Aside

Enough About You

I remember when I first joined online communities. How foreign it all felt. Who was “out there” that I was tweeting to? Who was going to read the blog that I was writing on? I spent my energy in real-life relationships more than online. I would poke my nose in and not “get it” very well. I knew it was important and everyone said to start doing more of it, but other than that…I was pretty much clueless. And then just to prove the point, about six months into the Twitter experience, I was getting ready to do a book launch and turn to the online world to do it. I wanted to do the best job possible to get The New How into the world. I tweeted about it at least once every hour, which was – I now see – relentless. And it appeared as it was: self-serving.

So, I say this with great compassion to all the self-promoters out there.

Enough already.

It’s okay to promote yourself. Once. Then move on. Consider promoting some other people and their ideas, too. Mix it up a bit. Constant self-promotion is a turn-off. In the last few weeks, Geoffrey Moore of Crossing the Chasm fame, and Condaleeza Rice (of the Bush administration) joined Twitter and did very much the same thing I was doing a few years ago. Their agents probably asked them to “build their Twitter platform” since they both have new books out. And they are making classic mistakes; not engaging, but espousing. But they, like I, need to show up to share something that we will care about. They need to turn their Twitter feed from a channel away from themselves, into a showcase for good ideas. (Moore has actually made huge progress since joining Twitter; someone must be giving him some good advice.) They need to get into conversation to exchange ideas, not just espouse ideas. They need to move from pushing their “product” or having their ego stroked to sharing things that we all care about and building a platform for the idea.

I share this #facepalm moments with the intention that we can all learn from this. What people do individually, companies do also, and the lesson carries over. Companies that talk about themselves as the center of the universe get it so wrong. These companies might think that when we “like” their products and company online, we are “liking” them. That’s not true. We consumers care about what we want to achieve in our lives. If a company happens to match to our interests and values, then we signal it by liking a brand.

When we like Nike, we might be saying that we like fitness, or an attitude of personal responsibility. When we like Starbucks, we might be saying we like indivisibility, or we like having a place to go when we don’t have a corporate badge. When graphic artists like Adobe, they might be saying they value having the most amazing creative tools. When consumers like Patagonia, they might be saying that they value recycling or that they want to support environmental justice. When we like “Oreilly Media”, we might be saying that we think geek is cool.

The difference between 20th century marketing and the social era is simply this> In the social world, the object is not you. It’s not about your product or your business, but rather it’s about shared value or purpose.

So, please, stop making it about you.

Talking about you is one narrative. But you are then the only person pushing that narrative. You might be good at the hustle, and spin, and good at pushing your personal agenda, and for that you might get advanced. But it is a more limited narrative than a shared purpose.

When we have a shared purpose, we have a bigger surface area.
Let’s make this a visual. If you are talking at me, the volume and content created is limited to your energy and interests. If I join in conversation with you, not only does the “shared bubble” have more content (and thus more surface area), it starts to have more energy.

And, when things have energy, they move. In practical terms, shared purpose items get more easily shared. In more meta terms, shared purpose items resonate with people and the connection is visceral. If you can create a dialogue bigger than your company and its products with what your consumers care about – if you create and/or join into that bigger storyline, then both the consumer and your company will benefit.

So, if you want to be known, don’t just be pushing yourself, push an agenda because then you’re leading with purpose. (I certainly hope I’m getting better at this purpose shining through. Thanks for those of you that have put up with my learning curve.)

And, if you are a brand that wants to more relevant, realize that it has nothing to do with you and everything to with us.

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11 Responses:

  1. Dave Kaiser. October 14, 2011 at 9:37 pm  |  

    It’s a wonderful little paradox, the more I talk about ME ME ME, the less I get out of it (because no one really wants to listen). The more I talk about YOU, US, ALL OF US, THE COMMUNITY, OUR IDEAS, etc, the more there is for everyone, including me, since we are all expanding the pie together and sharing, not just fighting over the slices.

    Great points!

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. October 18, 2011 at 2:47 am  |  

      You said it even better than I. Thanks, Dave

      Reply
  2. Sandy. October 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm  |  

    I had a discussion with John Hagel about how his “Pull” applies to regional economic development. Civic infrastructure is really the intersection of virtual and living networks. This post demonstrates how “Pull” works in a virtual network- knowledge flows can be generative- as in building a narrative that transcends one person’s perspective, into a collective one.

    That is where the gold is-Development of a collective narrative- diverse and made of shared knowledge. True for company brands and for the regions in which companies operate. Community is the leverage point for transformation. The more it is less top-down “pushing” and the more it is a generative “going both ways” dialogue, the more substantiative and resilient the community. I love these points, Nilofer. It’s in the connections (between diverse people, across silos and between the vertical and horizontal) that makes community.

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. October 18, 2011 at 2:50 am  |  

      I was having an interesting conversation with my priest on Sunday.

      She was asking about this post — and whether we need to reimagine what constitutes a “member”… is it the person who lives within 10 miles and comes on Sunday? Or is there another way to imagine community? And our conversation led to this insights: Community is the new congregation.” I don’t know if I’m crazy to think this after 1 little conversation….but … if a priest can reimagine what constitutes a church unit, there’s hope for all sorts of things — in units, in connections, in communities, in organizations.

      I have hope in the shared narrative of where this is all going.

      Reply
  3. Adrian Leu. October 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm  |  

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks. We live in a “ME and MYSELF” type of society encouraged by the consumer brands with their obsessive focus on looks and surface. On “you”, the “client” and less on communities or groups or our real needs. As a case in point of narcissistic behavior I was actually amused somehow by the flow of discussions on the web after Steve Jobs died. Few were original, granted that. But a lot of them were just simple piggyback rides that aimed at highlighting the person who wrote the message rather than the man himself.

    Reply
  4. Doc Sheldon. October 22, 2011 at 7:54 pm  |  

    Excellent points, and very well said! I did the same thing when I first started, and have to make a conscious effort to keep my “me” things to a minimum, even after several years.

    Thanks for the reminder, Nilofer.

    Reply
  5. Dean Mercado. October 23, 2011 at 4:34 am  |  

    Wow… I get that! Profound post! Nilofer, you are hitting the nail on the head. It’s never about ‘me’… it should be about something bigger than ‘me’… ‘us’ is a great start… the ‘greater good’ (if applicable) is even better. It’s hard for many of us to get that others typically don’t care about you, they care more about what you can do for them… engaging on platforms like blogs and Twitter are a great place to start!

    Side note: Thanks to my friend Kelly Lieberman ( @Tribe2point0 ) for turning me onto this conversation by sharing this post on Twitter! Her doing that really resonates with your message in this post… don’t you think?

    Reply
  6. David Stehle. October 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm  |  

    YES! Less about me and more about you. It’s the way the entire world should operate, not just social media.

    Thank you for putting into words exactly how I’ve felt for years now!

    Reply

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