Relatively early in his career, Mark Twain got a letter from an adoring fan. He writes that this letter just really made his day. It made him really feel like he had made it.
Then the person who wrote the letter asked Twain for a favor, and Twain realized why exactly he had gotten such a nice letter.
Twain was reflecting on this early correspondence at a time when he had received another letter. I’m going to type this in, because I think, for those of you who are engaged on Social Media sites fairly often, it will give you quite a laugh:
Dear Sir:-I have written a book-naturally, which fact, however, since I am not your enemy need give you no occasion to rejoice. Nor need you grieve, though I am sending you a copy. If I knew of any way of compelling you to read it I would do so, but unless first few pages have that effect, I can do nothing. Try the first few pages. I have done a great deal more than that with your books, so perhaps you owe me something-say ten pages. I after that attempt you put it aside, I shall be sorry-for you!
I am afraid that the above looks flippant-but think of the twitterings of the soul of him who brings in his hand an unbidden book, written by himself. To such a one is due in the way of indulgence. Will you remember that? Have you forgotten early twitterings of your own?
Maybe it’s just the word “twitterings,” but if I was asked to find a 19th century version of asking a major “influencer” for a tweet of a post, this letter would be my first pick.
The really hilarious thing about the letter is that Twain knew, immediately, that the author didn’t just want Twain to “read the first 10 pages.” The author knew Twain was successful and had a lot of connections with publishers. The author wanted Twain to put out a little “read this great book” sort of advertisement (Twain could have been a great affiliate marketer).
I’m kind of tempted to wonder, a century after the fact, how Twain would have reacted if the author had simply said, “Hey dude, you’re like, really famous and well-respected. Can you read my book, see if you like it, and if you do like it could you like, advertise the heck out of it?”
I wonder, a century later, if the author really was in touch with his motives at the time. Did he really think he was asking Twain just to read 10 pages? Sometimes the first person we lie to is ourselves, after all.
And now the 21st century
Are you in touch with your motives as you engage in the online world? I often wonder about this when I see various kinds of exchanges online. For example, if a really influential person tweets out a person’s post, is that because the author of the post asked the influencer to “just read the first 2 paragraphs and see if you like it?” I wonder if sometimes people put out lists like “25 most influential Social Media rockstars” just so they can stack their post with big influencer names to up their traffic (this is one of many reasons why I try to shine the spotlight on people who aren’t so well known).
When you ask me to “look at your site,” are you really asking for my opinion, or are you asking me to promote your efforts? Do you know the answer to that question yourself?
Lately, I’ve been getting kind of frustrated with some people. I do nothing but support them, it feels like, but they never acknowledge any of these actions. Never a thank you, certainly never a reciprocation. This has made me wonder about my motives.
It seemed pretty clear to me, once I dipped my toe in the wavy Social Media waters, that everything online is a game. You do something nice for someone, they try to pay you back. It was just common knowledge. Now, 95% of my motivation in doing nice things for or saying nice things about people is because I love making people happy. I love making a difference in someone’s day, and doing so online is so super easy it’s ridiculous not to do that.
But there’s also that understanding I’m working under. If I need help, or if I put something out there that you like, you’ll at some point come over and lift me up, because we’re helping each other out. I invest in you, you invest in me. It’s the human thing to do. No Empire Avenue needed.
For my Blog Library project, I am promoting peoples’ blog posts because that is one of the core missions of the project. I am also mentioning people who have written great blogs because I want them to know that I am building this resource. I can be honest about that. If they acknowledge those mentions, great. If they don’t, that’s fine, I don’t push, because I know that what I’m doing is motivated in part by promotion.
Now it’s your turn
What are your motives as you engage with people online? Are you trying to make money? Are you trying to promote a book you’ve written? Are you trying to build yourself a reputation as a Social Media expert?
There’s nothing wrong with any of that stuff, but it’s important to be honest with yourself about it. Otherwise you’ll find yourself getting frustrated with other people for reasons they can’t possibly understand, and that gets pretty uncomfortable.
Perhaps honesty is what the online world really needs. Simply ask people to tweet out a post you’re really proud of rather than saying, “I think you’d like this.” Ask people to help support a project you’re working on rather than saying, “I need your expert opinion.” And when people do those things for you, keep your eyes and ears open for an opportunity to pay them back.
That makes sense, right?
This is post #77 in the Engagement Series. If you are worried about missing posts. don’t be scared of that little subscribe button there!
1st Image by Paulo Simão. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/paulosimao
2nd Image by Bjorn de Leeuw. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/nr49