Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Social Media just one big clique?

I recently had a conversation with Amy Africa, and she mentioned that after she presented at the Marketing Profs B2B Forum last week, that several attendees came up and asked her if she did social media consulting. She explained that:

I think part of the thing is that you guys are so cliquey that you are often difficult to approach. Yes, even you. So people approach people like me (who know jack about social media) because well, we’re approachable.

I can't really disagree with her, and I have been thinking about this for a long time. From my personal perspective, the problem for me is that:

1 - I am an introvert offline, and an extrovert (or at least more extroverted) online

2 - When I am at an event, I assume that most people have no idea who I am, and thusly don't want to approach me

Now my fear is that my naturally being introverted and assuming most people don't know who I am, is giving the impression that I don't want to meet you. And another problem is, I am following almost 3,000 people on Twitter. I always have someone come up and introduce themselves and give me their real name and say they are on Twitter. I normally don't recognize them from their real name, and if we haven't interacted on Twitter, I probably won't recognize them at all. This is a downside of following so many people on Twitter, that I can't always have meaningful connections with everyone.

And I've talked to other people that are 'known' in social media, and I have also been around others at events when someone approaches them and compliments them on their blog, etc. I can tell you that I am always slightly embarrassed when this happens, and I have been around some of the so-called 'superstars' in social media when someone gushes about their blog, and I've seen them turn beet-red with embarrassment as well.

That's because at the end of the day, I'm just a guy with a blog. And I know that YOU guys as a group, are smarter than I will ever be. So when someone comes up to me and says "I just wanted to let you know that I love The Viral Garden!", I am so thankful, but it's also a bit embarrassing because it's like you are thanking me, when as a reader of this blog, I should be thanking you!

And honestly, this post is difficult for me to even write because it involves talking about myself. I don't like doing that, but I think this is an important topic to discuss. I do agree with Amy that some people may see several of their favorite bloggers/social media people together in a group, and feel like they can't walk over and introduce themselves. I am the same way, at SXSW this year, I literally forced myself to go up and introduce myself to Kathy Sierra after her talk. I made a complete fool out of myself blubbering about how amazing I think she is, but it was important to let her know how much I appreciate her smartitude.

So while I can't speak for anyone else, I can tell you this. If you see me at an event and want to introduce yourself PLEASE feel free to do so as I absolutely love meeting you guys. I've said this before, but the best meeting I had last year was at a conf where a reader walked up to me and said they loved The Viral Garden. It was completely unexpected, and I was so appreciative. For my part, I am going to try to make myself more accessible and approachable during events from now on.

And I don't usually do this, but if you would be more comfortable emailing me instead of commenting on this post, please do so. I want to make sure that when I am at an event, I have a chance to meet as many of you as possible. If you have any ideas on how I can make that happen, please let me know!

Pic via Flickr user David Alston


Ryan Stephens said...

Complete class act Mack, but I think you're onto something as well. I think people are intimidated by the social media influencer "circle jerk" if you will.

Not only from 'readers and fans,' but also other bloggers. I know sometimes newer bloggers are timid about approaching intermediate bloggers. And I know intermediate bloggers like myself like to think we're posting good content and often wonder what it takes to get over the hump.

Sometimes people know the formula and don't have time to execute, other times you worry if you just got to the party too late.

You used this particular platform to be humble and reach out to your readers, but maybe there's a broader over-arching discussion worth having here.

I know I'm ridiculously flattered when a "social media guru" like Scott Monty, Valeria Maltoni or Chris Brogan comments on my blog.

I'd be interested what other 'gurus' would suggest intermediate bloggers doing (aside from providing graet content of course) to help ascend to (or at least have interaction with the next level.)

Enjoyed the read, and your insight!

Unknown said...

I'm breaking the introvert rule and reaching out, I think you are on something here Mark. I know many in the social networking field who are in the Dr. Jekyl Mr. Hyde roles depending on what side of the keyboard they happen to be sitting.

So where is the happy medium? or is there?

Tom Martin said...


Great post. I think Chris Brogan does a good job of constantly reminding his readers to say hello to him when they see him and as someone who took him up on the offer I can say he backs it up. I have found others in the space are equally good at being "real" and when you talk to them privately think their internet stardom is kind of funny really. At the end of the day, they even seem somewhat mystified by it.

The real issue I think is that human nature is to clique up at an event. You talk to all these great people on twitter and then when you get a chance to see them in person, well it's kind of a like a reunion filled with animated conversation that "outsiders" don't feel comfortable butting into. So they don't and everyone loses the opp to make one of those magical connections.

Maybe what you need to do is challenge your readers to say hello to you, and when you blush, take a pic and upload it to Flickr with a I Made Mack Blush tag... sometimes a challenge is all folks need to overcome inertia.


