It's Not Necessarily Who You Know

In the world of social media, there has been a dramatic shift in how business ideas and implementations get done. David Armano touches on it today where he suggests that knowing the influencers will get you much farther in your effort.

In that case, it’s up to all of us to find them. Perhaps take a look at something like the Power 150 and start the list backwards (or maybe get out of the marketing echo chamber all together).  If you yourself have become the new breed of “gatekeeper”””ask yourself “is it who I know, or what they know?”. Ideally, its both””but up to us individually to strike the right balance.

Armano and I proceeded to have a lively discussion on Twitter over this idea. I agreed with his assessment  that the current landscape of the social web does cater to the idea of knowing people being more important than having a good idea. I disagreed on his conclusion that people should seek to extend their influence by knowing more of the top people on the web.

On principle, the “top people on the web” is a bit elitist and self serving. Both Armano and I enjoy being “top people on the web”, yet, I know my ability to scale is small compared to the ideas and conversations being pushed around. The web is bigger than me. It’s bigger than Armano. We both enjoy large networks of people that we know, and I don’t mean six degree of separation type stuff. We both can show you 10,000 or more collected business cards from over the years. At least I can. I presume it is the same for him.

I can brag about knowing over half of the Technorati Top 100 bloggers personally. I can point to the multitude of networking events that I attend (at least one major one every month) where I have a difficult time talking to everyone who wants to share their ideas and thoughts with me.

The problem is scale. The web is bigger than we are. You can put a gallon or five gallons or ten gallons of water in a sink, but if the drain is only an inch thick, you won’t be able to process more water out of that bin. You need a bigger drain to do that. In fact, it will take longer to drain that bin with increasingly more water. It’s physics.

Unlike Armano’s assessment that communicators, entrepreneurs, and brands should exploit the current landscape that values the personal connection over the business process (that is, good ideas can thrive on their own if they have merit), I see it as a hybrid. You must have a one-to-one network and you must have a one-to-many network, but your many-to-many network (the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th degree of separation) becomes fairly useless fairly quick. Good ideas cannot thrive in a vacuum.  However, simply knowing influencers aren’t going to make it fly either.

I can’t tell you the number of people who are friends, not just business network contacts, who have talked to me with great gusto and passion about an idea and I simply look at them blankly. They know me personally, but realistically, they have a sucky idea. It’s not going to fly and no amount of knowing the right people is going to make it fly.

On the flip side, having a great idea and knowing the right people can make all the difference in the world. This is a reflection of the truth that many of the worlds greatest idea people don’t have the communication prowess to “sell” that idea and make it work. Likewise some of the greatest communicators in the world have great bullhorns, but suck at innovating themselves. So we end up in a world where we all need each other for something.

This blend of traditional (networking) and innovation is really where we need to be. We’re getting there, but we ain’t there yet. Reinforcing an unscalable paradigm of who you know as the primary enforcer of innovation is a dangerous trend that really does need to be changed. Sometime. Hopefully soon.

Update: Armano chimes in in comments and corrects the record. He is recommending a balance, as am I. Different slants on the same issue.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

14 thoughts on “It's Not Necessarily Who You Know

  1. Aaron, good post but you missed my point completely. Perhaps I need to be a better writer. My point was that the balance has shifted to who you know and we need to not lose sight of what others know, even if they aren’t our “friends”.

    Not sure how that message got lost when I ended it this way.

    If you yourself have become the new breed of “gatekeeper”—ask yourself “is it who I know, or what they know?”. Ideally, its both—but up to us individually to strike the right balance.

    1. Thanks Armano. Sorry if I misinterpreted your post. Either way, the principle remains. I don’t think you’re entirely wrong (or even necessarily wrong at all). Just a different slant on that conversation.

  2. I think I have an interesting perspective, as far as “reach” and “influence” go — just because I have generated whatever of both I have out of thin air. :)

    When I started on Twitter in March 2007, I was a semi-longtime blogger (not compared to half the bloggers out there, mind you, especially in the tech space), but didn’t know anyone who was actually Twittering.

