The Pros and Cons of "Going Dark"

When I tell people that I am actually an introvert, it usually surprises people. As someone who is in the public eye, and maintains some kind of brand that is recognizable, most people see me as an outgoing guy who is always trying to be a part of the latest social scene and while that is true, it’s important to note that it is only a portion of who I really am.

This goes for anyone on the internet. With the social web, it is easy for people to feel like they actually know us. They see us as marketers, branders, celebrities. They see us as subject matter experts and they want our time. Clearly, this was on display at SXSW this past weekend where a simple jaunt to lunch that normally take about 5 mins, would take 20-30 mins because of casual conversation assaults in the hallways.

3367053664_4b1c0da51dPHoto by: Jim Storer

Is this a problem? Directly, no. We go to these events to meet people and people are our lifeblood. Without people, we are no one and we have no credibility. Our credibility is wrapped up in our communities, readers, viewers, listeners and those who are influenced by our work. However, the cult of personality as a whole, is a larger problem.

When Mike Arrington was in Europe earlier this year, someone who felt like they knew him (in a negative way) assaulted him with spit to the face. When Kathy Sierra had vicious threats directed at her, she disappeared out of the public eye for some time. Jeremiah Owyang also recently disappeared for different reasons.

We are not wired to be the center of attention. In some sick and twisted way, we love every second of it. Our egos are stroked when adoring fans adore, but we are doused with harsh reality when that attention turns a different direction.

In the past few days, I’ve given a lot of thought to “going dark” – that is, disappearing from public view for a period of time. I still may do that, simply because, my own “celebrity” is beginning to hinder me. As those of us who enjoy immense attention grow into those roles, inevitably we begin to resent it. We hate it. We want to be “normal” whatever “normal” means. We want our lives back.

But at what cost?

In some ways, going dark can be therapeutic. It allows us time to re-examine our priorities, understand our motives and, in general, do soul searching. If done right, we come out the other side with a fresh perspective on life and our livelihoods.

In a negative sense, going dark can have tremendous effect on our social equity. In a “what have you done for me lately” industry, disappearing for some time can completely remove a person and their ability to influence. In some cases, our businesses and careers depend on our presence in the social space.

I don’t have the answers, as I have not “gone dark” at any point. If I do, I’m sure I’ll find my experience will teach me something about the process. It strikes me that a successful sabbatical requires some kind of balance so as not to lose social equity, yet still take enough time to recharge and re-energize.

8 Traits of Highly Effective Influencers

This is a 10 page article. Be sure not to miss the rest of the story!

The cult of personality has so pervaded all aspects of our lives. From Obama to Tom Cruise to Derek Jeter and even web celebrities. It pervades our culture thoroughly and it’s not entirely clear why.

In most cases, we don’t know anything about the objects of our affection aside from their names and their public work. Strangely, it’s the stuff that happens outside of the public eye that really makes people who they are validating what has been said, that character is what we are when no one is looking.

This mentality is frightening because it is the product of “no thought” following of someone. Whether you believe in the concept of “personal brand”, or you dismiss it outright, the desire to latch onto a recognized individual plays out everyday.

Being a celebrity is a dead end road. Celebrities simply wow people with imagery and public facing acts. Being an influencer involves changing games and lives and moving needles.

“This cult of personality is frightening in itself because it is the product of a “no thought” following of someone.”

Several years ago, I posed the question, ” How much do people talk about you?” In asking the question, I suggested that a person has arrived if they don’t even have to go to an event and still are name dropped in conversation.

My next question, rhetorically, is to find the value add of that conversation? There’s a fine line between being mentioned at a conference in the context of influence and knowledge, and simply being name-dropped just for the effect of, “Wow you know that person?!”

To be an influencer, you’re going to have to balance that self brand, personal marketing for the sake of being known with providing absolute, unquestioned value to the greater community. Carrying the mantle of an influencer means being a celebrity for the community. It means always giving of yourself so that the rest of the crowd benefits. It’s almost self-sacrificial, flying in the face of personal brand or celebrity.

To rip off the gist of the great John C. Maxwell‘s great series of books on leadership, there are ten traits of highly effective influencers. These traits do not include getting included on lists published by obscure bloggers, or gaining high numbers of “friends” on the social networks. Alone, these effects are not bad, but they tend to be self serving effects of minor celebrity and do not constitute “influence”.

Ride with me through this article. If you can last, then I hope you come out better on the other side. Share it with your own audience, churches, schools, social networks or office mates. The principles here transcend venue. In other words, an influencer in social media is not different, on principle, than an influencer in government.