As I have been working on my marketing myths series at ye olde blog, I have become more sensitive to other, how can I say, confusions that exist in the online world. Lines are perpetually blurred. Terminology is consistently used in situations that really don’t warrant those terms. You get the idea.
Two areas in particular keep coming on to my radar. First, there is an oft-overlooked difference between truth-tellers and jerks. Second, there is a mighty big difference between creating link bait (or comment bait) and actually complimenting a person. Let us explore these areas together, shall we?
Jerks versus Truth-tellers
When I was a kid, like, in eighth grade or so, I thought it was my job to be a mirror of the soul. Well, to my friends, not to myself, of course. I would call my little friends up after school and say, “You know, what you did during choir today made you look really bad, I think.” Then I would proceed to analyze their behavior, describe to them why they were doing what they were doing, and then, being a kind soul (mostly), I’d offer advice on how to eradicate the complex problems I was sure they were experiencing. To me, it seemed like I was just being a truth-teller. Based on how my friends responded to these missions of soul-seeking, I’m thinking they felt rather much like I was a jerk.
In the online world, we run into the exact same kind of scenario, except that there seems to be more pressure to be that truth-teller, right? You want to be the person who tells that so-called a-lister that they are dead wrong about something because in your head, it feels like you are doing lots of people a favor. You are saving them from a world of bad experiences. And in fact, this may be true. But have you ever noticed the vitriol that surrounds these online truth parties? The person who is having truth fed to them often refers to the truth-tellers as haters. And so the conversation devolves into name-calling, mob-fighting, and other things that have come to signify all of the least attractive aspects of the online world.
How can we differentiate between when we are being truth-tellers and when we are being jerks? In my own case, it turned out to be all about a sense of self-righteousness. In other cases it may be about motive. Are you trying to get attention or do you really believe what you are saying? Are you really trying to tell the truth or are you trying to get some spotlight for your own thoughts and feelings?
More to the point perhaps is how you deliver the truth (or what you perceive to be the truth). If you reply with a patronizing or condescending tone, the likelihood is that people will not accept what you are saying as helpful. If you approach the topic from a point of truly wanting to help, what you send out will be more in line with what you (hopefully) wish to receive.
Too often I see people revert to what can only be described as a jerky way to attack bloggers in particular. Saying that a post is stupid or that an idea is stupid is not shining a light on the truth. It is only belittling the person you are talking to. What is the line between truth-teller and jerk? Are you treading it carefully?
Link Bait versus compliments
The other thing I’m seeing a lot of is link bait or comment bait masquerading as complimentary posts. How can you tell which is which?
Let me give you an example.
I came upon a post not too long ago that was titled something like, “Blogs to watch in 2012.” I was excited because I thought, OK, maybe this is another list of “up and comer” bloggers that I can get to know. Towards the top of the list were the following blogs – Robert Scoble, Chris Brogan, Copyblogger, and Jeremiah Owyang. Now, these are all great blogs, no question. But do we need to be informed that we should “watch” these bloggers? Even people who may not know a whole lot about social media tend to have a passing familiarity with these folks. None of the blogs (or bloggers) were really described in detail – in fact, only the first few lines of the “about” page was copied in most cases. Blogger names were not given, just the name of the site. In this kind of scenario, one can only assume that the motive here was link bait (or comment bait…or both).
Now contrast that with the list that Danny Brown produced at the beginning of 2012. In this list, which was also called “bloggers you should watch in 2012,” Danny led with the blogger’s name. He detailed what he liked about each person’s blog, which also indicated that he reads each blogger’s work regularly. The names were names not everyone might be familiar with (I was not aware of all of them) so there was an opportunity to build up the following for legitimately awesome but perhaps underrated bloggers.
See the difference?
Lately, Forbes in particular has been dotted with the same sorts of “top of social media” lists, and it is giving the concept of blog post curation or curation of any kind a bad name. Throwing up blog sites that have hundreds of thousands of subscribers is not doing anyone any favors, especially if it isn’t even clear whether you’ve ever read a single blog post from those sites. Those folks don’t really need help with exposure or publicity – they’re doing quite well. The problem is that often times people who genuinely deserve some kudos and appreciation may get overlooked in the midst of a post that otherwise looks like nothing but a scam.
I love making lists to shine the light on people who I think are great. It’s one of my most favorite things to do in the online world, because to me, that’s what the online world *should* be all about. Heck, that’s what the world world should be all about. But even I have been accused of writing these posts just to get comments or trackbacks, and it’s gotten to the point where the joy in writing such posts has mostly departed. I do not want to take the time to curate great posts only to have it fall into the same disdained group of scam posts. I’m sure many other people feel the same way.
To me, paying a compliment is something easily identifiable. If you show that you really believe what you are saying, people will (most of the time) take it for what it is. If it’s clear that you were just barfing up top names or sites with no real sentiment attached, that is not something that will be viewed as complimentary. Rather, it will be viewed as nothing short of a sham, a scam, and/or crap.
To me, these two issues represent two of the most omnipresent problems in the online world. People who are masquerading as truth-tellers but are really just jerks are giving a bad name to anyone who really believes something or really has an important point to make. They make everyone feel defensive and skeptical.
Similarly, the penchant for writing posts specifically to get traffic or comments or links is despicable, but spreading swiftly. These kinds of posts give a bad name to anyone who truly wishes to promote others, thus feeding the never-ending cycle of self-promotion (because the alternative will only make you worry, right?).
What can we do to more clearly define these differences? What can we do to make the online world less polarizing?
I’ve said my piece. Now I’m ready for yours.
First image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/malurisho/2924173228/ via Creative Commons
Second image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clover_1/2259985318/ via Creative Commons
Third image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/christinehawks/2788148212/ via Creative Commons
Fourth image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arsalank2/3746601623/ via creative commons