A few weeks ago, people started posting all over the place asking for votes so that they could be part of the SXSW panel. I was kind of baffled by the whole process, but what really struck me at the time is that a lot of people who often reference each other, send traffic to each other, and exchange friendly greetings on Twitter were essentially competing against each other for votes.
That little nugget of a thought has been rolling around between my ears ever since, kind of bugging me. It really started to gnaw at me yesterday after I put some of my thoughts into my post about questions. And then I figured out why.
In some way or other, most of the people I follow, most of the people who follow me, and most of the people whom I see on Twitter are, in some way, competitors. Maybe not directly, maybe not even intensely. But we are competing for the same kinds of attention, the same kinds of business.
Ooh, did it just get warm in here?
I understand that this is an uncomfortable topic. You don’t really see a whole lot about it, but it’s always the 80 pound gorilla or the pink elephant in the room. It is a fact, though. If you call yourself a business consultant, you are competing for business with other business consultants. If you are a “Social Media expert,” you are competing, in essence, with everyone else who is called or who calls themselves Social Media experts. I am competing with other advertising agency people, especially those in the B2B business. Now you might say, “Well, geography separates us and is part of our niche” but what do we know about Social Media? This information, for everyone, goes everywhere.
A hint of confusion, a pinch of don’t go there
I think about this little kernel of a fact, and then I think about the frustration that a lot of people have expressed (experts or not) about being asked to give away information. And I’m kind of wondering…is this a frustration…is this so ambiguous…because we don’t consciously act on Social Media sites as if we’re cavorting with the enemy?
Let’s say, for example, that I write a post about how I recommend planning a marketing campaign. If you are a chicken farmer, I’m not really too worried about sharing this information. However, if you’re another agency person, or if you’re a marketing consultant, you could very easily utilize my concept, perhaps without even realizing you were doing so. I would never know. And since I’m writing this information on a wide open blog, there’s really nothing stopping you or helping me in that scenario, right?
Now in the real world, if another agency person came up to me and said, “Hey, I’d like advice on how you recommend planning a marketing campaign,” what would I say? What would you say? Maybe that’s the difference, in part, between the very giving nature of people online and then the frustration that happens as a result of phone calls. When you get a phone call at work, the curtain has been raised, the gig is up, and the wizard is visible. Someone is asking you for your professional opinion and they’re asking you to give it for free, which is what you spend all of your time doing when you’re not taking calls and doing other parts of your job.
The Facade of Social Media
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of days. I know it sounds negative but it really isn’t – it’s just an inconvenient truth, as Al Gore might say.
Over the weekend, @salamicat wrote a fantastic post about the sort of anonymity that Social Media gives you. If you have bad skin, if you don’t feel like dressing up, if you’re having a bad hair day, none of it matters. You can communicate with people and just enjoy their content.
Well, this is great for personal life, but it may not be something we can continue forever on the business side of things. If you’re a real estate agent, you can follow all of the other agents in your territory, but ultimately, the time may come when you are both competing to sell more, or maybe to sell the same home. If you’re an author, you may follow lots of authors, but when a speaking opportunity comes, you might need to compete against them.
I’d love to think that we could maintain our feet squarely under us in both worlds – that we could be open, sharing, generous, and unbiased online and also approach competition gracefully and in a friendly fashion. Is that possible though? As the world economy shifts, as the numbers of jobless increase, can we carry our online selves into the real world when we are in a competitive situation?
Are we clouding our true reality?
What do you think?
Image by Mo Dollahon. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/furylife