Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 28, 2009 6:42 AM

You Self-Serving Pig

It's all about me. Me, me, me, me. That's all you ever do is talk about yourself. Stop talking about yourself, will you?

If there's one cultural point of interest that is quickly emerging from the online social channels and platforms, it is that you can't "win friends and influence people" if you all ever do is talk about yourself. It comes off as self-serving and much too self-promotional. It also incites readers and community members to spout off the infamous sayings, "what's in it for me?" and "what have you done for me lately?" - which is funny in and of itself. If you think about it, why should someone's personal Blog, Twitter feed or connection on Facebook be about anything but themselves?

In fact, wasn't the whole point of these channels to promote what is on your mind?

The big question that gave Twitter its wings was, "what are you doing?" not, "what can you do for me?" When Blogging started it was called, online journaling. The very definition of journaling is that it is autobiographical therapeutic writing. It is not intended to be a form of content that is necessarily useful to anyone but the person creating it. What initially attracted people to places and platforms like Blogs, Twitter and Facebook was the voyeurism - the ability to be that "fly on the wall" for another person's personal therapy.

Are we losing touch or are we just getting bored of the self-interested blather of others?

We still enjoy hearing all of the juicy details from certain people that pique our interest, but a lot of the backchannel feedback (anecdotally gathered) is that people are less inclined to stay subscribed and connected to others who are simply promoting themselves and what they're up to. People seem to want to get some kind of value and information out of their connections. Essentially, it's not about what the content creator is really thinking, because it's really about what the person reading it gets out of it. Now that everyone can publish their thoughts (and that it is easier to do), it's not as interesting to hear, read and see what others are up to when we can be publishers and share our own thoughts.

If we believe that these channels are amazing for the development of Personal Branding, we now have a paradox of monumental proportions.

The shift has already taken place. The top Blogs are either places to publish news faster, multi-authored platforms geared towards commentary on politics and technology, or individual spaces where people are, essentially, publishing magazine-like articles for free. This new culture, where anyone and everyone is now some kind of publisher, is fascinating. Readers now have little appetite for advertising, sponsored content or even a semblance of what could be misconstrued as a form of non-disclosure if the content producer should ever talk about something they were given, offered or are working on without disclosing it fully. We now expect people who were simply journaling their lives to become more like Bob Woodward.

So, the question is this: how do people build and develop their personal brands, if all we really want is content that is valuable to us and not self-promotional in any way, shape or form?

How does that work?

UPDATE: Just saw this: Mashable - STUDY: Social Media Is for Narcissists.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Ben Dawe
    Mitch Joel

    Good post. I have to ask, how come with 10K follows you follow only 1K?
    Isn't following the first step to valuing readers?

    Reply
  • Posted by Alan
    Mitch Joel

    I think just being yourself with social media is enough to build a brand. If people find you interesting enough they'll check links to learn more about you.

    Reply
  • Posted by Louise
    Mitch Joel

    Great post - I wrote about it on my blog as it's so important for job seekers to understand how to build an online reputation.

    I'm not a fan of the term 'personal brand' because I think it leads to an "I, me, mine" mentality and as you point out, that's just not effective online.

    But here's the thing - it's not effective anywhere. Is there really any difference between the way reputations are built online and the way they have always been built offline?

    My grandfather used to have a shop where he sold bicycles. He also built his own bikes and repaired bikes, and he was amazing at it. He could fix anything - even the oldest, long-out-of-date rickety old bike. And the bikes he built were both creative and high quality. Once an avid cyclist had been in his shop one time, they always came back - even if it meant driving or riding miles to get there.

    He never advertised in the paper or on the radio. He didn't have posters in the window talking about how great he was. He just added value to his community and so the community chose to do business with him.

    I think that the initial talk of 'building personal brands' on social media was misguided because it made people think that the focus should be on them and not on the community. But just as my grandfather couldn't have built his reputation by banging on his chest and telling everyone how great he was, a blogger can't do it that way on Twitter.

    Instead, you have to do the hard work - every single day - of adding value to the world. Eventually, you will become known for it.

