14 Nov 2012, Ian Greenleigh
The quickest way onto someone’s radar is through their ego, to reimagine that old phrase about the connection between heart and stomach. We like to surround ourselves with people that make us feel good about ourselves. Hollywood stars have their entourages, but those of us a bit closer to Earth start relationships with people that reinforce our self-image. There’s nothing inherently bad about having an ego and doing things in service of it (as I’ve written elsewhere, “the concept of ego really gets a bum rap”). Whenever we praise and compliment, bestow awards and recognition, quote, link to, retweet, or even merely follow someone, we are dealing with their ego, intentionally or otherwise. But appealing to another’s ego can be a perfectly tasteful and legitimate way of advancing our own interests. Consider the following two requests:
- “Could you meet me for an hour each week to discuss my career trajectory, give me expert advice when I need it, and serve as a reference when I’m looking for a new job?”
- “I’m really inspired by your success, and I’d love to follow in your footsteps. I’d be honored if you would act as my mentor and work with me to help me shine, too. It should take no more than an hour a week.”
Most people would be more likely to accept the second request, because it paints the same activities as an extension of their personal success, instead of a request for work with no pay, which is the way a cynic might describe it. This concept applies incredibly well to the world of social. It’s hard to believe at times, but the best way to start a relationship with someone that has hardly noticed you yet is to ask for something. The perfect access-granting request is for something that is low effort on their end, of significant value on your end, and…
- Makes them feel good about themselves
- Makes them look good to others
- Is public-facing (like a quote)
- Helps them, even in a small way, get more of what they’re after (like publicity)
Not all of these conditions need to be met to make the request successful. A lot of it depends on the context, the person’s familiarity with you and/or your work, and the person’s view of themselves. All of the conditions above offer something called “ego capital,” which is the element that makes something appeal to the ego. Almost anything can be made more powerful with the help of ego capital: marketing, sales, job searches, even relationships. There’s an important distinction between ego capital and flattery. One of the more common definitions of flattery is “insincere or excessive praise;” in other words something that is over the top by its very nature. (That’s the definition evident in the famous idiom, “flattery will get you nowhere.”) Ego capital may harness the same dynamics, but it can be used in a tasteful, genuine manner—unlike its flamboyant cousin, flattery. Flattery is ego capital gone wild.
1 Oct 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Undercover Boss is a British-born television show with derivative versions in the US, Australia, Norway, Germany and Canada. The premise is simple: Top corporate executives go “under cover” as low-level employees to “examine the inner workings of their companies.” Filled with front-lines revelations, tough lessons, and buckets of tears, the executives leave their adventures in the real world with a new understanding of the day-to-day realities of the people that keep their companies humming. There’s something special about the show, as evidenced by the US version’s Emmy nomination and the fact that it “ranks as the biggest new series premier since 1987,” according to CBS.
The experience is often very humbling. The C-suiters routinely appear inept at performing simple tasks, or clueless about things like how their products are actually made. But if we’re to take them at their word, it’s all worth it. Why?
There are financial awards for companies appearing on the show. Essentially, the companies profiled are getting free advertising during prime time to the tune of more than $12,000,000, as one estimate suggests. Another analysis shows that many of the companies see a stock performance bump after appearing on the show. But a lot of the “free advertising” is unflattering, and it seems unlikely that the share price spike is a safe enough bet for the TV appearance to be calculated for this potential benefit.
No, these big shots are looking for something else: an escape from the echo chamber. Like Shakespeare’s King Henry V, who donned a disguise to walk among the his soldiers and get the unvarnished truth about their readiness for the next day’s battle, many powerful people know that their “10,000 foot view” of reality is colored by career-minded “yes men,” corporate groupthink, and their distance from the front lines.
Those who make important decisions based on a severely distorted reality will ultimately fail, so shrewd leaders place enormous importance on their backchannels to the truth. This is reflected in the rise of internal social networks like Yammer and Salesforce Chatter, which can facilitate enterprise-wide collaboration and that much-vaunted corporate “transparency.” These networks serve, in part, to break down rigid siloes and chains of command that can kill great ideas before they reach someone with the authority and resources to make them happen. On Chatter, for instance, a CEO can post a question to the organization, and receive answers from employees from across the entire company, at every level in the hierarchy. And yet, at many corporations, a direct email to the CEO concerning the same exact issue would be met with a layer of administrative scrutiny in the form of his or her executive assistant, where it may join a long queue of incoming messages, or die on the vine all together.
