I was waiting for friends to meet me for lunch near Union Square the other day. The place was getting crowded, so I sat at the bar to wait.  Chatting with the bartender, the inevitable “what do you do” question came up. He, like many New York City bartenders and wait staff, was an actor. I mentioned that that I’m involved in social media.

In between tending to newcomers at the bar, he asked me,

  “What do you think I could do to get my name out there using social media?”

I appreciated that he didn’t say what I often hear which goes something like, “I wouldn’t waste my time on Facebook” or “who wants to know what someone’s cat did?” Unlike many others I meet, he sensed there could be professional value for him in social media. One thing he knew for sure was that he wasn’t likely to meet anyone at the restaurant who would give him an acting job.

I figured I had about 40 seconds to give him an answer before either my friends arrived or another patron sat down at the bar to be taken care of. This might actually be a useful exercise in cutting to the chase when I get that question from people.

What I told him is this: before you can make social media work for you, you’ve got to figure out who you are and what you have to offer that is special.  Once you do that, the rest is mechanics, terminology, etiquette and some basic principles.  That part is fairly easy to learn.

I’ve seen people (including myself) and businesses struggle with social media because the answers to that question were not figured out before getting started.

If you’re just another actor or consultant or retailer of shoes or food, you’ll be spouting undifferentiated content.

Producing content is pointless unless it finds its way up the SEO ladder to the top of Google.  Your content needs to be worth sharing and your links need to be worth clicking on.

In Seth Godin’s book We Are All Weird, he quotes Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google as saying:

Every day we produce as much content as was produced by all of mankind for the 20,000 years before 2003.

The likelihood of getting discovered online is even smaller than the likelihood of that bartender being plucked out from behind the bar for a role in a movie.   There’s just too much noise online for people to be heard unless they can say something original and interesting.

It used to be that if you had a big budget, you could buy yourself awareness through advertising. But money cans no longer buy you love.  You’ve got to earn it.

Social media is not a magic bullet. People who think that this “social media thing” is worth jumping into before they can answer the “what’s so special about me?” question are going to be greeted by silence. Blogging five times a week or hiring an expensive agency to get you onto Facebook won’t help very much.  Talking more is not the solution when the problem is too much content.

Seth Godin’s prophetic book from 2002, The Purple Cow, is truer today than when he wrote it. The simple message:  be remarkable. In We Are all Weird, he takes the idea further and implores readers to make choices, to have the courage to commit to their off-center passions and talents—and embrace the reality that they will be alienating some part of the market.

Today, when SEO is your walk-by traffic, celebrating the ways that you are different and not the middle of the road approach of pleasing the masses is going to determine whether you survive or not.

So I challenged the bartender to answer the question about what makes him stand out from the crowd—what qualities, or ideas, or looks, or approach or history (or all of the above) make him special?

He was stumped.

Social media won’t solve that problem.

RELATED:

The Paradoxical Secret Of Obsession Worth Branding (Forbes)

What’s The Difference Between Your Product And A Meaningless Commodity (Marketing Without A Net)

 

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.blurbpoint.com/link-building-services.php Link Building Services

    It is right that social media will not solve the problem or to help to be the different from the all to whom people like most. But it is one path to reach at the destination of being different. As social media is the place through which one can know that what the people like and they not get yet and what are the things that not provided by others. And after observation of this things, one can try to provide such things to the people and this way they try to be different from all. And then by taking care of their satisfaction one can stick at the position which they get. So this way though social media is not the goal but it is the path to reach at goal.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      I completely agree.  It’s my practice to jump in and learn on the go from the trial and error of social media.  I don’t believe that most people know the answer to the question and social media is a great way to figure it out.  As long as figuring out an answer to the question is top of mind during the process, it’s possible to find success in social media (or business). Like you, I’m about the path, not the goal.  That’s a great idea for a blog post! Thanks for your comment.

      • http://www.blurbpoint.com/link-building-services.php Link Building Services

        As why social media is the path for the success is that from the social media one can build different ideas and strategies from the experience of the professional. And this ideas be helpful for them to move their business in right direction by learning from the mistakes of other people.

  • http://www.blurbpoint.com/link-building-services.php Link Building Services

    It is right that social media will not solve the problem or to help to be the different from the all to whom people like most. But it is one path to reach at the destination of being different. As social media is the place through which one can know that what the people like and they not get yet and what are the things that not provided by others. And after observation of this things, one can try to provide such things to the people and this way they try to be different from all. And then by taking care of their satisfaction one can stick at the position which they get. So this way though social media is not the goal but it is the path to reach at goal.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      I completely agree.  It’s my practice to jump in and learn on the go from the trial and error of social media.  I don’t believe that most people know the answer to the question and social media is a great way to figure it out.  As long as figuring out an answer to the question is top of mind during the process, it’s possible to find success in social media (or business). Like you, I’m about the path, not the goal.  That’s a great idea for a blog post! Thanks for your comment.

      • http://www.blurbpoint.com/link-building-services.php Link Building Services

        As why social media is the path for the success is that from the social media one can build different ideas and strategies from the experience of the professional. And this ideas be helpful for them to move their business in right direction by learning from the mistakes of other people.

  • http://askaaronlee.com Aaron Lee

    Great post Ilana, I guess you caught him off guard with your answer, bet he was expecting a more direct answer. In my opinion I think most of us jump into social for the purpose of engaging and slowly but surely some of us will find our voice and what makes us different. Bet if the bartender takes some time to think, he’ll find what makes him different :D 

    • Ilana rabinowitz

      I am confident that he will figure it out as can most people and businesses that put their minds to this question. I know he was thinking about it and that’s a great start. Thanks for your comment Aaron.