    Reply
    • Posted by Maureen
      Mitch Joel

      I agree. I have been in business for 12 years now and have formally advertised three times yet attract my ideal clients who pay me well and some even commit to a year at a time pre paid. I have dedicated myself to Professional and personal growth to be the attractive factor and wondered how that might work for me on the grand scale of the internet. As many clients also are distance clients
      I have struggled with should I or shouldn't I go Twitter or Blog and decided to get my toes wet with Twitter. Its teaching me how to scale down to my core values and to continue in a new way to add value to the world of Twitter. A slight surprise as its about communication for a new more interconnection between us all and I am loving that aspect and the refinement of my communication skills to be able to express more truly the connections we all have.

      Reply
  • Posted by Doug Haslam
    Mitch Joel

    I have no problem with "I, Me, Mine." In the wrong hands it is crass and uninteresting. In the right hands, it strikes a tone that is both helpful/informative and self serving.

    Stripping our knowledge to its base, what we know best is ourselves. Talk about YOU - and what YOU know-- and YOUR viewpoint on what is going on around YOU.

    The worst YOU can be is egocentric. If you stray from that knowledge base of YOU- that's where the real bullshit occurs.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Kieff
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    I think this post is barking up the wrong tree so to speak. Just as people are complaining that 40% of twitter is "pointless babble" you can't expect anyone to be altruistic all of the time either. There needs to be a good balance of self serving, altruistic, and promotional message in your conversation stream. That's what makes you interesting. If you only speak of others I'll wonder what your hiding about yourself.

    And to the point of being self serving pigs- well it's in our DNA.

    Thanks for a though provoking post.
    Chris

    Reply
  • Posted by Anastasia
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks for this Joel. The most engaging person I know on Facebook (she often posts 3 status updates a day and gets 20 responses) is someone who shares her personal life and thoughts -- from divorce woes and child rearing confusion to work issues and random run-ins with strangers on public transport -- and creates an atmosphere around her kind of like a slumber party. The good, safe kind. A place to be vulnerable, and funny, and loved. She's mostly talking about her own life but it doesn't seem to bother anyone because they like her and they care about her, and she responds in kind. Not sure how this would change if she had *an agenda* -- which is what you seem to be referring to: how to share our humanity and pursue our goals in a way that other people are drawn to?

    Reply
  • Posted by Todd Defren
    Mitch Joel

    "how do people build and develop their personal brands, if all we really want is content that is valuable to us and not self-promotional in any way, shape or form?"

    by building personal brands based on adding value to others?

    Reply
  • Posted by Steve Robins
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch and Louise,

    Very thought-provoking post and comments. The value of a brand is not intrinsic to itself. The real question is, what is your brand's value to others, how interesting is it, and how many people know about it? For example, the Apple brand is valuable because the company builds great products that customers love.

    So personal branding is about much more than what you say. Rather, it's about the value that you provide to others. How interesting is your personal brand? How relevant, informative and challenging are your posts, comments, tweets etc.? How engaged are you with your target audience? How much have you helped them? Do they enjoy interacting with you?

    So you might help someone to solve a problem. You might write something that's fun to read. You might do great work that other people discuss online. All of these provide value to others.

    The personal branding paradox is that your personal brand is not really about you. Rather, it's about how you help others. Add value to others and you'll add value to your personal brand.

    Reply
  • Posted by Brad Isaac
    Mitch Joel

    I would add there is a distinction between the "me, me, me" and writing from your perspective. There is a difference between "buy my book and learn how to blog" and "Here are 5 blogging tips revealed in a training today - they'll help you too.".

    People do want what's in it for them, but they also want to hear it from YOUR perspective. When you can do both, they stick with you - for years.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark Dykeman
    Mitch Joel

    Awesome title.

    A number of people talking about this today seem to feel that actions (or accomplishments, even better) convince more effectively than words and that it pays to be helpful. The paradox, though, is that you can't just be helpful, you have to make sure that the world knows that it's you who is being helpful in order to grow your reputation (how about using this word instead of personal brand for a change?) This doesn't encourage "pay it forward" deeds or anonymous charity, which is a shame. However, if you don't fly your flag or at least "autograph" your work, it becomes very easy for some undeserving schmuck to steal it. Which, again, sucks.

    The monetization genie escaped from the bottle years ago.

    This does sound cynical. However, perhaps publicizing one's good work is the least of the evils.

    Continue to stir the pot, sir!

    Reply
  • Posted by apalanca
    Mitch Joel

    Indulge me for a few lines here :)

    Reading this post made me think of relationships. Think about it...

    How can you build a relationship, if all you really want to do is talk about yourself and get your needs met?

