Humility, Twitter Reciprocity and Not Being Famous

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A month ago now I was at SMX West in San Jose, meeting up with good friends and colleagues, and meeting many for the first time as well. I had the pleasure to be introduced to someone well-known in the search space. We had a few great discussions over the course of 3 days, and at one point he turned to me and said, “I am sorry, but up until today I have never heard of you.” My response was merely, “So what?”
I don’t have any aspirations for recognition from strangers, I just want to do good work. But the exchange stuck with me, and started to think, do I fall into the same trap as to quickly assume because I haven’t heard of someone that the conversation is less meaningful or interesting? And where do the new connections generally originate if not in person? On Twitter, of course.

So this past week I just turned back on my Twitter follower notifications –  the past two years or so I was getting so much spam that I had to turn it off to maintain some level of sanity (especially those that pull the follow > unfollow > follow again trick to get your attention). And I still don’t know how people can engage with 10,000 people, or even 2,000 for that matter. But I wanted to see who the real people are in real time as they followed.  Plus it’s easier to detect the spammy profiles compared to back in the day when you actually had to visit a Twitter page, so the inbox hasn’t suffered too badly.

Interestingly, I noticed that I still didn’t follow back. And not because I didn’t want to “JOIN THE CONVERSATION”. I am on Twitter because I care about the people I follow and what they say, and it’s easier to do that if I manage that list. In fact I could probably do a better job reining it in. So does that make me a Twitter snob? No, the way I look at it is this – the people we seem to respect are following the least amount of people. It’s not an exclusivity metric or a popularity contest, it is because they have curated and honed in their following list to a realistic and useful level, and when they do converse, it’s not broadcasted noise.

Anyway, back to the “I am sorry but I have never heard of you” exchange… what is most interesting to me is the assumption that this was a bad thing. My participation in the marketing community – online and offline – has been a genuine effort to contribute and build respected relationships and trust, not about fame. So I keep my circles pretty tight. I could use Twitter (or anything else for that matter) as a platform to elevate my status, but what’s the point? I can’t equate accomplishing my goals that way, it’s not how I work. Let me clarify that using social media to meet people  – especially before and after events –  is a very powerful thing. But I don’t need it as a narcissistic stroke of the ego. And frankly, there are more than enough egos in this pond to contend with, another would just be jumping the shark.

29 thoughts on “Humility, Twitter Reciprocity and Not Being Famous

  1. I miss these kind of posts on some of the blogs I follow. The “open and up and give me some insightful thoughts to chew on” type of post is I guess what I mean.

    I totally agree with you. I attended two conferences last year and I was actually surprised how many folks (I secretly admired) did know who I was. On the same hand, there were enough who didn’t know who I was to keep me humble as well. 🙂

    And as you know, it was awesome to meet you in person finally last year at BlueGlassFL. See you on Twitter!

  2. While trying (yet again) to explain to the youngest kid what I do to pay for all her “stuff” she said “you should get a t-shirt that says ‘I’m almost famous on the internet'”.

    Almost.

  3. Bravo, Monica! I must admit, too, that I often learn far more from the people I’ve never heard of than the people everyone’s heard of. Not necessarily because the “Internet Famous” folk don’t have anything to say, but it gets repeated so much that you often hear it from others before you hear it from them.

    I have, upon occasion, said to someone, “How have I not met you before now?” But that’s usually because we know so many of the same people that it seems odd we hadn’t bumped into one another before.

    But you know what? Everyone meets or hears of someone for the first time SOMEtime. Even if that person is Internet Famous. 😉

  4. Thanks Marty, it was great meeting you in FL. I am glad that you miss these kind of posts. I actually write better hen I am inspired and start thinking then providing “10 tips” on something – not saying that there is anything wrong with that, it’s more of a preference. And you are the Mosquito Hawk, of course we know you! Hope to see you this year.