It’s worth noting, however, that employees don’t have quite the same enthusiasm for the potential of these tools. According to a survey from Deloitte, “As it relates to management visibility, 38% of executives think social media allows for increased transparency while only 17% of employees agree.”
Taking a break from writing this chapter, I happened to check my Facebook feed. On it, a friend had reposted her friend’s request for referrals to a freelance writer. This friend of a friend was a senior marketing executive at a major American auto manufacturer. Several hopefuls posted their interest on the thread, and I added a referral to someone I had worked with. Why did this executive feel the need to post his request to Facebook, and not simply scan his company’s database of proven copywriters? I suspect he’d say that there’s a world of knowledge and talent outside of his Detroit high-rise headquarters.
4 Sep 2012, Ian Greenleigh
A lot has happened in my life since I started writing The Social Side Door. I married the love of my life. I visited the beautiful island nation of St. Maarten. I helped throw a successful conference, and buried myself in a million interesting projects at work.
And now I’m ridiculously happy to announce: I have a book deal. McGraw-Hill will be releasing The Social Side Door in Fall 2013. I’m excited to join the ranks of authors like Mack Collier, Guy Kawasaki, Ric Dragon, Mark Schaefer, and so many others I respect.
There are too many people to thank in this post, but I want to make sure to let my readers know that your support helped me get here. I’ll still be posting excerpts from the book, but probably not as frequently.
Because I’m in no position to dole out writing advice this early in my career, I’ll leave it to someone who inspires me:
And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art.
-Neil Gaiman, from a keynote address to The University of the Arts, May 17, 2012.
22 Aug 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Traditional endorsements are specific and direct; I ask for a quote from my best customers, or I pay a celebrity to pretend they like what I sell. Or when I’m looking for a job, I ask my former colleagues for references (this has been updated with the advent of LinkedIn recommendations, but it’s the same practice).
Endorsements can also be tacit and subtle, too. This is the kind of social proof that typically exists in the social Web, and it’s critical to opening up side doors. After all, an endorsement doesn’t have to be explicit.
Some of the social proof signals that people rely on for mental shortcuts—whether they admit it or not—include:
- Number of social connections (Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc.)
- Mentions and links in social content (tweets, blog posts, comments, etc.)
- Evidence of high traffic to blog or website
- List and RSS subscribers
- Klout score
All of these things are signals that convey information. Someone having a high number of Twitter followers or blog subscribers means, on the face of it, a lot of people care to listen to them. Social proof is the mechanism that kicks in once we see this, the feeling that we should give them our attention as well. If we were to evaluate whether or not to pay attention to someone by sifting through every social signal they emit, our social circle would necessarily be tiny.
Although they do make impressions on people, raw numbers aren’t the best indicators of importance. Subscribers, links, friends and followers can all be gamed. So can the algorithms that suck in disparate information and spit out Klout scores. The strongest signal when it comes to social proof is influence by association. This happens when someone that is already an influencer publicly engages with you. Maybe they retweet something you posted, mention you on their blog, or “love” your Instagram photo. In doing so, they pass on influence to you. Their audience is now aware of you, and aware of the fact that someone that influences them is taking the time to engage with you. If you’re on the influencer’s radar, so the mental math goes, you should be on their audience’s radar, too.
3 Jul 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Do bloggers need to focus on SEO to be “findable” to members of the press?
I would say going after press is probably easier than being “findable”, though if you are already using it as a strategy for your blog you should make sure to think about the press side of things.
Your first CNN appearance happened because of a guest post you wrote. How can people identify the blogs that reporters read to position themselves for similar opportunities?
Usually larger blogs are more likely to have members of the press. I never realized that some of the journalists I knew were reading these blogs until I went back and started to read the comments. Becoming more visible in general, like being on bigger blogs, will bring more opportunities your way.
When you interviewed David Heinemeier Hansson, founder of 37signals, he shared it on Twitter and sent a lot of people to your site, many of whom turned into subscribers. How do you recommend approaching busy people like David for an interview?