Mack Collier said...

Ryan I don't think the so-called 'gurus' are any different from anyone else. If you interact with me (on here, on Twitter, whereever), I am more likely to interact with you. Now for blogs it can be a bit more difficult because many of us are already subscribed to more blogs than we can keep up with. This is why I think Twitter is becoming everyone's new RSS reader.

Just keep being social. You're on the right track ;)

Mack Collier said...

Tom, Chris came by the Tweetup we had in Boston last week for the B2B Forum last week. His name tag read:

@chrisbrogan Say hi, dammit!

I am SO stealing that one ;)

Sarah Mae said...

Oh come on! This is too sweet to be controversial!



Sarah Mae said...

"You talk to all these great people on twitter and then when you get a chance to see them in person, well it's kind of a like a reunion filled with animated conversation that "outsiders" don't feel comfortable butting into. So they don't and everyone loses the opp to make one of those magical connections.

Maybe what you need to do is challenge your readers to say hello to you, and when you blush, take a pic and upload it to Flickr with a I Made Mack Blush tag... sometimes a challenge is all folks need to overcome inertia."


Ann Handley said...

This post is vintage Mack. This is why so many people love you.

But to your point: I'm not sure I agree with the idea that Social Media folks are particularly cliquey. But if they are, they are no more so than any other two or more people with something in common. Perhaps the idea of "clique" is bolstered by the fact that SM types sometimes "know" each other online and (as Tom says), it's a bit like a reunion (or "preunion" for folks meeting for the first-time, as Scott Monty says).

That said, the real point in any conference or meetup situation is to be approachable as well as to approach. Frankly, the latter is not easy for most people (save for uber-extroverts) to do... whether or not they are in Social Media, or Pet Care, or Health Insurance, or whatever. Or, for that matter, whether you are the content person of a certain well-known marketing web site with a blue bird logo....

Brenna Sowder said...

Great post! I think you're spot on about people's perceptions preventing them to talking to the "experts" out there who have elevated status on Twitter -- one might think: what insight can I possibly offer to someone who is followed by 10,000+ people? I think you also make a very valid point about different personalities coming through online and offline, something I think has been true since the advent of electronic communication. One thing I might add is that as a PR professional on a shoestring budget, I often don't have the opportunity to attend SM events and feel a bit on the outside when event #ABC is trending on Twitter and I will likely never meet many of the folks chatting it up online. Although SM provides great opportunities, "community" can have very different meanings online and off.


Meg Roberts said...

Hi, Mack. This was a very well-written post on a topic that I've seen popping up in the blogosphere recently.

I've been a long time reader of your blog, but have allowed my "introverted" social media presence to prevent me from commenting until now. I figured it's about time I come out of the woodwork and say hi, to let you know that I appreciate your smartitude.

I'm also looking forward to conversations that will be taking place about the social media clique. I haven't decided how I feel since I'm torn, but I know the dialogue between the "gurus" and the "intermediates" will be eye-opening.

Thanks again!

Mack Collier said...

Ann I don't think we are cliquey either, but to your other point, it IS like reunion at these events, and we want to catch up with old friends. But I think the flipside is, someone that wants to connect with us might see Ann Handley, Amber Naslund, Beth Harte and Chris Penn chatting and think that they can't approach that group. Or maybe they wanted to tell you how they love Annarcy, and decided to wait till they caught you alone later, and never got a chance to say hi?

A lot to think about and I am loving these comments and the emails, really learning a lot!

Stacy Lukas said...

I think I agree with @AnnHandley here -- I don't think that the "token" SM "big shots" are any more cliquey than any other group of people who already know each other, online and off.

It's only natural for people to hang out with people they already know and like, and at the same time, I think it's only natural for others to perceive that as "cliquey."

But if social media were truly "all about relationships" and being transparent and approachable and friends with everybody and blah blah blah, all that stuff everybody goes on and on about, then this wouldn't even be an issue at all.

I think this post is great timing for bringing some real self-examination into light. :)

~ @damnredhead

DaveMurr said...

I was just introduced to your blog, and really enjoy your writing.

Hope we get to meet some day. I'll be sure to introduce myself.

Its fascinating how these false premises like cliques, brat-packs, cool kids, etc. get thrown around when categorizing people who, for the majority, are really putting the time, effort and hard work into their blogs and online commitments.

It's hard to think "clique" when someone you admire looks you in the eyes, shakes your hand, and takes the time to say hello and thank you.

Mack Collier said...

Brenna and Meg, this is one reason why I *hate* the importance we place on things like Twitter followers. Too many people look at it and think 'wow she has 10X the followers I do, that MUST mean she's smarter/more important/whatever'. Total BS in most cases. And it actually HURTS me if it means that any of you feel you can't interact with me because of it.

