I don’t know about you, but I’m finding this whole social media thing a bit confusing. Not technically confusing; the services are easy enough to sign up for and in most cases, simple to use.
No, I mean tactically confusing. Although I’ve tried my hand at all the big ones (and continue to do so), I haven’t quite figured out how it all fits together.
And so when I heard about an event being put on the other night by the New England Technology Sales Executives Association (NETSEA) called “Social Media for Social Creatures,” I figured it was worth attending.
But as I walked in the door at 6 p.m., I immediately knew I had made a mistake… a fashion mistake.
You see, as it turns out, I was the only person in the entire room who was wearing a tie. Lots of sport coats, lots of dress slacks, lots of shiny shoes… no ties.
“This can’t be possible,” I thought to my now sweating self. “There must be at least a couple of other guys in here with ties.”
Nope, not a one. Unless you count the elderly gentleman behind the bar who, thank God, wasn’t wearing the same tie as I was.
I turned my back on the room and crept along the wall, biding my time.
And then, luckily, the solution popped into my head. Why not just step outside for a minute and take the tie off? With any luck, when people see my horribly tie-wrinkled shirt collar, they’ll just assume I survived a strangulation attack in the parking garage.
But as I turned to make my way back out the door, I stopped. Because I suddenly remembered that standing out from the crowd is what marketing is all about.
I mean after all, isn’t this what we service professionals all yearn for? Aren’t we looking for something that will differentiate us from every other financial planner, consultant, coach, attorney, recruiter, etc.?
And yet here I was, just minutes after discovering something that made me appear just a little bit different, frantically looking for a way to blend back in.
I’ve given my tie experience a lot of thought since the other night and I think it’s a pretty good example of just how overwhelming the human urge to fit in can be. Maybe it’s some leftover instinct from the Paleobronchitis Era (or whatever), when fitting in with the herd meant survival. In that context, it certainly made sense.
As a businessperson though, it’s exactly the wrong thing to do. Your natural inclination to look, speak, think, believe and yes, dress like everyone else, may keep you from feeling foolish in a roomful of people. But it will also keep you from ever being noticed… a necessary step on the path to being hired.
Need another example? How about this… Out of the four people on the event’s panel – all of whom, by the way, came across as interesting, knowledgeable and genuine in their presentations – three of them describe their company in their respective bios as “leading providers.” (See for yourself here.)
One is, “a leading provider of enterprise social software solutions.” Another is, “a leading provider of on-demand Sales Enablement solutions.” And a third is, “a leading provider of Service Level Management software.”
I don’t know about you, but just once I’d like to meet someone who claims to be a trailing provider of something.
This kind of boring, overused, take-your-tie-off-so-you-don’t-stand-out chatter doesn’t begin to do justice to the three guys I saw in person, and it does nothing to differentiate them from the competition. Whomever is writing this stuff is just looking around the room and trying to fit in.
Here’s the bottom line. I spend a fair amount of time helping people and companies figure out what to say and how to say it, all with the goal of standing out from the crowd. But what I’ve come to understand is that the hardest part of the exercise is not putting a finger on what makes them different. That’s just the first step.
The really hard part is convincing them to overlook a million years worth of human nature and shine a light on something real. And you can’t do that unless you’re willing to keep your tie on when everyone else has taken theirs off.