    I found random people to follow by observing @ replies and starting conversations with people I had never heard of. I didn’t know their reputations or their backgrounds, since the PR/Marketing and Technology spaces weren’t my usual “pond” — I only knew personal bloggers.

    And I was just a writer… I didn’t have anything new to offer in terms of knowledge or information in either field, so there was really no reason for anyone to care what I had to say.

    In the time since, I haven’t followed thirty thousand people, or signed up for every possible social media platform, or gone to any conferences or unconferences or panels, or collected a single business card (well, I do have my boyfriend’s card, that’s a lie), or worked publicly for a high profile company, or hosted a webinar on how to use tools, or written a single post at my blog about social media. Not one.

    Yet now more than 5 K people are following me on Twitter (why?!), I’ve done work for clients I never could have dreamed I’d even connect with (clients who approached me themselves), I’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge in fields I had no clue about (just by keeping my eyes and ears open), I’ve helped found a fledgling non-profit that has raised almost $35,000, I’ve found the love of my life, and I’m planning a major change of employer and location that will only be possible because of connections I’ve made through social media.

    All I have had the entire time is ideas, start to finish.

    That why I KNOW that if you have enough confidence and passion in what you think and what you believe, and if you enter into every situation willing to both share AND really, really listen… you can’t help but make a few waves.

    1. That why I KNOW that if you have enough confidence and passion in what you think and what you believe, and if you enter into every situation willing to both share AND really, really listen… you can’t help but make a few waves.

      This only works when you have good ideas. From what I know of you and what you’ve done/where you’ve been, you’ve had good ideas.

  3. But I wouldn’t know if they were good or bad until I expressed them. You have to open your mouth, speak up, and see if it flies. And then if it doesn’t, think hard and try again.

    There’s always a risk of total failure or being ignored, but you can’t know what floats until you drop it in the water — and you can’t wait until you’ve bent some influential ears to start doing it.

    1. We’re talking about different things, Meg. No one is suggesting that ideas shouldn’t be voiced. This conversation is around the expectation that “who you know” matters more than “what you do”.

  4. There are plenty of shitty ideas getting serious play at this moment or any other, and plenty of good ideas don’t get play. It’s all a bit of a crapshoot, is my point.

    The only thing you can do is get out there and stop worrying about who you know, or if your idea is going to be the next big thing. Just speak up and believe in it, regardless.

  5. I’m more on a par with Meg here – but I think you, she, and David are all pretty much saying the same thing.

    Good idea + no one listening = dead end
    Bad idea + influentials listening = dead end
    Good idea + influential(s) listening = idea that is repeated and built upon

    It’s all about balance, quality + audience = ideal.

  6. I think that since the explosion of social networking on the web, no one is really too small to create a stir. Having a good idea is often enough when the infrastructure is already there.

  7. My beliefs are this – You need to know people to have major success… You need to also be smart enough to benefit from who you know… It’s an even mix… I heard a study that college students that obtained C’s often times were paid better than those that got A’s in school… Probably because they are out meeting people and generating relationships that will help them prosper. Obviously, there are unique situations – but it shows you that those who can communicate properly can really succeed…

  8. Amazing things can happen through the internet and successful events are often unplanned. We’ve seen average people just doing their thing get noticed by mass amounts of people. Influencers help but so do numbers.

    One great benefit of Twitter is it has somewhat leveled the playing field and allowed access to influencers and celebrities normally out of reach to most. Twitter is public and streaming. I have to agree that balance is the way to go in this circumstance.

    Also Joel makes an interesting point above that would make a great discussion.

  9. It takes less time,brain and effort to build network than building knowledge base. so why waste time to study and aquire knowledge ?..let’s have a network of all fools together and talk about talents, innovations and ideas..lol

Comments are closed.