attained.

Since Chris Brogan actually responded I can tell he's a real person, which is pretty cool. That Ashton guy is one of those young guys some girls think is attractive?

Anyway, took me awhile to find ya, cause for some reason you link no longer worked.

Me, I keep plugging along, reading blogs, leaving comments and knitting and crocheting.


Jim Kukral said...

My main goal is to teach others and to help others, nothing more. If I can run a business and build a brand in the process I see nothing wrong with that. But yeah some people see it differently and can call me a jerk.

Last point : if you want to be remarkable, you have to DO something remarkable.

Real Life Mad Man said...

Hi Sandy! I had to change my blog URL. When I turned this into my professional blog it was still "" I felt there was a bit of a disconnect there :)

Jim, I love that last line of yours. Brilliant!

Suzanne Vara said...

Always a pleasure to stop on by here and be provided with such wonderful thoughts and ideas.

It is interesting - in SM there are many who want to be that superstar and have a gazillion followers, 100+ comments on a blog, phones ringing all day, etc as they are completely and utterly unaware what it means. For some it means that their house key is pretty much a hotel room key, the special time with their kids is a 10 minute phone call before they got to bed and down time is snoring on a plane.

The other part to this is as you have said - the leaders have worked their butts off and have never ever asked for anything in return while they did it. They have archives of blog articles from years and years. They moved along at a pace that did not require the time and sacrifices it does now. They did not necessarily ask to be the leader and to be away from all that is familiar for days at a time. They could have refused but yet they as you said are teachers and always willing to help.

IMHO the real jerks who are so incredibly self serving and selfish that they can only stand there with hands out waiting for a response and when they do not receive one ON THEIR TIMELINE,they start flapping their gums in a negative fashion to get attention. That my friend is a jerk.


Real Life Mad Man said...

Amen, Suzanne. Amen. :)