    Similarly...How can we build a personal brand, if all we really want is content that is valuable to us and not self-promotional in any way, shape or form?

    The solution is the same in both situations, no? Interaction, two-way dialogue.

    Accept that some content will be self-promotional and irrelevant to your needs right now. Engage in conversation with different people to determine if they are authentically passionate about what they're doing. The people that are authentic will welcome dialogue and new opportunities may open.

    If the people you are interacting with are not authentically engaged, then you cut them loose. Personal brands are about passion and if you're passionate about what you're doing, then you want to engage with other equally passionate people.

    If you believe in their passion, then the self-promotion may seems... less self-promotional.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jim Ryan
    Mitch Joel

    It IS a very interesting question, but one that I think is answerable. If a blog/web site/social media profile is "about me" how do you attract readers who don't want to hear you go on and on about yourself. I think the trick must be that you DON'T. Not entirely. People like to read about new and interesting things and, as always, conflict. If you're trying to present things like those to readers then you're not JUST talking about yourself - you're giving your opinion, sure, but they're of things going on outside of yourself. It's when you get into introspection that you really have to be careful you're not crossing the line between exploration and self-trumpeting. I think it's possible that working out stuff about yourself online CAN be interesting - it's just that it's helpful if you're trying not to be too repetitive with it and solidly identify the specific aspects of yourself that you're talking about -- and, once again, hopefully make those aspects new, interesting and perhaps embroiled in conflict. :) The branding issue is also one that requires a bit of caution, but in truth it's been an issue as long as people have tried to sell things. How do you promote your product, or in the case of personal branding, yourself, without sounding disingenuous? I'm not really sure. I think maybe being as open and honest as you can is probably a good start. I'd say if you behave like a human being on social media, treat other users as people and not things and try to forge genuine relationships with them as people then they'll be FAR more likely to want to pay attention to you. That, of course, takes a lot longer and requires much more effort than just spamming them, but in the long run I think it's got to be a lot more effective.

    Reply
  • Posted by CT Moore
    Mitch Joel

    Maybe Andrew Keen should write a sequel called "The Cult of the Narcissist."

    Reply
  • Posted by Ian Rountree
    Mitch Joel

    Marketer, Brand Thyself!

    Six Pixels is very Mitch-oriented, but you never sound self-serving. How to you manage? What, if you can slice it down to we'll say six points, is the primary aim of Six Pixels of Separation? Blog, Podcast - the whole kit and kaboodle?

    Caveat Venditor: My question is self-serving. You're on the list of ten bloggers I respect for writing style, it's a place I desparately want to work towards.

    Reply
  • Posted by Norene
    Mitch Joel

    Great post! It is so critical to understand who your readership is. I think one of the great things about blogging is that you are able to share and build relationships with others who have similar interests and goals. -Norene

    Reply
  • Posted by Eva Ulian
    Mitch Joel

    Are you reading my mind? Only yesterday I twitted about this subject saying I have yet to find a twitter celebrity account that is not up to the eye-balls full of him/herself. Good article.

    Reply
  • Posted by Achim Muellers
    Mitch Joel

    For me one does not exclude the other:

    I use a brand because it provides value to me. I identify with it and become part of it = the brand develops into a participatory brand. Therefore when a participatory brand promotes itself, I don't perceive it as being self-promotion, because I'm part of it. Many brands have yet to understand this

    Reply
  • Posted by Taylor Marek
    Mitch Joel

    Awesome post as usual Mitch, always get something good out of it. :)

    To answer the question, if you can be as transparent as you possibly can and consistently provide people with valuable information you assimilate from many sources, they will come to trust you more and more. Not because of who you are, but because you seem to be "keeping and eye out for them" even if all you are doing is sharing information you found. Good news for you, because you have a following then.

    Its similar to groups of friends. People in general like hanging around those who provide them with something of value, and will always refer back to and recommend you to others.

    Reply
  • Posted by Gil
    Mitch Joel

    Woah, I found your blog only days ago and you're already branded in my mind for thought provoking.
    That's all branding really is - something you know what to expect of. Mash that up with a bit of eavesdroping and people's ability to relate to their own situation by seeing it in others - and you've got your answer.

    So I say, be personal. That obviously differentiates you from your competition, it brands you and it's something you can do long term.

    - Gil

    Reply
  • Posted by David
    Mitch Joel

    Hello Mitch. This reminds me of Brian Regan talking about "me monsters"

    Reply
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