There’s a gentleman’s agreement in social media that needs to be debunked.
We’re always supposed to judge ourselves by the quality of the conversations we have, rather than the sheer volume of our reach.
Even Gary Vee, who has more Twitter followers than anyone else who’s not “mainstream famous,” preached quality over quantity at #140conf last month. He believes the number of Direct Messages a person sends on Twitter — thereby implying a true 1-to-1 connection — is a more accurate arbiter of a person’s influence and power than how many generic followers that person blasts with her impersonal messaging.
What Gary wants to know is, how many people are you making time for?
But it’s easy for Gary Vee to say that numbers don’t matter; he already has them.
You don’t. (Not like Gary does.)
But you want them.
And that’s okay.
In Our Minds, We’re All Lady Gaga with a Slightly Smaller Wardrobe
First, let’s establish one truth: everybody wants to be heard.*
If we didn’t want to be heard, we’d never open our mouths. The act of engaging in social media — whether you’re a pro, an amateur or someone who simply tweets to your five actual flesh-and-blood friends — is the act of declaring that what you have to say is worth being heard by someone.
From there, the only place to go is up.
And while it’s true that numbers alone are meaningless, numbers are never alone. Numbers are indicators. And in terms of audience, numbers are indicators of your potential.
Dan Zarrella created a graph he calls Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness, which says that in order for a message to be successful, it must be:
- Considered interesting, and
- Acted upon
Obviously, far more messages are noticed than acted upon. To improve your chances of success, you want to maximize each contact point on Zarrella’s graph — and that starts with maximizing the number of people exposed to your message.
Take iJustine. She’s followed by over 1 million people on Twitter. That doesn’t mean everything she tweets is noticed by all 1 million people, but it does mean that what she tweets is, by definition, noticed by more people than what you tweet.
Does that mean iJustine is more important than you are? No. It just means she has the potential to be more influential than you do.
But that has more to do with who’s following her, or following you — and why.
It’s Not How Big Your Audience Is, It’s How You Use… er, Inspire It
Let’s say you have a message you believe is worth sharing. So you broadcast it.
If no one notices your message, you lose.
On the other hand, if everyone notices your message but no one cares… you still lose.
The question is: how likely are people to be interested in what you’re saying and act on it?
That likelihood depends on numerous variables, including:
- What are you saying?
- How are you saying it?
- How reputable are you?
- How difficult is the action you’ve requested?
- What’s the payoff for the person taking the action?
- What’s the payoff for you?
The world would be far more profoundly impacted by three scientists listening to your advice and solving a disease than it would be by all one million of iJustine’s followers donating a dollar to the cause of her choice.
But you probably don’t know three scientists, nor are you likely to provide them with actionable data and convince them to make use of it.
On the other hand, iJustine can direct her thousands of followers to take any number of mundane actions. And if the composite effect of those mundane actions amounts to something noteworthy, it simultaneously elevates her own public perception as an influencer — which, in turn, extends her reach via expanded awareness.
Thus, although the volume of your reach actually is less important than the quality of your reach, the quality of your reach is dependent on the nature of circumstances. Yes, your three scientist friends may be able to cure cancer, but they might not be able to help you land a job. Your million connections, on the other hand, just might.
In which case… why are we all so quick to denounce our desire to amass a large audience?
Everybody’s Jealous of a Size Queen
The bigger a person’s audience becomes, the more likely they are to become demonized. Not because of what they actually say (or don’t say), but simply because they get noticed.
Getting noticed is the first step toward getting what you want. And when someone else is getting noticed, it usually means you’re not.
The truth is, you don’t actually envy Chris Brogan, Gary Vee or iJustine because they’re popular; you envy them because the size of the audience they’ve amassed provides them with better odds of achieving their goals than yours does.
And while I’m sure Gary would be every bit as helpful, engaging and invested if he “only” had 10,000 (or even 100) passionate fans of his work, I’m also quite sure that if he “only” had 100 fans, he would want more.
Because it’s who we are.
We talk because we want to be talked about.
That’s your own question to answer.
Maybe you want to make a living doing what you love.
Maybe you want to help others.
Maybe you want to meet interesting people, or go interesting places.
Maybe you just want to know that someone thinks you’re interesting.
With larger audiences comes more potential for interaction. By default, Chris Brogan knows more interesting people than you do, simply because he knows more people than you do.
Ultimately, the size of your audience is important, but it doesn’t matter; what matters is what you want to do.
And the more people you have paying attention to you, the greater your chances of accomplishing your goal.
So: you want to be successful? Meet more people.
(And then spend at least some of your time listening to them; you might learn something.)
*NOTE: Maybe “heard” is the wrong word for you. Maybe it’s “listened to.” Maybe it’s “influential.” Maybe it’s “admired,” “respected” or “appreciated.” Regardless of your specific motive, any action that can be taken by the masses is an action most of us would like to evoke in as many people as possible, until we grow tired of the response.
And if having too much exposure is a problem… let’s cross that bridge when you get there.
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