Unknown said...

#1 I'm NOT a shy person. Anyone who has ever met me will probably attest to that fact.

#2 I don't often get "starstruck". I relate this to not being shy, and realizing that people are just people underneath it all.

#3 The reason I may feel shy impulses around the "superstars", isn't because they're superstars, but because they're so ridiculously smart.

Ridiculously smart people, famous or not famous, cause me to feel a bit shy. This is the same with music, with social media people, with academics, with businesspeople, etc.

I personally don't think that social media is one big clique, but perhaps that's because I see a bunch of friendly people who are also very, very intelligent. To me, that's where it begins and ends.

Will Scott said...

Hey Mack,

I'm not of the Social Media clique (if there is one) but having spent time with you in person I know you can be extroverted when called on.

I think your point carries over pretty well to traditional online marketing.

Some of the best link-building I've ever done was face to face over a beer :)


Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Mack.

D. Kellus Pruitt

Erika Kerekes said...

This is the beauty of social media - people who are too shy to break into a conversation at a cocktail party (me) or too timid to introduce themselves to speakers at a conference (also me) or too shy to raise their hands and ask a question in a seminar (definitely me) now have an outlet where we can be brave and extroverted with our words, if not our actions.

I've learned a ton from you and your other readers, Mack, with this post and dozens of others. Thanks. And I promise to introduce myself. Next time.

Kami Huyse said...

This is a good discussion. I would hate to think that anyone wouldn't approach me because of some sense of fear or feeling left out.

That said, it is always easier to gravitate toward those people you already know and that can be perceived as being cliquish.


Anonymous said...

To echo everyone else, "nice post". I agree with Ryan about being intimidated by the more well known social media practitioners. Probably goes to some aspect of personal validation if the "celeb" notices you. Guess you have to constantly remind folks that it is ok to say hi.


David said...

Every community has clique tendencies, doesn't matter if it is offline or online. There is no reason that social media is going to be any different.

The way I see it is that if someone is making themselves available (not not that way, you dirty minded people you!)online, it is reasonable to assume that is how they would want to be approached offline as well.

I know there are a lot of people who are either shy by nature, or just struggling to get to grips with the whole networking and sharing thing. I think your post would be good for a lot of these folks to read.


Aaron said...

So that was YOU standing in the corner surrounded by the adoring and fawning crowd at #mpb2b?! Shoot, I missed my chance.

As the ultimate extrovert, I generally love working the room, meeting new people, hearing new ideas. Is often more interesting than the conference program. But even I am intimidated by "the pack." But as someone else said, its really just the pack, not SM gurus in a pack that is intimidating.

I had the oocasion to attend an event my company put on in Tel Aviv last year. Huge event, Al Gore spoke, the whole nine. At the time I didnt realize that most people in Israel speak English, so I wandered around for awhile looking for a conversation to join, but since everyone was speaking in Hebrew, it didn't work out well for me. Now THAT was a LONELY experience!!

So next time y'all are at an event, standing in a group of 3 or 4 chatting about @reply this and hashtag that, and you see someone sidling up on the side, open the circle slightly, make eye contact, and ask "what did you think about xy and z" Poof, circle increases by 1 and you now have made a deeper connection.

(and I LOVE the name tag idea too, I am just not famous enough for it to matter :))


lisahickey said...

Mack, I haven't met you in person, yet, but online at least, you are one of the least "cliquey" people I have ever met.

I feel like people are being clique-y -- whether in real life or online -- when I make repeated attempts to engage with them and they ignore me. When people don't want to talk to me just because I'm *me*, I quickly feel like an outsider. So I try to never forget that feeling when I see people trying to engage with me. But Social Media, on the whole, feels like it has much fewer cliques than other circles.

Hope to meet you IRL sometime soon!

Daria Steigman said...

Hi Mack,

Terrific post, and judging by the discussion a timely one as well.

I must admit to being the rare extrovert who actually likes being in a room with lots of people I don't know. It seems far more interesting than always talking to the same people. But the "reunion" piece, as Tom points out, is also important since we're often meeting online friends in real life for the first time--and that takes time too.

Having said that, I think part of the problem is this tendency we have to label people gurus and rock stars (I know you haven't done so), which makes people appear less approachable. I so love Chris Brogan's response!

But there is clearly room for each of us, especially those of us who are comfortable facilitating real-world conversations, to have situational awareness and bring into the fold the person standing on the sidelines.

Thanks for sparking the discussion.


Anonymous said...


