Halloween comes but once a year. Tomorrow, we don our masks.
Throughout history, masks have had a surprising impact on European culture, particularly among the influential.
In the 15th century, masquerade balls were often instituted to celebrate the marriages of French nobility.
By the 16th century, they had expanded into Italy as elaborate dances held for members of the upper class.
Come the 17th century, they had grown in popularity throughout much of Europe, until the nature of masked anonymity led them to become an ideal setting for assassination.
Today, the oft-spoken advice instructing budding entrepreneurs to seek out “influencers” has brought the 17th century masquerade to social media. We don our masks, and we hunt the influential.
In so doing, we become pawns in a losing game.
Influencer outreach is important, but not because we rely on the reach of those with an audience. Such efforts are manipulative, transparent, and destined to fail.
Influencer outreach is important because you are part of an industry. If you want to make an impact, you need to know your colleagues.
It is about collaboration, not amplification.
It is about transitioning yourself in the minds of your fellows to be seen as a colleague rather than a consumer.
It is about fellowship.
So how do you break out of the ball? Here are three tips to stop the dance and move beyond the masquerade.
1. Build Genuine Relationships
We speak a lot about authenticity in social media, but somehow that message gets twisted. “Authenticity” becomes “appear genuine so that you can get people to trust you and buy your stuff.”
Fortunately, that is never a recipe for long term success. Social media is about building connections, and those connections have to be rooted in an honest love of people. If the relationship is the reward, the rest will follow.
So how do you build relationships on social media? The same way you do in life.
- Be Enjoyable. Find common interests. Have a sense of humor. Listen to others. Be willing to connect with people on the things that interest them. If people like spending time with you, they are far more likely to actually… spend… time… with you.
- Be Real. There is this strange perception that you have to project a certain persona on your social profile. While you always want to be professional, you don’t have to abandon your personality to do it. Let people get to know you. It’s a lot easier, and it pays much higher dividends.
- Be Relevant. Be present in the conversation, rather than hijacking a thread and turning it towards the topic you want to discuss. Join the dialogue. Add your thoughts. Move the discussion along. If you can connect with what people are doing, you have a much better chance of sticking out in their memory.
2. Demonstrate Real Expertise
Your goal is not simply to make friends, but to facilitate the transition from consumer to colleague.
To do that, you need to convince people that you actually know your industry. That expertise is a matter of trust, and you have to earn it.
So how do you earn that trust? You put your expertise on display.
- Be Expansive. Make it a point to add value to any conversation you join. When you are resharing an article, add your thoughts in the introduction and expand on the topic. When you are commenting on a thread, provide insight or connect the discussion with other areas of thought. When you are attending a webinar, ask meaningful questions. By expanding on the topic, you become a meaningful part of the conversation while demonstrating a greater awareness of your field.
- Be Inquisitive. If you know something, share it. If you don’t know something, ask questions. Ironically, the ability to ask good questions is just as important in demonstrating expertise as the ability to give meaningful answers. In fact, good questions often reflect your greater knowledge of the industry while also revealing a desire to continue learning. That pursuit of knowledge is far more important in a colleague-oriented relationship than the perception that you already know everything.
- Be Clear. Here is your greatest challenge: the more you know about an industry, the more difficult it is to communicate that clearly. This is easily the greatest attribute which separates thought leaders from everyone else. If you want to be viewed as a leader by those in your field, then you need to learn to communicate complex concepts with clarity and precision.
3. Become “The Guy”
Being fun and knowledgable will help place you on the radar of your fellow industry leaders, but it is rarely enough to bridge that consumer-to-colleague gap. To do that, you need to move beyond being engaging and become beneficial. You want to be the person that everyone wants to know.
So how do you become “the guy” (or gal)?
- Cross-Engage. If you are plugged into the discussions taking place within your industry (and you need to be if you want to be a thought leader), then you will begin to identify overlap between various ideas being bandied about. Become the link that draws these ideas together. When you publish material or comment on the posts of others, refer to recent posts that offer additional perspectives. Tag those authors into the discussion. Position yourself as the hub of conversation.
- Introduce People. In addition to connecting ideas, begin connecting people. These introductions not only benefit the people involved, they benefit the industry as a whole. When you make introductions, you initiate the spirit of collaboration. This presents you as a collaborative partner, and it is precisely that sense of collaboration that lubricates the transition to colleague.
- Benefit Others. Identify where you particular areas of expertise align with the mission and goals of your fellows. Then, plug in. The moment you become beneficial to your colleagues, you step out of that “consumer” box and perception changes. You are no longer the person trying to wring some benefit from that industry leader, you are now the person that brings that benefit. This exchange of benefits lies at the heart of collaboration.
So Take Off Your Mask
Stop going through the dance. The masquerade will never move you closer to nobility.
Instead, let yourself shine through.
Be genuine. Demonstrate expertise. Become beneficial.
Take off your mask, and enjoy the rewards of leaving the ball.
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