Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Schoolyard Rules of Social Media

Ever found yourself wondering why some folks seem to rise to the top of the social media heap? These are the people who have no trouble garnering thousands of high quality Twitter followers, and consistently get invited to speak at the hottest industry conferences. They don't even seem to have look for a job--their stature ensures that offers roll in! But what if such success weren't as far out of reach as it looks?

Looked at in a certain way, the social media world is one big schoolyard. To crack the code, all you really have to do is close your eyes, lean back, and travel back to your elementary school days. Who got noticed? What did they do that no one else did? Below are a few I've identified. Feel free to add more in the comments field.

1. Pick fights. If there is one thing that makes everyone drop their jump ropes and tether balls to come running, it's a fight. At my elementary school, the fighters almost never got beyond a few half-assed punches before some teacher rushed in and broke it up, but by then there was a circle of 50 kids, all yelling "Fight, Fight, Fight!" at the top of their lungs. 

Both of the kids involved with the brawl were treated as heroes for at least a day after that. If they were boys, girls would start leaving candy bracelets and cootie-catchers on their desks. If girls, the boys would stand around in awe, and then make sure to pick them first for dodgeball at PE. 

So it is with social media. The trick here is to choose the right kinds of fights to start. You can try arguing politics or religion if you like. Most likely, you'll be ignored. But those who bait some other high profile social media maven about, say, whether Google Reader is dead and should properly be replaced by Twitter search get plenty of clicks and comments.

2. Be brash and opinionated. It worked for my arch-nemesis David Brooks when I was in the fifth grade, and it's working now too for a whole lot of folks, from TechCrunch titan Michael Arrington to EMC blogger Storagezilla. These are the types who get noticed because they're not afraid to speak their minds, even though it sometimes gets them in deep shit. Just as David Brooks used to tell our teacher things like, "I think all Jane Austen really needed was to find a real man," so too can you say the type of stuff that's sure to piss someone else off--or maybe a whole lot of people.

3. Get everyone under the big tent.
Okay, so by now you might be getting alarmed. I don't have the kind of personality to pick fights or be brash, you're saying to yourself. In fact, the whole idea of controversy makes me break out in a cold sweat. Well, remember that student who was voted Class President every damn year? This was also the same kid who invited each and every classmate to his swim party at the end of the year--even Ivan Ackerman, the guy with the wandering eye that no one would sit next to in the cafeteria at lunch.

Those with a sense of community are some of the best known and successful bloggers/tweeters out there. I'm not talking about mindless retweeting or "helpful" links that are actually just plugs for you or your clients' product or service. That kind of thing is perfectly fine, but it's not the same. 

What I'm talking about is a real and consistent effort to bring people together. These are the folks like Stephen Foskett of Gestalt IT and Peter Shankman of HARO. They're the ones who you know will organize a Tweetup, and who are always on the lookout for a great new blog so they can talk it up online. In short, they're the people you look to for advice and connections--in fact, they fit the term coined by Malcolm Gladwell, "connectors" to a tee.

4. Be the class clown. What is the most talked about social media phenomenon right now? How about "ShitMyDadSays"--the Twitter feed with 616,000 dedicated, enthusiastic followers. This guy's even got a book deal. It's irreverent, hilarious, and very much like that kid at the back of the classroom who made all those fart sounds with his armpit.

5. Be a motor mouth. Remember that freckly-haired girl in the third grade whose hand shot up every time the teacher asked a question? You do? Well, you remember her because she made herself known again and again. Sure, she could be annoying sometimes (especially if she always had the wrong answer). But on the days she was out sick, the classroom seemed eerily quiet.

Again, this is not a recommendation to turn into a link-spewing machine on Twitter. I'm talking about conversations--the real kind, that involve more than one person, and some semblance of listening and interaction. Or be a provider of consistently amusing and useful links that people want to read and retweet. Social media star Guy Kawasaki has raised this to an art form. If you're already a bit of a chatty Cathy, why not use this to your advantage? I have.

So there you have it. All the tools you need to start rising above the babble. See you on the playground!


Bill Petro said...

Insightful. The Social Media seems to be more like high school, and less like college.

Meryl Streep said to the Vassar Class of '83:

Real Life is actually a lot more like high school. The common denominator prevails. Excellence is not always recognized or rewarded. What we watch on our screens, whom we elect, are determined to a large extent by public polls. Looks count. A lot. And unlike the best of the college experience, when ideas and solutions somehow seem attainable if you just get up early, stay up late, try hard enough, and find the right source or method, things on the outside sometimes seem vast and impossible, and settling, resigning oneself, or hiding and hunkering down becomes the best way of getting along.

Quoted from --

Sunshine said...

Thanks for the comment, Bill. Believe it or not I saw that commencement address when it happened. I lived in town, and so often went to the Vassar graduations. Eventually I went to my own.

Jame Ervin said...

Great post Sunshine! So true. :) Maybe I'll start picking fights. ;)

Bill Petro said...

Sunshine, that is incredible! Many have observed that life is more like high school than college (meritocracy).

Even Seth Godin has recently mentioned it: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/10/the-rule-of-high-school.html