Just ask. I’ve asked a lot of very important people, and the vast majority have said yes. I specifically say that I can shorten the interview and work with their schedule. I also make sure to let them know how much I love their work, because it’s much more than just an interview, I am a big fan of their work before I ask.
How can people use other social channels, like Twitter, to be more visible to the press?
You can start adding journalists to your feed. You can start to see what they talk about, and tweet about, and what they are looking for. That way if you do pitch to them you are more targeted. And you never know – one of them might see your site and love it.
So you’ve got interest from a reporter, and it looks like they’re going to include you in a story. What’s your most important next step?
If you have given them the story, you should ask when you can expect to see it. That’s when you also what to see if there might be a link. Then you wait. Don’t bug them, but after a reasonable amount of time (i.e., after it’s supposed to be out) you can email them. Many times I found out articles came out because I looked at my Google analytics and saw traffic from it.
18 Jun 2012, Ian Greenleigh
“Blog to job” is a career path that many now aim for, but few actually experience. Marcy Massura is a prolific blogger, community manager, author, and much more. She’s a living case study on how to create social side doors in your career, and her influence keeps growing. I asked her to talk about what it takes.
What were your goals when you first started blogging? Was finding great work one of them?
When I started 5 years ago, the concept of blogging as a career was just forming, and while I was mindful to build a site that was ‘brand friendly’ it was not my first intention. I started blogging because I wanted an audience. I am a humor writer, and a former performer- and the blog platform gave me an instant audience from day one. Like all artistic and creative endeavors you have to love it first, and profit from it later.
Since you began blogging, it has become a bit of a crowded field. How would you advise today’s beginning bloggers to stand out and get noticed?
Be exceptional. Too many bloggers are busy being average, copying others and working every angle possible to get brands and agencies to notice them. But the bloggers we agency people are interested in have well written content, good photo and video skills and have strong niche communities around specific topics and genres. Those bloggers are exceptional. Secondly…and I have said this for many years now- the ultimate key to blogging success is consistency. Be consistent in everything from your publishing schedule, your content quality and your tone. Being great every once in a while is interesting, but success is built on doing something consistently well.
You’re adamant that numbers like fans and followers don’t represent actual influence. What are some other ways to signal to people that you’re worth their attention?
Well for starters we all need to acknowledge that measuring ‘influence’ is as impossible as measuring charm. You cannot actually measure something so intangible. What we can do is look to indicators that people find the person important in their world- so that often means fans and follower numbers. But we go deeper and look at the quality of those interactions to really assess the potential influence a brand or social promoter might have…so comments, tweets and conversations matter more, and are likely to be the thing to tip the scale between to equally matched bloggers. Also, the metrics for a blog site alone are only part of the story…we analyze the overall digital footprint and take into consideration every one of the blogger’s platforms. So collectively, we look to a blogger’s ‘community’ and broadcast potential- and the quality of those communities before making any decisions.
Having great content that demonstrates one’s expertise is one thing, but getting people to read it is another. What’s the most important thing you did to build your social presence?
Be everywhere. Every platform, every conference, every conversation. Be everywhere you can be in the digital space to be noticed. And before you start sending people back to your blog- be certain you have quality content there to make them want to come back again.
Barriers to entry in social media are low, so advice and tips on blogging are everywhere. What’s the single most clichéd or cringe-worthy piece of blogging advice you encounter that just seems wrong to you?
Gosh there is so much bad advice out there! But I think the thing that makes me cringe the most is the advice I read recently telling bloggers to ‘stay on single topic’ on their sites, and it went on to say ‘if you want to talk about other topics –start another blog’. This is horrible advice! Your blog is more like a TV channel than a TV show. You can, and should have a diverse range of topics and categories. Remember the concept of blogging is that it is personality based journalism, so the connecting link- the common thread in ANY topic…IS YOU. The blogger. So you can, and should write about anything that you fancy- as long as it is written through the filter of your voice and opinion.
What’s the ideal mindset for approaching blogging as a means of earning access and influence?