  5. Thanks Amy, funny, I have never heard of you either (that is such an awful way of phrasing it so I apologize) until I went to Blueglass FL, and it ends up that our degrees of separation are very very few. I like that. It’s odd that WE haven’t bumped into each other before. I like how you approach meeting new people.

  6. Even the most famous people are only famous to the people who have heard of them. I lose track of the number of times I get strange looks for not having heard of someone who is real life famous, never mind just SEO famous.

    I’ve also noticed that being SEO famous is given far too much credit by far too many people, as if being vocal somehow equals being good, there are a few cases where people are both, and far too many where someone ‘famous’ says something that makes me despair for the whole industry!

  7. I enjoy meeting people more now that I have no presence on Twitter: it’s far easier to tell nice people from those who only want to talk to people with over 2,500 Twitter followers 🙂 It’s also easier to ascertain whether or not someone is skilled at and willing to take a new person for who they are if that person will give you the time of day, even if they haven’t heard your name before. You weed out the utter tossers much more quickly 🙂

  8. Good for you. I mean that in the best way possible, really.

    There are too many people who see the number behind social websites as an indicator of importance, but what’s more important is the real work being done (to change the world even)! Those chasing the numbers will only find disappointment when they realize they don’t know any of the people following them, and the people following them rarely care about the work being done (try tweeting a link to 16,000 people who connected with you just to see their own numbers inflate, you’ll get at most 30 clicks).

    Amazing, but true.

  9. Maintaining humility is key in every interaction we are to have. If you ever get to the point where you immediately decide that you have nothing to learn from an individual then you need to stop, take a step back and realize how you got where you are and why you got there in the first place.

    And as far as Twitter goes, I began tightening down my circle on there a little while back (from around 800 to 150), it was painful, but utilizing the Lists feature to keep track of those I was unfollowing so that I could still see what they had to say (most often at a more appropriate time) allowed me to keep them in the conversation.

    Highly recommend creating buckets and filling them up with all those that are following you, because well, you just never know.

  10. Ha, I wouldn’t call them glory days. I’d call them an embarrassment, when I thought I needed to be part of the popularity contest to “get ahead.” Oooh, how not true that was :p Hope you’re well! I do miss chatting to folks like you – I should have just maintained a private account! Maybe one day 😀

  11. Being the “loudest” does not costitute as being the “smartest”. And as someone once told me, the louder you are the more likely you have something to hide. Not sure if that’s true for all but I can see that in many instances. I prefer “speak softly and carry a big stick”. I like sticks. 🙂

  12. I think I met you, Jane, once at the first SEOmoz conference, but very briefly. And I remember that you are no longer part of Twitterati. I ALSO remember reading the post http://janecopland.co.uk/2010/04/twitter/ – which I think has much of the same sentiment (going to reread it tonight). Thanks for chiming in, I look forward to crossing paths again.

  13. We did meet there, yeah! I remember that conference – it was basically in a UW lecture theatre, and as I’d just come back from vacation, being all made up and in front of those lights was daunting! True story – I put my top on inside out that morning. Yup. Memories 😀

    Thanks for the mention of that post. It was written when I was *very* anti-Twitter, and whilst I stand by it, I do realise there are some great things about Twitter too 🙂

  14. I agree, you don’t know what you’ll miss out on. Many times I check out others’ lists, and follow them for a while. Just to get out of the rut of talking to ourselves (mind you, I have met what I can now say some very, very good friends via Twitter). But it’s good to reach a bit outside of the bubble.

  15. It is true, the return is really baffling statistically. That’s why the numbers don’t really mean something. For example, can you put an ROI on having lunch with a colleague you formerly worked with, or attending a school event? I guess you could say “I got x # of leads from this special occasion” – but did you really? It was the relationship, which takes time.

  16. I <3 you Monica!

    I think the single most enjoyable aspect of all the #EpicDinners I coordinate is helping people meet who might not otherwise. It's especially gratifying for me when those who have few followers ask "can I attend?" in a way that comes across as if they don't know if they're worthy. Being able in this tiny way to help them connect is a total win!

