Rising above

My company spent last week in New York and had dozens, if not hundreds, of interesting conversations regarding social business design.  One theme that Armano and I kept coming back to was signal vs. noise. How does someone rise above the huddled masses in today’s social media world?  Quite frankly, it’s a lot tougher now than it was four or five years ago.

How have things changed?

For starters, there are a lot of blogs out there today – which makes it very difficult to get noticed.

  • Technorati reported 133 million blogs indexed in late 2008, up from 4 million in late 2004.
  • Even Ad Age’s Power 150 has expanded to over 1,000 blogs.
  • A rising tide lifts all boats – and the ones at the top rise higher than the others. The numbers on Mack’s list have gotten bigger week by week, but the usual suspects remain on the list.

Fragmentation of channels and attention has increased as well – just look for evidence that blogging is dead, replaced by tweets, real-time friendfeeds, and lifestreaming.

The global economic meltdown happened, driving two outcomes:

  1. More people with more time on their hands found something free and potentially useful to do.
  2. People who still had jobs prioritized direct value creation and focused efforts on proprietary content.

Along the way, perhaps caused by a combination of the factors above, the culture of social media changed.

  • People have been stretched thin, failed to scale, and are close to burn out.
  • Attention (e.g. links, retweets, comments) functions as currency in the socialsphere.  The influentials started to realize that their money was more valuable than others.  To retain value, many influentials have become stingy with their pocketbooks.
  • On the other side of the coin, many participants are unashamed to beg for handouts.  Messages public and private that ask “link to me,” “pls RT,” and “comments appreciated” now come from complete strangers.

Perhaps this is just social media fulfilling its own self-prophesy.  These channels thrive on niche focus, thus it’s an anomaly to rise above the masses. 

If not – then how can someone rise above the fray today?

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  1. Nice recap. My question is how will the top influencers move from their stinginess of deed to capitalization of this power? Succinctly, how does anyone make money from being noticed?


  2. Jeff – I think we all need to better understand the value of these influencers. If organisations recognise the value of endorsement in a particular niche then its up to these organisations to offer something useful eg access, content, hospitality or whatever it is that these influencers find useful.

    Just asking for a ‘handout’ as described enough falls woefully short.

  3. I still think that it is possible to rise above the masses and be noticed. Heck, I’ve done it (well sort of, I’ll go with “I’ve been noticed”). They key to doing this?

    Great Content and Authenticity.

    These two things are still rare enough where they are considered anomalous. If you write and work on stuff that kicks ass…you’re golden.

  4. Yup, blogging is dead. BTW – enjoyed the post Peter. πŸ˜‰

    Signal finds its recipients. Through a combination of subscribing to content producers, people who find and broadcast relevant info and keyword tracking. Doesn’t matter whether its a blog post, a tweet, a SlideShare, Flickr or YouTube. Saw this post via David Armano’s tweet, tracked through my FriendFeed Gtalk notifier.

    That’s why “blogging is dead” is a silly concept. It’s more vital than ever.

    The “rising above” question kind of depends on how high you want to rise. If one doesn’t provide information and opinion of value, it’s hard to rise above at all. Assuming one does have something of value to contribute, I like to think of it as more a matchmaking process. Those with interests find those that providing information they want. It’s something of a sorting process.

    Key is consistency. If you do want to rise above, you’ve got to: (1) give people time to find you. Means sticking with the production of content – information, perspectives, media, etc. (2) Engage others in your field. Let ’em know you’re on the scene.

    Nothing replaces basic hard work.

  5. Good, consistent work apparently is not enough. However, I’ve seen people cycle in and out of favor before. While it seems that one needs a gimmick to break through these days, true influence has standing power and goes beyond the hype. I never worry about a payback when I help someone – individual or organization – make a profitable connection. Then again, many have underestimated degree and level of influence that some less obvious participants have.

    Organizations are not seeing influence objectively – and so aren’t individuals (you have noticed, no doubt, that the “in” crowd is stingy with links and recognition to the broader community as well… I have).