Ideal mindset? Well……don’t have that mindset! If you ask a girl out on a date with the single goal and intention of marrying her- chances are you are not only going to reveal yourself as someone whose heart isn’t in it, but you will never get even close to closing that deal. Much is the same in world of blogging…you have to do it because you love it. You have to do it consistently and create excellent content because you love it. Only then might you get noticed. And you might not. Be okay with that.
12 Jun 2012, Ian Greenleigh
The truth is simple. Standing in line at the front door works just often enough that we keep doing it. It doesn’t matter if it has never worked for us; we’ve seen it work for enough people that we believe it will for us, eventually. Our culture is saturated with front-door thinking. From backbreaking SAT prep, to soul-crushing internships, to the 4,074 books found under “resume writing” on Amazon.com, we are raised from an early age to believe in the front door as the only gateway to the realization of our ambitions.
We work tirelessly on the things that open the front door just a bit wider, revise our resumes over and over, give the cold call roulette another spin, buy yet another email list. We’re so busy practicing our “line dance” at the front door, we hardly notice when someone breaks rank and walks around the corner. Sometimes we may even pity them for this—they’ve given up, quit, lost hope. But if we just peek around that corner ourselves, we’ll see them opening the social side door and walking right in.
Sunk costs and other lame excuses
Most of us—myself included—have invested thousands of hours waiting for the front door to open for us. We’ve worked incredibly hard on the things that are supposed to open it. At a certain point, we start to think of all the resources we’ve poured into a better place in line as sunk costs. Sunk costs (and perhaps cheap whiskey) are responsible for the worst decision-making on the planet. “You’ve come this far; it will all start to pay off soon,” we’ve all told ourselves a million times. And this gives us a little endorphin boost of false hope that makes it easier to keep line dancing.
Sunk costs have a particularly powerful effect on our ability to make good choices. We tend to value what we’ve put into an effort over what we stand to gain if we abandon that effort, because we are “loss averse.” The sunk costs fallacy is also called the Concorde fallacy, after the Concorde aircraft that was jointly built by the British and French. Long after it was clear that continued development of the plane was economically unsound, both governments continued to pursue it for fear of “wasting” the funds they had already spent on it.
Somewhere, locked away in a place we’d rather not visit, is the seed of doubt. We can, in fact, choose not to compete for a place in line. Choosing to achieve the same thing in a better, faster way is not quitting—it’s winning, and it feels infinitely better than finally getting to the front of the line.
Any decision carries risks. But there’s really no reason to fear “giving up” your place in line; it’s not always an all-or-nothing gamble. Think of it as an iterative process. In v.1, you might spend half of your time pursuing alternative methods of access and influence, and the other half on more traditional methods. Depending on the results you see, v.2 may bump up the alternative methods to 75%, and minimize the traditional methods to 25%, and so on for v.3. You’ll eventually hit a tipping point at which the results from social side door seeking completely outshine the few results seen from front door methods. That’s when you jump in all the way. At that point, any time spent working the line at the front door to no avail will truly seem like time you could be spending finding the social side door, making things happen. It will be the easiest opportunity cost calculation you’ve ever made, the one you’ll kick yourself for not making years ago: boredom, idling, passivity, the familiar sting of being turned down at the gate, versus creativity, rich human interactions, and finally—finally—the kind of results you had stopped believing were possible.
30 May 2012, Ian Greenleigh
As I write this, there are 1,500 job openings listed on ThomsonReuters.com. There’s exactly one comment on the latest post on Reuters CEO Tom Glocer’s personal blog–and it’s spam. It’s likely that when Tom Glocer does get comments, he reads every one (he also replies on occasion). This is the CEO of a company with 55,000 employees and nearly $13 billion in annual revenue. He doesn’t tweet often, but he does reply to some of the mentions he gets (about 20 in the past 30 days). There are hardly any comments on any of the ten latest posts on The Knowledge Effect, an official Thomson Reuters blog. In the last seven days, only three jobseekers have tweeted at @JobsWithUs, the official Thomson Reuters recruiting account. Something isn’t adding up. Where are the jobseekers?
