Is Your Visibility Visible?

Despite my having grown up next door on Long Island, not to mention living a mere 200 miles away for the last 25 years, it recently occurred to my wife Linda and me that none of our children had ever set foot in New York City.

And so a few weeks ago, while visiting my brother Al (who, incidentally, turns 50 today – Does mentioning you here mean I don’t have to buy you a gift?), we decided to take a train ride in and have a look around.

Very exciting. Not that Boston is exactly a backwater, but compared to NYC, we’re teeny-tiny. And so when we stepped off the train into Grand Central Station, my kids were understandably impressed.

People everywhere. Hundreds… thousands… moving in all directions. And as we took it all in, I suddenly had a flash of insight, which I share with you now:

“Why have I been sitting in my office all these years, trying to attract clients, when I could just come to Grand Central Station and get all the Ă«visibility’ I want? I mean with all these people out here looking at me, I’ll have all the work I want in no time.”

And so I stood right in the middle for about 10 minutes, to make sure I had been good and visible. Then I called my office voicemail, ready to take down all the phone numbers and messages from those who had seen me and wanted to hire me.

But there was nothing. Not a single message.

Well, okay, that’s not quite true. There was one message from a guy who wanted to know if I repaired restaurant ovens, but I’m pretty sure that was a wrong number from the day before. In terms of actual new client leads, my visibility time in Grand Central Station had yielded exactly zero.

Okay, it’s obvious (I hope) that I made all that up. And I’m sure you’d agree that anyone who expected this “marketing tactic” to lead to new business would be waiting a long time for the phone to ring.

And yet (get ready, here comes the punch line), it’s not all that different from the way many companies try to “market” themselves online.

In other words, instead of thinking about how certain visibility-generating activities will lead to the interactions and clients and work they want, they ignore all that and just focus on getting as much visibility (of whatever kind) as possible.

And that’s a problem, because it’s easy to be active and busy and visible in a way that doesn’t add up to much of anything.

Back to Grand Central Station. There were (at least) three reasons why my employing this tactic wouldn’t make much difference to my fellow commuters.

  1. They don’t know anything about me. Sure, they’d see me… but it would be fast, fleeting and superficial (sounds like my college dating career). Even if there were people walking by who might have been interested in buying my services, they simply wouldn’t know enough – or trust me enough – to make a move.
  1. I don’t know anything about them. Other than a willingness to be in midtown Manhattan on a Friday morning, these people are entirely undifferentiatable (assuming that’s a word) from the general population. There’s no way for me to tell the difference between who might be a good match for my services and who might not… it’s the ultimate in untargeted marketing.
  1. There’s a lot of competition for the attention of the “audience.” Looking at me is not the only option (lucky for them). So while I may indeed have been out there in the “Train-os-phere,” being visible and interactive, so is everyone else. With all that noise, it’s no wonder I wouldn’t stand out.

So here’s the point. Although this is clearly not a perfect metaphor for describing what happens online, it’s not that far off either. In both cases, there’s a lot of opportunity to waste a lot of time.

And while there’s nothing wrong with any of us participating in online activities that increase our visibility – whether that means blogging or Twittering or Facebooking or whatever – keep in mind that visibility itself is not the goal. And, large numbers or not, not all types of visibility are created equal.

 

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