You are a social media what?

Here’s a definition:

A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights.

For me the key word here is recognized.  Unfortunately by this definition, 99% of our self-styled social media “thought leaders” are precluded.

That’s a shame.

As a former colleague once commented to me about their boss – who desperately desired that their PR program position him as a thought leader – there were only two problems; a lack of leadership, and a lack of original thoughts.

In case you’ve missed it there have been a growing number of posts and discussions online recently about the subject of Personal Branding.  Some from those who despair at the homogenous claims of thousands of people who are self styled thought leaders, and some seeking to provide some honest advice on the matter.

I’m not quite sure why this has suddenly become the topic-de-jour among the digerati – nor am I sure if I care terribly much. (Yes this post is turning grumpy).

But let’s face facts. 

People have been claiming themselves as social media gurus and social media thought leaders for years.  There’s something about this social media stuff that encourages those people – who in all honesty you would typically avoid spending a lot of time with in real life – to make fatuous and in most cases uncorroborated claims about their own wonderfulness.  (Aside: This is most often observed on Twitter where someone with 12 followers claims in their bio they are a Twitter guru – expert in building followers.  Now if they had only waited until they had 15 followers that would be a little more credible – in my humble opinion.)

Can I be honest with you for a moment?

If you are peddling views on how to use Twitter, Facebook and blogs to drive followers and traffic, you are the same as about 1,000,000 other people. If you’re calling yourself a thought leader or a guru based on those opinions, then by definition, you’re not.  Sorry about that.

So let’s stop all this fluffy self promotion.

The best way to build your personal brand is to be yourself.

By all means share your opinions, your experience, your time and your knowledge. Engage with people.

That’s how you’ll be successful, not by telling anyone who you happen to corner that you’re a thought leader.

Actually while we’re on the subject of personal branding, I’m not sure my own is going terribly well.

I was talking to friend and former colleague recently.  He’s a gentleman with whom I worked for many years and he made the observation, out of the blue, that he hadn’t actually realized how grumpy I was until he started reading this blog.

Subsequently another friend commented to me that I clearly “wasn’t what you’d call a thought leader on all this social media stuff”.  When I asked what had motivated that compliment she pointed to my many negative posts about Twitter and the fact it took me a long time to catch on. (of course like any good PR practitioner although I *thought* Twitter was a ridiculous fad, I didn’t have the courage of my convictions and did sign up in January 2007 – phew).

Besides discovering that I had tripled the readership of this blog and that I need to disable the search function, I thought it was a useful reminder that people can quickly have perceptions about you from your online ramblings, social network postings etc.

Luckily, in my case, the summary of my personality as a grumpy luddite, isn’t too bad at all. I’m happy with that.  It’s better than many of the potential alternatives…

8 thoughts on “You are a social media what?

  1. @tpemurphy Glad to meet you, Grumpy. Personally I excel at cranky. But I am also adorable and modest.

  2. thinkyou’re being too hard on yourself tom. you were doing social media before many of these ‘gurus’. you just have a typically (dare I say) british/irish sceptici sm about it all. long may that continue….

  3. How refreshing. It is wonderful to hear from an adult on social media. Tom we have never met but I expect we are both in our mid-fifties. I was beginning to feel alone in my frustration with the noise and lack of authoritative voices. Luddites be patient, Twitter will either come to realize it needs to promote credible voices or and rise above school yard chatter. If it doesn’t, it won’t survice in my opinion.

  4. Tom,

    A little bit of truth goes a long way. Many of today’s “thought leaders” are reviewers or, in some cases, rehashers of past ideas in a new medium. (Some know it; some don’t.)

    But don’t discount yourself up too much about Twitter. Nobody really knew how it might evolve from the “I’m eating lunch” tweets that once filled the screen. And, nobody knows where it is going to end up.

    I’m sure you might recall when the original chat rooms were all the rage. I think I entered one once as a speaker in the last five years. But ten years ago, everyone thought they were a permanent part of our lives. They weren’t, although Twitter bares a striking resemblance.


  5. James: Thanks for the kind words of support :-) I’ll try and be less grumpy… when in Rome :-)

    Phillip: Thanks for much for your comment. For the record I am barely hanging onto my thirties, just. But I agree. The volume of (repetitive) noise can be overwhelming at times, and as a PR practitioner I’m a big fan of pragmatism: what works? what reaches our audience etc.

    Rich: Yes we don’t really know what will last and what will fade. The whole social media area is in constant flux. Many might have expected Facebook to fade but it’s kept going and growing. As I said I’m a pragmatist. If something is useful and valuable then jump on it, if it’s unproven and potentially a fad – then wait and see. That’s why I am no thought leader!

    Thanks to everyone for the comments

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