Saatchi & Saatchi is synonymous with innovation in the agency space. They’re absurdly successful, and list “6 of the top 10 and over half of the top 50 global advertisers” as clients. They’re on your Top 10 list if you’re a recent graduate or agency jobseeker; they’re the agency you want to partner with if you’re in business development; they’re the agency you want to sell to if you sell or market to agencies. And just like Thomson Reuters, their CEO, Kevin Roberts, has his own blog. As I write this, the latest ten posts have—together—received exactly five comments. One of the comments is spam, from a user called, “hosting company.” What if it had been an intelligent, on-topic comment from someone calling their self “S&S Hopeful”? We can’t know it would have changed anything for the aspiring employee, but we do know that Kevin Roberts would have at least read it: “All comments must be approved by the blog author.” And how many Saatchi & Saatchi jobseekers get to interact with Kevin Roberts at any stage in the hiring process? How many salespeople or marketers get to speak directly to the CEO of one of the top agencies in the world?
What would you do for the chance to ask Warren Buffet anything? According to The Wall Street Journal, “there are few prizes more coveted than the opportunity to ask Warren Buffett a question at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting.” The notoriously inaccessible titan answers 20-30 audience questions every year, and the rules have been changed several times in favor of more equitable question selection. Most recently, raffles were set up in multiple locations throughout the venue, and Fidelity Investments saw this for what it was—an open side door. Although the company “holds about $4 billion of Berkshire shares, or a roughly 2% stake in the company,” this equity alone still isn’t enough for an audience with Buffet. They sent 40 analysts, who entered several raffles each, netting this 2% stakeholder a whopping 20% of all the audience questions asked. Other attendees found their own side doors. Both managing partners of investing house T2 Partners were able to ask Buffet questions this year, after they spotted an overflow room in which the raffle wasn’t attracting many entries. Although neither of these side doors were social in nature, their discovery—and usage—reflect exactly the kind of thinking required to uncover access opportunities in the social space. If only Buffet tweeted!
22 May 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Social media access is either active or passive, as is the resulting influence. Active access is the deliberate and direct pursuit of entry. Reaching out to someone directly through LinkedIn to request a lunch meeting is active access. Tweeting at an editor and asking them to read your proposal is active access (no, I don’t make that a habit). Active access is sometimes risky. Your cards are on the table. You’re knocking on the door and asking to be let in. It’s easy to find your approach a bit jarring or abrasive. Who is this person again? What do they want? And why are they tweeting at me? On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore someone being so direct.
Passive access is earned over time, and sometimes it’s unexpected. One of your blog readers may be organizing a conference, and thinks you’ll be a great speaker. The event’s attendees are exactly the kind of people you’re trying to get in front of. Passive access is like being invited in, as opposed to requesting an invite. It’s built through steady engagement with decision-makers and the people they trust, and is focused on making true contributions before making any self-interested requests.
But you don’t have to choose between active and passive access. They aren’t mutually exclusive; they’re actually quite complimentary. The trick is to build pathways from passive access to active access. Start with a passive approach, earning mindshare and influence, until you feel confident that whoever you’re reaching out to directly will know who you are, and will want to help you out. If you’ve been given more than you’ve been taking at that point—sharing or creating great content, helping them spread their ideas, engaging with them on a regular basis—your direct approach will seem like a natural next step, and you’ll get more of their attention and consideration.
This is how I started talking to Seth Godin—author of 13 bestsellers, and one of my heroes. It started with a tweet:
I’d like to see more books w/ official hashtags so readers can discuss while reading. Not just SM books.
— Ian Greenleigh (@be3d) April 22, 2011
A fleeting idea…or so I thought. Several people re-tweeted it within the hour, so I decided to blog about the idea. Weeks passed with little activity on the post. Then, out of the blue, a Twitter friend of mine emailed Seth Godin about the idea, and introduced us. The next day, Seth blogged about it, linked to my post, and assigned official hashtags to the three most recent books from his imprint. Since then, we’ve kept in touch by email, and I interviewed him on my company’s blog. If that didn’t feel surreal enough, a coworker of mine visited my desk and plopped down a copy of his latest book, We Are All Weird. Printed on the back was the official hashtag for the book. I’ll never forget that moment, and that it all started with a tweet.