    As for the fame thing, I laugh when someone calls me famous. It's like – okay so I happen to rant a lot, and have a little bit of skill in promoting my own content, my own voice. But seriously – truly famous people have either NOT heard of me, or only heard my rants at them which just makes me infamous (for about 3 seconds). 🙂

    Outside my own ego's asshat motives, it's much better to focus on high quality connections because they're the ones that last and provide the priceless memories over time.

  17. Thanks Monica for a really heartfelt expression of what drives people to further their professional goals. In fact, I not only keep a curated list on Twitter, but I get such a kick out of answering the queries or sending intros to folks, via social media. It is amazing how nice it feels to express yourself, and then someone writes you back about it! Also, you are the kind of person who can say they don’t want to be a twitter snob and mean it. You are genuine! That is sticky!

  18. I see one problem with your approach, that is that you fail to open a connection to people for private communications via DM’s. I don’t know you, or your business. But when someone follows me, I often follow back, especially people with lower numbers. I do that to open the possibility for us to share DMs.
    Managing my 7000 followers is a simple matter of creating lists and setting my columns up in TweetDeck or HootSuite. I only regularly interact with a couple of hundred people on Twitter. which is all than anyone can reasonably do.
    Now perhaps you feel that you are available to people in many ways, on email, via forms on your blog etc. However, I feel that one of the main ideas of Web 2.0 is to be where your audience is. That is in this case to open yourself to connections and communications with your audience in the medium they choose, not one of your choosing. Which would mean you should be available to them via Twitter.
    In the end I firmly believe that social media is an individual choice and you should only do what you are comfortable with. So I don’t think you should do anything you don’t want to. But from a business perspective you need to be aware that what you are doing isn’t a best practice, and for good reason.
    Thanks for good post.
    Chris

  19. I would say that with many arguments in business life this is another quality verses quantity issue. By the looks of the interactions you received on this blog post alone, I would say you have quality. And in my extremely humble egotistical pest control guy opinion… the more I know real people the more I find real superstars in the extra-ordinary people.

    To paraphrase a wise woman, “I wanted to do great and noble deeds, but my duty is to do the small and simple tasks as if they were great and noble.”

    I image that you do change the world for the people you do good work for.

  20. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’ll have to respectfully disagree in terms of it being not the “best practice”. Is it best practice to follow everyone via Linkedin or Facebook? Is it necessarily a good idea to be associated with individuals (or businesses, for that matter) who have somewhat of a questionable reputation? If there is DM stopping a conversation, I tweet to that person – “Hey can’t DM you because you aren’t following” – generally I get a pretty rapid response. As for “best practices” – once something becomes a “best practice” in this space all creativity goes out the window. But that’s another conversation for another day. 🙂

  21. Thomas, you are no longer the “pest control guy” – you have already been promoted to the “T-shirt guy with the random tweets” 🙂 Seriously, thank you for the kind words, it’s a crazy balance between online and off, and I can assure you that for me it has worked exceptionally well. But it is a personal decision, and timing can be everything. Looking forward to seeing you in Seattle.

  22. Thanks Diane for posting, it was great connecting with you in San Jose, specifically in the airport. But I think that’s a great example of how offline and online relationships happen, and how networks grow not because of the tools we use, but because of the time we dedicate.

  23. Applaud this post wholeheartedly, Monica. An outlook like this is what separates those who market themselves from those who market their clients.

  24. Self-promotion has it’s place, but those who talk more tend to do less.

    There are some who spend more time doing than talking about doing.

  25. Don’t feel bad, my mother still refers to my as a webmaster.

  26. I have to agree with you on this one, Monica.

    I rather have/read someone with a site full of good content than a huge TW follower list. I see many people these days putting more efforts into building a TW list to stroke their egos than working on their sites, so yeah, could not agree more with your point.

    Kind Regards.

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