I'm so glad you posted this. I felt the same way when I started reaching out to veteran Twitterers and bloggers in the past couple of months and was so nervous asking to join up with some of the most incredible and intelligent people I was following online last week when I went to BlogPotomac. I felt awkward asking to go to dinner with a bunch of them the night before (including Amber Naslund, Beth Harte, Sonny Gill, and others whom I really look up to as 'social media gurus'), but I was so glad that I did. Lisa Hoffmann, Pamela and Frank Martin (and everyone else I could name-drop here) reached out to me and were not only completely approachable, but were so open and friendly when I met them in person.

I'm not sure why I was surprised - these people are involved in social media because it's social and because reaching out to people comes naturally to them. The people who succeed most on social media platforms aren't necessarily the most extroverted people, but definitely are people-oriented and appreciate in-person connections, as well online connections.

When I introduced myself with my Twitter handle, everyone immediately knew me "I recognize you from your avatar!", they said. The intimidation wore off quickly and I was humbled and honored to feel that I was part of the community.

I consider you part of my online community since I follow your blog and follow you on Twitter and I hope that we'll someday have an opportunity to meet in person. Until then, you're more than welcome to say hi on Twitter (@_sarakate_) or else stop by my blog or email.


Mack Collier said...

Daria great point about labeling people as 'rockstars' and making them less approachable. I do this as well, I see it was a way to compliment my friends, but I can absolutely see how that could make it less likely for someone else to approach them.

Great discussion guys, y'all are really helping to clarify a lot of issues for me!

Maggie McGary said...

LOVE this post--totally dovetails with a conversation I've been having the past few days about Blog Potomac. A friend and I both posted less-than-glowing reviews and she in particular got some flak for it. Here's the thing: IMO there's a reason why people who are social online are social ONLINE: because sometimes they're not the most extroverted folks in the world. I can be very extroverted, but I can also be shy--and it's been my experience at live social media events that the awkwardness quotient is pretty high.

My husband, who is not a social media person, was horrified when I forced him to go to Twestival--he couldn't believe how people stood around in a bar, music blasting like a "real" social event, but tweeting from their cell phones and barely speaking to each other! Looking at it from his perspective it was pretty funny.

As to the clique thing, I think absolutely social media is one big clique. I don't mean that in a negative way, necessarily, but it's a numbers game, plain and simple. The more well-known you are=how popular you are. A person's credibility/celebrity in social media is 100% about how many subscribers/followers/fans they have. Maybe not in a respect sense among bloggers, but in dollars and cents, definitely. Chris Brogan as "everyman", for instance.

I do feel sort of sorry for social media "celebs"--if you think about it, it's a pretty awkward situation to be in: you go from being someone who's probably most comfortable online to someone who's also supposed to be 100% authentic, approachable and social in live situations. And if you're not, I'm sure you'll read about it online!

Cj said...

I understand this. Within this space, a great deal of clout is handed to people that are not only prolific, but also smart and authentic. There are a good number of these people, and they tend to be very well-followed and their blogs get lots of comments, which starts this self-reinforcing cycle of "people think I'm interesting because they say interesting things on my site, and that makes my site interesting, so..."

And yet, the power is there, Mack, whether you believe you deserve it or not. Posts like this give it to you, and WE give it to you, because you deserve it. Whether you think you do or not, WE do, or we wouldn't tell you you're great.

I remember the first time Amber Naslund and Olivier Blanchard retweeted something I wrote, and I felt like a 12-year-old-girl at the Jonas Brothers. It's incredibly silly. And yet, I still hope that one day I can be as useful to people as they, and you, and so many others, are.

That's not clique. That's real power. It's all the more charming that you're embarrassed that you have it.

Mack Collier said...

Maggie I read your post, and if I had been in your same situation, I would have been pissed too. And I've actually been at events where I didn't know anyone, and given my introverted nature, I didn't enjoy myself. As you said, no one likes to be standing on an island.

Thanks for your post, oh and I just followed you on Twitter, sorry I wasn't already!

Mack Collier said...

Thanks CJ, it's cool that you loved being RTed by Amber and Olivier (confession time, I feel the same way!).

And if you want to call me 'great', let's say that my 'greatness' lies in the fact that I have created something that lets all of you come together and share how smart you are with everyone else. I can live with that ;)

Adwido said...

I don't think social media is just one big click, but many cliques. There are several niches in this field and you are probably one of many.

Gavin Heaton said...

We have been running coffee mornings in Sydney for about two and a half years. And despite the fact that I constantly explain that "everyone is welcome", many people are still put off for this same reason. The truth is, however, that we have a percentage of new people every week. And after someone comes once or twice, they become "part of the furniture".

When there were only 2 or 3 of us it was a clique of sorts - but only because few people felt comfortable about coming along. Now we have about 20-30 regulars and can sometimes swell to about 70. The only reason this has happened is that we constantly reassure people that we are friendly and approachable. Eventually it sinks in ;)