From passive to active access in a matter of weeks. Sometimes the most rewarding access is indirect, delayed, or unexpected. While it may seem a bit karmic, it’s really just a balance sheet. If you continuously deliver value to the audience you’re cultivating, every so often a social side door will open. You’ll think about all the times you doubted whether you were creating anything worthwhile—anything worthy of the world’s attention. And then you’ll get back to work. Because social media, like nothing else before it, can help normal people make an abnormal dent in the world around them.
16 May 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Absolutely necessary or essential.
Who and what do you consider indispensable? Someone you turn to for advice when you’re not sure which path to take? The cup of coffee that delivers that rush of caffeine to start your day? Your iPhone?
Yes, you could technically survive without these people or things. But your life may be tougher, less fun, and even less fulfilling. That’s the thing about being indispensable: it’s always relative.
Social media can help make you or your company indispensable as a source of…
And a whole lot more. Strive to infuse a few complimentary qualities into your social engagement and content. Knowledge and insight, for instance, go hand in hand. The best way to choose which qualities to add to the mix is to think about what comes naturally to you, and what people value in their interactions with you. Someone that’s great at introducing people might, then, choose to reflect this ability to connect in their social persona.
Selfish vs. self-interested
After chronicling my “social job search,” I found that what was resonating with people seemed to be a mix of guidance and motivation—something I didn’t expect, given my distaste for self-help books. But I ran with it, and it continued to work. This wasn’t a formula, or recipe—anyone that purports to possess a formula for “success” in any realm should be ignored. What I had found, however, were two truths that are as close to universal as truths get:
- People are self-interested. This is reflected in their content consumption and sharing.
- Content that benefits consumers will ultimately benefit its creators and distributors.
With few exceptions, the people that get the most out of social media are the ones that consistently deliver something of value to their audience. The most popular homemade videos on YouTube make people laugh. Or they help people. I recall being surprised at the number of views—often in the hundreds of thousands—of the videos I would watch when learning to shave with a straight blade razor. But should I have really been surprised? These videos solve problems that people have in their lives, no matter how small that problem may seem to an outsider. Sitting there with a face full of cuts and a new razor, I turned to these videos for help, as did hundreds of thousands with the same problem. In that moment, the problem loomed large, and the solution was in reach.
If we consume content that helps us in some way, what motivates us to share it? A study by The New York Times and Latitude Research asked this question, and found five general motivations for sharing, three of which are fundamentally self-interested.
- We share to bring valuable and entertaining content to others (mostly altruistic)
- We share to define ourselves to others, and to receive social validation (mostly self-interested)
- We share to strengthen and nourish our relationships with one another (mostly self-interested)
- We share for self-fulfillment—“We enjoy getting credit for it” (mostly self-interested)
- We share to advocate for causes we believe in, and less commonly, brands we want to support (mostly altruistic)
The lesson here is simple: to become indispensable, become a source of content that fulfills as many of these motivations as possible, as thoroughly as possible. A few examples:
- @breakingnews has over 4 million Twitter followers because it provides news alerts before they become mainstream knowledge. It creates no original content of its own (besides the tweets), and links to a wide array of sources.
- “Dad blogger” Ron Mattocks has earned high-profile speaking invitations, a book deal, guest columns, and media appearances, because his Clark Kent’s Lunchbox blog helps other dads be better parents.
- Ex-accountant Therese Schwenkler saw a profound need for a source of “non-sucky” advice for young people like herself, so she decided to create it. Her blog The Unlost is a source of inspiration and guidance for thousands, and along the way she’s finding answers to her own questions.
- Kate Spade New York realized that people wanted a “peek of what it’s like to work at Kate Spade, and an inside look in the fashion industry,” so they made it the focus of their blog. “I think there are a lot of women that aspire to live interesting lives, and they can experience that in a very authentic way through our blog,” says VP of eCommerce Johanna Murphy.
Self-interest can mutate into selfishness when value is promised and not delivered. Or when people ask for things before they’ve provided much of anything themselves. “Squeeze pages” that require personal information before any value is “dispensed.” A twitter stream that contains only self-promotion. Mass Facebook messages asking for votes from people the sender hasn’t interacted with in months or years. These don’t help anyone but the originator—there is no mutual benefit.
The indispensable person or company understands that their self-interest will be fulfilled only when they fulfill the self-interest of their audience first. Social media offers no shortcuts, but it offers a powerful set of tools for delivering and receiving value.