What 2013 Taught Me About Social Media

This was a big year.

In just 12 months I moved, appeared on the Suggested Users List, started a new job, stopped using Google+ for a while, uninstalled Foursquare, got engaged, decided to move to Dallas, deleted my Facebook account, became a +Google Glass Explorer.

Tomorrow I will pack up all of my belongings in a truck and leave Tennessee (my home for the last 12 years) and head to Dallas, Texas. I’ve only been there twice. Each time I met with some great people that were introduced to me through Google+, +Scot Duke, +Joe Saad, +Katherine Fell and +Mark Neace.

It’s true that without social media, I wouldn’t have made those connections and wouldn’t have had a small network of people already in Dallas. However, no matter how many people follow me, or how good I think I am, social media won’t magically get me my dream job or solve all of my problems.

People talk. A lot. But, as we know, actions speak louder than words. This year I learned that just because I thought I was good at what I wanted to do, didn’t mean I would instantly become what I thought I was capable of.

This year taught me the difference between ambition and talent.

So many people that I am connected with advertise themselves as social media experts, marketing mavens or content creation gurus. But if they’re so good at doing those things, why do they spend so much time advertising themselves instead of getting things done? Are they all trying to be discovered? Are they trying to get “picked up?”

I’m guilty as charged. I’ve done the same thing. From creating +McDermott Media and thinking I could instantly become a 6-figure a year consultant, to teaching people how to use Google+ at speaking engagements and guest lecture opportunities. I’ve always shared my knowledge and told people this is what you need to do.

The truth? I’ve never working for a marketing firm. I’ve never been in advertising. I’ve never been paid to administrate the social media accounts of a company. It’s just something I’m really passionate about. Sadly, that passion alone won’t get me a job. In order to become successful at something, you need to establish yourself as the expert, but to become the expert you need to show your portfolio.

So where do you get the portfolio? Sure, I could show you the websites I’ve created, the projects I’ve embarked upon or the cool people I’ve worked with, but what is that worth to a company that deals in widgets and business services?

In order to get noticed for doing what you’re passionate about, you need to do something worth sharing: for +Cliff Roth, it’s his speed paintings; for +Daria Musk, it’s her music; for +matthew rappaport, it was first +Hangout Conversations and now +The Huffington Post! +Carter Gibson? +The LittleBigFund. +Rodney Pike has his incredible image manipulation and +Paul Roustan is always pushing the envelope with his live body painting broadcasts. +Evo Terra taught us that beer and sausage could sustain a man for a month. +Sarah Hill showed us that the power of hangouts can reach beyond the newsroom and into a business that helps people.

Sure, the things that these people did might not capture the attention of the world, but they captured the attention of enough people. What made these individuals stand out was their persistence. They each picked the thing that they wanted to be good at and they excelled.

I didn’t do that.

Nope. Maybe I have project-oriented ADD, or am interested in too many things. In either case, my failure to master any single thing has left me the jack of many trades, but the master of none. In a world of billions of people, most businesses don’t have interest in people that are good at several things, but those who aregreat at a few things.

Social media this year has taught me that in order for me to be successful in pursuing my passion, I will need to be dedicated to one thing. In order to achieve mastery, I must practice that thing day in and day out. I must part with my distractions and focus on what I really want to do.

The Suggested Users List isn’t a magic wand.

Many of you that have followed me for a long time may remember that I was very pessimistic towards the Suggested Users List. In fact, two years ago, I called Google out saying that +Vic Gundotra and his crew didn’t get social and were bastardizing their platform by glorifying people that never utilized the network; giving them millions of followers only to watch them waste away the opportunity to engage with the masses.

Of course, many of those speculations were met with anger and disgrace. How dare I, a simpleton, slap the hand of Google when they were giving us so much greatness absolutely free? Who was I to question the ways that they did things?

Regardless of the attitudes I was faced with, I noticed one thing evolve from sharing my thoughts: deep and meaningful conversations. I learned that in order to engage (or enrage) a group of people, I needed to share my feelings. I needed to go out on a ledge and voice my opinions.

It turns out that the conversations resulting from sharing my thoughts were worth a hundred times more than the time I took in sharing my ideas. By taking the risk to challenge the status quo and the way things were being done, I was rewarded with new ideas, new perspectives and the encouragement to do better, try harder and find better ways to use the tools available to me.

Now that I have found myself a member of the Suggested Users List for a few months, I can tell you a few things about having an incredibly large (but non-organic) following.

– The quality of engagement reflects the quality of what you post.
– People that used to engage often, will engage less.
– You find yourself filtering and censoring yourself much more.
– You spend more time managing your own comment threads than engaging with others’ posts.
– You can’t answer or reply to every comment.
– Things get lost in your inbox. You won’t be able to help it.
– People will give up on you when you fail to respond.
– There is not enough time to do everything you want.

At first, I wasn’t recognizing or realizing these things, but they developed over time and eventually snow balled. I realized that some of the things I accused other SUL members of before were inevitable and not a flaw of character or a change of heart.

There was a post I read the other day that +Eli Fennell shared entitled Social Media Popularity is Ephemeral (http://goo.gl/nIjtcA). The post talks about “the dangers of succumbing to the illusion of social media popularity.” That’s exactly what it is, an illusion. Getting hundreds of thousands of people circling you doesn’t mean anything but an opportunity. If you think you’re famous because a half a million people were told by a computer algorithm to follow you, you’re wrong.

This year taught me that the only thing that really matters is what we make with what we have. If we have the opportunity to share our thoughts and think they might enrich other people, we should share our thoughts. If we know we have a gift to share with the world, we should share it. But, if it’s not worth sharing, maybe we should just keep it to ourselves or a smaller group, lest we burden the eyes and ears of those so willing to listen. If we abuse the power of having a large audience, we might quickly alienate them and lose our opportunity.

So what is my purpose here?

I watched a movie over the weekend that didn’t score the greatest of reviews, but left me with a desire in my heart to do something great. It was based on a short story by James Thurber (http://goo.gl/9T0VVI) which appeared in +The New Yorker. The character played by +Sean Penn  reminded me greatly of +Trey Ratcliff. The main character, Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller) reminded me of myself, my “day dreams” and my ambition. The moral of the story, though is that you have to set aside your fears and your hesitations and just get out there and do what inspires you.

We’re in an age where one of our greatest values is living in the moment. We understand that we need to plan to be successful, but that we also need to seek the human experience. Not all of us will scale Mt. Everest, trek through the rain forest or visit Bangkok, but we all have the opportunity to shed our worries, our hesitations and our fears and do things that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

I’ve learned a lot over the last year, but sometimes it takes a lot of things happening in a short period of time to realize how important every moment of your life is. And that brings me back to my purpose here: sharing those moments and those realizations. The one thing that I think I’m good at is sharing stories and I hope that some of the stories I share will empower you to create your own experiences and share your stories with others.

What I’ve learned about social media in 2013 is that the best story to share is your own.

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