  6. As we’ve seen over the years, very very few bloggers find success through direct monetization. It’s all about funneling the attention into a better value capture mechanism – consulting, product, or even a new job.

  7. First off, it seems unnatural to respond to your comment with a comment – with you in particular, seems like we should be having a FriendFeed discussion instead.

    To your points on consistency, I feel we’ve got to give credit to the good old fashioned media concepts ideas of reach and frequency. As the saying goes with trees falling in a forest, so does content published online.

  8. I wonder what the shape of thought leadership would be if we sketched out the hierarchy. No doubt that there would be a skinny pinnacle at the top – but would the rest be more diamond- or pyramid-shaped? And is that pinnacle like a french press, trying hard to keep the rest of the common masses down, while only letting a select few filter through?

  9. Peter,

    Millions of people have categorized themselves on-line by joining groups or visiting sites or reading blogs. I think that we’ve collectively only scratched the surface of realizing the potential in that…

    I don’t think that we’ve reached peak attention nor that search is done evolving.

    Betting on the upswing is why I have chosen to start blogging in the year 2009. πŸ™‚

  10. When I bring up the recession as a reason for Twitter’s crazy rise in ‘users’, I often get blank stares.

    Those on social media think I overrate the recession and those who won’t get near Twitter think the recession is not that bad for them to chase after jobs and fun online.

    So thanks for writing about what’s not as obvious as some of us would think.

  11. Although I’m very much interested in social media, and I have both a personal daily blog and a professional weekly blog, this the only blog that I actually READ. I think it’s because it’s fresh and interesting and contains both information and a point of view. In other words, it’s like being in a conversation with someone.

    I have repeatedly heard people say that social networking is like a giant cocktail party where you can meet anyone. But if you think about real-world cocktail parties, you usually can’t hear anything because it’s so loud and 9 times out of 10 you just talk to people you know, have a few drinks and leave. I think the ‘noise’ of the socialsphere these days is just as bad as any crowded dance club — there maybe be a lot of energy, but it’s damn hard to see or hear anything that you can take home with you! (…er, you know what I mean).

    I think the explosion of Myspace, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. happened because people thought they were going to get a personal connection (like the one I get from reading this blog). And that was new and exciting! But having spent today filtering out porno spam from my Twitter feed, I can see that the media does not live up to that promise.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking and thoroughly satisfying piece!

  12. Hi Pete,

    Interesting post. I’ve tuned out much that’s happening in the SM space for a while because I am working in the SMB market. The burn out is just not surprising. When you have to get things done for work, social media takes a back burner. I login to Twitter infrequently, and I’ve reduced my followers because I can’t keep track — nor do I want to. Still, when I look at Google Analytics for my company’s blog, Twitter ranks 2nd in bringing people to the blog. Search on our key terms is #1 though, and far outpaces Twitter for sheer volume. Social may be the shiny new penny, but rock star influence will always have its limitations.

  13. After just reading your post about the importance of local communities, it has me thinking about how that is one of the ways your can rise above the fray. Blogging definitely isn’t dead. Commenting is certainly making a shift to other forms of media though commenting isn’t dead either. But, I agree, it can be harder to rise above with the sheer number of people getting involved on these various platforms.

    But, I think by making true connections, putting in *a lot* of time into maintaining those connections and producing great content, it may be a slower climb now but you can still rise above the fray.

  14. The question, “How can someone rise above the fray?” presupposes a motivation doesn’t it? It seems that if one is blogging for celebrity status, they should be concerned with rising above the fray. If one’s motivation is hash out thoughts and receive thoughtful feedback, then I do not necessarily believe that they are trying to ‘rise above the fray’.

    Many of the bloggers I know are not attempting to become celebrities. They are merely sharing their thoughts and perhaps leaving a digital footprint for future career opportunities. Perhaps as a by-product of their thoughtful and consistent content, they make great connections and develop a strong base of readers.

  15. Everyone has a motivation for blogging. I would think that if a person wanted to point to a blog in support of future career opportunities, the publisher would want his/her writing to be distinguished.

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