Desperately Seeking Personal Brand

Twitter recently cleaned up its database, removing a large number of spam accounts. Good. Down with spam, most of us would agree.

But many Twitter accounts lost some percentage of their followers as a result of the change. A hue and cry has sounded from some Twitter users who “lost” some of their social media street cred as their scorecard has been diminished.

But do you really need a scorecard to participate in a conversation or multiple conversations? For what? Personal glory? For bragging rights? You only need a scorecard if this is a competition.

Legitimate business goals may include accumulating fans, friends, or followers, but the impact of those followers is the true goal, making the followers a means to an end — not the end itself. Social media seems to have descended into a personal popularity contest with thousands of self-proclaimed social media gurus all vying for our attention to their every thought and insight. Does it seem a little desperate to anyone else?

The real gurus don’t exude this desperation. Even if they post every hour or even more often, they provide valuable content or comment thoughtfully on someone else’s thread or tweet. That’s true of both their personal musings as well as their professional insights. It’s just who they are.

In what other digital arena do we measure ourselves by our ability or proclivity to attract attention rather than produce solid results? Does anyone ever really use those measures except for ego gratification? Would you choose your business or media consultant or search or e-mail or creative partners because they had the most followers or pushed out messaging of questionable or irregular quality on a regular basis?

For that matter, would you choose your doctor, accountant, lawyer, or banker because they proved capable of accumulating the attention of strangers? It seems like a misguided and immature game some play with the end game being the scorecard, not the contribution. So how do you tell the difference between a passionate practitioner and an ego-driven pretender?

  1. Pretenders display their scorecards like a badge of honor and celebrate their milestones as if they were meaningful. Passionate practitioners accumulate followers and accolades as a byproduct. It isn’t their goal.
  2. Pretenders force themselves to continually push content outward even if they have little of value either personally or professionally to say. They talk to hear themselves talk. Passionate practitioners are defined by their content, not their volume.
  3. Pretenders use every trick and technology in the book to amp up their volume of posts and followers. Passionate practitioners may try new technologies as they emerge, but tend to narrow their preferred outlets and focus on the usability. Their growth is more organic, not forced.
  4. Pretenders love to tell you how to be more like them. Passionate practitioners are just themselves.
  5. Pretenders may not have ever used social media in the service of any true business goal. Passionate practitioners are usually veteran social media practitioners who may have a personal following but also have some miles on the tires in the service of their company, brand, or clients.
  6. Pretenders attempt to use social media as a ticket to their 15 minutes of fame. Passionate practitioners are true thought leaders who contribute to the unfolding channel with results of their experimentations, an intellectual framework, and open discussion that benefits everyone in the conversation.

This isn’t to taint those who have legitimately accumulated large followings. It happens. Good for them.

But what are they going to do for you? Buyer beware. The self-proclaimed social media guru may have impressive stats, but those stats won’t bring you results.

So what happens when the channel becomes too focused on personal gratification and quantity over quality? We get digitally unhealthy. We need to focus on quality conversations through appropriate channels.

In the same way consumers have tuned out ad clutter, have we created a false benefit for those who contribute to conversation clutter? Or are they really only talking to themselves? How can we possibly sustain quality conversations with thousands of people across millions of blogs or microblogs?

There is no one right way to participate in the social Web and I don’t claim to have all the answers myself or for the industry. Quality conversations can be defined in many ways and can include what you ate for breakfast or where you found those cute shoes just as legitimately as anything else — depending on your audience’s expectations.

If this comes uncomfortably close to your behavior online, please evaluate your approach to social media. If it isn’t producing something of value beyond a scorecard, know that the scorecard is worthless and we all know it.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center. Spend Day 1 learning about social media and video strategies with ClickZ.

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