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Don’t Follow Me: A Contrarian Guide to Social Media Success

Don't Follow Me

If you want to grow your business through social media engagement, the very first step is to be yourself, your whole self and nothing but yourself. Don’t copy anyone. Be the best person you can be and live your passions. The rest will work itself out.

I’d like to share with you one of my favorite quotes of all time and show you how it applies to social media marketing personally and professionally:

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the masters. Seek what they sought.”

This ancient Japanese proverb has guided me throughout my 20-year digital marketing career and has challenged me to seek alternatives–to look left when everyone is going right. A brilliant teacher of mine, Shirzad Chamine (Stanford University professor and author of Positive Intelligence) put it another way. “If you are an apple tree, why do you wish to be an orange tree? Rather than trying to be something you are not, just be the most amazing apple tree you can be.”

It stuck with me. In fact, once I saw this simple fact, it was screaming at me from every direction I looked. Seth Godin’s Purple Cow pointed out that “Being risky is safe. Being safe is risky.” Among the many insightful pearls of wisdom in that book, the idea of “standing out” was what truly mattered (hence a “purple cow”).

So much of digital marketing today feels like a “follow the herd” mentality. One company creates a breakthrough and suddenly everyone is jumping on the bandwagon with “me too” innovation. The wisdom of crowds may well provide thoughtful insights on where the world is going, but it does little to help you stand out and grow your business. Terms like “thought leader” and “influencer” don’t do justice to the originality that most people crave.

Here’s the funny part: You already are original. You were born unique and one of a kind. Originality is your default position. It took years of social pressure at school, home and social circles to beat the notion of originality out of you. Group think eventually replaced that special part of you that is, paradoxically, both vulnerable and powerful.

It’s time to be brave, find your true self and let it shine. That which makes you special is that which makes you wholly unique. And that is what we want to see. You, the whole you and nothing but you. The problem is, somewhere along the way, we have this tendency to be who we think others want us to be rather than who we truly are.

Now think about that as it pertains to your company, its brand personality and what you are currently willing to expose about your company when it comes to social media. Are you being as transparent as you could be? Are you bringing your whole self to your social media channels or just the few parts you want people to pay attention to? The less “real” your company is, the less people care about it.

So when it comes to social media, I say, “Don’t follow me” because the concept of being a “Fast Follower” is antiquated. I don’t want you to follow me–even when what I’m doing is working. Learn from my failures and my success, and incorporate those lessons into your own unique thinking and approach. Only by blazing your own trail will anyone care about what you’re doing.

If you need any more evidence, look no further than my favorite Apple television ad, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones“:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

I’m man enough to admit that often times when I read this (or watch the ad) I choke up a bit. My eyes water because of the raw truth so eloquently displayed by a “simple” ad by Apple.

If you want to grow your business through social media engagement, the very first step is to be yourself, your whole self and nothing but yourself. Or as Brené Brown puts it in her TED Talk, “Be vulnerable“. Be brave enough to put yourself out there and others will seek to understand who you are and what you stand for. If you can then, authentically and transparently, connect all of that into helping make the world a better place, you (and your company) will be unstoppable. So don’t seek to follow or copy anyone. Be the best person you can be and live your passions. The rest will work itself out.

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