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.
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