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.

Overexposure vs. The Fear of Obscurity

I was just recently asked to speak at a local, sold out social media event that has been getting a ton of exposure.

Unfortunately, I had to decline. Why? Well, there are a slew of factors really. But first please allow me to indulge in a few thoughts I have been having about social media, networking, productivity and the like.

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A recent post by Carlos Miceli reinforced questions I have been asking myself lately:

What do my social actions say about my productivity?
How are my actions perceived?
Am I wasting my time posting and engaging in useless conversations?
Am I  collaboratively producing and constantly learning?
Are my connections and conversations providing value, not just to me, but to my work AND my network as well?

Interestingly, the same week a very dear colleague and friend Dana Lookadoo also posted an extremely useful column on getting control of your social media life.

All of a sudden a connection between productivity and transparency has been made.

I would like to think that the connections made online and the social blogosphere have been worthwhile. I have seen results. I can attest that there has been valuable information shared, and collaborative projects as well.

But I’ve seen the opposite too. And there are times I feel the urge to participate in time-wasting conversations, as if I needed to be present – not really as a social addiction, more out of fear of becoming invisible. Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s the conflict of overexposure vs. obscurity. Chew on that one.

My takeaway is this: I would rather give when I can, and be known for integrity and follow-through. It’s not about how loud I can be – I’d rather let my connections and work speak for itself.

So back to declining the last-minute offer to speak … initially I felt guilt, I was wasting an opportunity to be in front of colleagues and potential clients. I was letting the organizers, who are also friends of mine, down.  I could have done it, but at what expense? My schedule is packed, my project list never-ending. My family needs me. Oh, yeah, how about sleep? Sleep is good.

So I graciously passed. It’s uncomfortable for not to be out there, in front. I can’t stand to miss the party. But what I can say is this: I am more self-aware, and that will only make me more valuable to the connections I make in the future.