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.

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It's Really Simple; Be Valuable and You Will Be Valued

Despite the crazy title of this post, it is not about personal brand. That’s a conversation that is happening elsewhere in the blogosphere and, though I’ve talked about it on this blog, it is not relevant to this post.

What is relevant is value. Actual value versus “perceived” value.

Late last night, around 2am, I was plugging away on a client project. Blinded by blurry eyes caused by hours of intense concentration, and creeping exhaustion, I switched over to check on an email that had just rolled in. It was from an editor at a well known financial publication. He was working on a story that asked the question, “What would I do if I lost my job today?” and he was soliciting feedback on a portion of the article dedicated to Twitter.

The portion of the article I read was very good, except that it missed something. It missed, what I call, the “secret sauce”. It described how Twitter worked, how to get followers and made the connection between number of followers and the ability to get a job.

My response to him was that he needed to include the secret sauce in the ingredients. Clearly, the secret sauce wouldn’t be secret if I told the world, so instead, I’ll share it with you as long as you only tell someone else if you find value in it. ;-)

The secret sauce is this: Be valuable.

Recently, as the economy has soured even more, and layoffs continue to happen around us, many people who have benefited from great jobs have found themselves looking for work. Folks who have cultivated massive numbers of followers on Twitter are on the street looking for work and finding it hard to drum up anything. They’ve discovered that despite their social media popularity, they are not necessarily valuable to employers.

Employers are looking for the people that stand up above the crowd. They stick out, not obnoxiously so, but in a smart and efficient way. They are not looking for marketers or personal brand evangelists. They are not looking for celebrities. Indeed, these people might cost them too much anyway.

They are looking for the people who don’t just talk about Health 2.0, for instance, but who clearly demonstrate through their own conversations, writings and actions, that they are valuable!

Marks of value are demonstrated when someone shares their knowledge with someone else who is asking questions. Value can be shown in the ongoing conversation around a topic (It is obvious when someone is simply repeating talking points, and when they know their field). Value is on display in quiet genius, not simply frequency (or loudness) of messages. Someone is clearly valuable when the content they are discussing, respectfully (as a key identifier), is put into action through their careers, thought leadership and social interaction.

Clearly, value is not simply being a subject matter expert, but it is also in the conversational and socially interactive approach that the person assumes. Identifying a valuable person is much easier when they are in their own element and not looking for work or otherwise performing. How they behave among their peers and the respect and authority bestowed on him by his peers is a clear indicator of value, not in a celebrity way, but in an influencer kind of way.

The principles behind the secret sauce on Twitter are the same principles that apply in real life. When former HP CEO Carly Fiorina was forced to resign, the HP Board didn’t put out a job requisition for a new CEO. They identified Mark Hurd, the then CEO of NCR who demonstrated amazing ability in turning NCR around, as the guy they wanted to run Hewlett Packard. It wasn’t because Mark had the right salary requirements, or was out there cultivating his brand on NCRs dollar. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. He was demonstrating his value to NCR so HP went after him.

Value is one of those things that is subjective and hard to achieve. But understanding of the community, the social aspects of people and cultivating a subject matter expertise does begin a person down the road to being valuable. Certainly, there is more that can be said, but probably enough to chew on for now. :)

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