Engagement? Pfft. Sounds Pretty Disingenuous To Me

iStock_000015374369XSmall.jpgTime and again we hear from the pros that if you want to succeed in today’s social media landscape, it’s all about Engagement with a capital E.

This one-size-fits-all generalized advice comes with all manner of practical tips every day, and here’s one of my favorites:

If you want to stand out as a thought leader, quote other thought leaders. They’ll notice and quote you back…

…and, one would assume, realize your brilliance and help elevate you to the status of a recognized authority in your professional field. (Because, golly, you quoted them. And now they’re quoting you.)

Hmm. Sounds pretty disingenuous to me.

I touched my first computer in 1981 and was instantly hooked. My first ‘online’ experience was two years later when I dialed up to a local BBS and left a forum message for a school friend who was easier to reach simply by walking down the street to his house. We’ve come a long way since then and, personally, one of my least favorite aspects of the current social scene is the very duplicitous definition of networking, engagement, and friendship. It has little foundation of truth to it.

Call it marketing, because that is what it is. (These platforms were not created in dorm rooms and San Francisco lofts by twenty-somethings looking to create the next small business marketing tool, but that’s where the money is – and so marketing will sustain them. It is an unfortunate double-edged sword.)

Some of my most cherished online “friendships” are with people who can do nothing for me, professionally. I am also friends with people who probably find what I do in poor taste (provide an online marketing platform), but we appear to like each other for reasons beyond professional. If the recipe for expanding my online influence is to suck up to, ahem, Thought Leaders so that they notice me and can help elevate my status – count me out.

I like to believe that I will sink or swim on my own merits – and that the measure will be how I conduct myself in the relationships I do have, and in the public record of what I’ve said, written, done with my life. And how I engage sincerely with those people who move me to engage.

Besides, when I hire an attorney, I won’t base the decision on the excellence of their grilled salmon and arugula recipe, or whether they like the same baseball team as me. Or how many pretty pictures they’ve pinned to their Pinterest “favorites” folder. (Although I’d happily sit down for a family meal with my attorney, any time.) I’ll base the decision on their hard-earned expertise, as evidenced by what they have done, what they have said, what they have written. Most good lawyers already are thought leaders; they don’t need to suck up to anyone to prove it.

The prevailing online marketing advice today is truly one-size-fits-all. Lawyers are not selling caramel lollipops, waterproof tents, or home-made jams and jellies. They sell a complex professional service that, to be successful, requires competence, risk mitigation, and – frankly – regulation. I want a good lawyer, not a friendly lawyer.

Yes, indeed, we do business with people we like. And these online networking tools allow us to make introductions and begin relationships that might or might not lead to friendships. Got that. I am on board. But don’t miss the forest for the trees. Make sure the way you develop those relationships is sincere. Be yourself. Don’t suck up. It’s in poor taste, and over the long term no one will like you for it.

My #1 networking tip: do good work.

[No thought leaders or recognized authorities were harmed, or for that matter directly quoted, in the writing of this piece. Please forgive me.]