  • http://askaaronlee.com Aaron Lee

    Great post Ilana, I guess you caught him off guard with your answer, bet he was expecting a more direct answer. In my opinion I think most of us jump into social for the purpose of engaging and slowly but surely some of us will find our voice and what makes us different. Bet if the bartender takes some time to think, he’ll find what makes him different :D 

    • Ilana rabinowitz

      I am confident that he will figure it out as can most people and businesses that put their minds to this question. I know he was thinking about it and that’s a great start. Thanks for your comment Aaron.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612431965 Ells Bells

    As a marketing student in Ireland, i found this very interesting with relation to what i have studied. ‘What do we do?’ is the question that keeps on popping up. 

    For one of my group projects, we have to design a viral campaign with a budget of 1000 euro, i’d be interested in any tips or success stories from anyone. thank you :)

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Maybe your class got a trick question.  It’s very hard to purposefully design a viral campaign.  That’s like saying to a composer, go out and write a hit song.  You can study the qualities of campaigns that have gone viral so you at least have some guidelines, but it’s a bit of magic when it happens.  The question you can start with is “what can I create that I personally would feel compelled to share.”  Having said all that, if I had 1000 euro and an assignment that I was going to fail if I ignored,  I’d probably think YouTube video done with an iPhone and take it from there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612431965 Ells Bells

    As a marketing student in Ireland, i found this very interesting with relation to what i have studied. ‘What do we do?’ is the question that keeps on popping up. 

    For one of my group projects, we have to design a viral campaign with a budget of 1000 euro, i’d be interested in any tips or success stories from anyone. thank you :)

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Maybe your class got a trick question.  It’s very hard to purposefully design a viral campaign.  That’s like saying to a composer, go out and write a hit song.  You can study the qualities of campaigns that have gone viral so you at least have some guidelines, but it’s a bit of magic when it happens.  The question you can start with is “what can I create that I personally would feel compelled to share.”  Having said all that, if I had 1000 euro and an assignment that I was going to fail if I ignored,  I’d probably think YouTube video done with an iPhone and take it from there.

  • http://www.grmwebsite.com Emily

    Great post, Ilana. I think that many people today believe that once they create a social media account, they should see results almost immediately. What they don’t know – and what we continue to emphasize to clients – is that success in social media requires a strategy and consistency. Consistent Content and a strong sense of the company’s purpose are both necessary to succeed on social media. Thanks for the post! 

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for commenting Emily. As they say, social media is a marathon, not a sprint.

  • http://www.grmwebsite.com Emily

    Great post, Ilana. I think that many people today believe that once they create a social media account, they should see results almost immediately. What they don’t know – and what we continue to emphasize to clients – is that success in social media requires a strategy and consistency. Consistent Content and a strong sense of the company’s purpose are both necessary to succeed on social media. Thanks for the post! 

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for commenting Emily. As they say, social media is a marathon, not a sprint.

  • http://twitter.com/Collectual Collective Intellect

    I guess we jump to the technology piece first since it is sometimes easier than defining what’s different about us. But establishing the foundation for how you want to describe who you are and what you do influences how a person or organization engages with clients, prospects, the market, etc going forward. Defining your intention or goal upfront is important before adopting any new technology whether it’s social media, a Web site or an analytics tool.

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Jennifer @collectual:disqus

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Glad it provided food for thought. A goal is a moving target but it’s certainly easier to reach with the constant feedback we get from social media.

  • http://twitter.com/Collectual Collective Intellect

    I guess we jump to the technology piece first since it is sometimes easier than defining what’s different about us. But establishing the foundation for how you want to describe who you are and what you do influences how a person or organization engages with clients, prospects, the market, etc going forward. Defining your intention or goal upfront is important before adopting any new technology whether it’s social media, a Web site or an analytics tool.

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Jennifer @collectual:disqus

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Glad it provided food for thought. A goal is a moving target but it’s certainly easier to reach with the constant feedback we get from social media.

  • Saradoug10

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I think it is very true today that people who use social media sites do not understand the potential possibilities the sites can provide and open to its users. It truly is all about putting yourself out there on these sites in a unique way that makes you marketable and different from everyone else. I think it is important that people learn to understand how important social media is in today’s workforce and society and learn to use it to their advantage. 

  • Saradoug10

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I think it is very true today that people who use social media sites do not understand the potential possibilities the sites can provide and open to its users. It truly is all about putting yourself out there on these sites in a unique way that makes you marketable and different from everyone else. I think it is important that people learn to understand how important social media is in today’s workforce and society and learn to use it to their advantage. 

  • Arthur | PrepaidPlans

    I think that you can work it out along the way. It doesn’t have to be solved before you start. Unless you are involved it can be hard to see the noise that is going on. Great post Illana

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for the comment Arthur.  I’m a big believer in getting into it and figuring it out along the way.  You need to have a general direction and the feedback will inform the path.

  • Arthur | PrepaidPlans

    I think that you can work it out along the way. It doesn’t have to be solved before you start. Unless you are involved it can be hard to see the noise that is going on. Great post Illana

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for the comment Arthur.  I’m a big believer in getting into it and figuring it out along the way.  You need to have a general direction and the feedback will inform the path.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HHSA4DSVWYU4HXAEPXLIPEOQ7Y Seymore

    I think it could be summed up what is your unique selling proposition and why is that important to the people you want to reach? social media is a great tool to reach a targeted mass. You said it brilliantly in the post.

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