IAN GREENLEIGH

Author | Marketer | Speaker

I help companies turn data, ideas and relationships into reach and influence. 

Don't be "that guy" in social media

Social Media Day was a rollicking good time, and my friends at Pinqued couldn’t have done a better job. And still, that guy showed up. This time, he took the form of a Clear Wireless salesman that stood out like a Bush ’04 bumper sticker on the back of a San Francisco Volvo. But even if you weren’t there, and didn’t meet our shiny-toothed sales schmuck, you’ve met that guy before. He’s the guy at the wedding that tries to rope you into his surefire pyramid scheme. He’s the hustler on the subway that makes you pretend you don’t speak English so he'll avoid talking to you. He’s your cousin that asks you for a payday loan when you know he doesn’t have a payday coming. Social media makes it easier than ever to become that guy.

For most of my career, I’ve been a salesman. I don’t do it anymore, because I constantly felt like I was overstepping my bounds to get the close, using “real” relationships to rake it in. Social media made my life easier. I was a hundred times more ballsy, brazen, charming and, ultimately, believable when I was selling via the social web. Heck, I was good at tweeting, blogging and pinging people, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

But when you stop hearing the click of the phone and the “not interested”, you may start to think everyone likes you. Hardly anyone’s going to chew you out over Twitter for being too pushy—they’ll probably just ignore you, or keep their replies short and polite. Culturally, social media is much different than the real world. You have to be an utter jerk to catch serious flak on your blog or someone else’s. A general politeness abounds, probably because our online utterances are public and exist permanently in various databases and files.

Don’t mistake that @reply for a relationship.

I have met seriously good friends through social media and related events. But just like all relationships of substance, I put in the time to get to know them. By traditional social standards, before you ask someone for a favor, you get to a place in your relationship where it doesn’t feel like you’re unduly burdening them, or at which you have the means to somehow reciprocate for the larger requests.

Damn if I didn’t ask for favors from people I met during my social media job search. Usually it was just a reference, or some phone advice, or for input on my Facebook ads. Occasionally, an existing friend would make an introduction to someone I “should know”, and we’d grab coffee. Even then, I was hypersensitive to crossing the line. But people like Grant Turck, who had been through it all before me, were more than happy to help. In all likelihood, I could have asked a bit more of people without rubbing them the wrong way.

And then you see those people with that look in their eye. It’s not determination, or a can-do freakin’ attitude. It’s the “how can I use those in this room” look. They’re the ones that approach you because of who you work for or who you know, without any thought as to who you are. All that matters to them is that you're a potential asset.

  • They don’t ask you to grab coffee with them, they expect you to.
  • They talk more about themselves and their connections than they listen and learn.
  • They tell you, flabbergasted, that they applied for your job, but were rejected—and oh, by the way, can you help them get another at your company?
  • They tell you how many followers on Twitter they have before they tell you why the hell that should matter to employers.

Why do they think you’re on their team? Because you have interacted in the social space in some way that wasn’t negative. That’s not a relationship. That’s simply the lack of an adversarial relationship. Because I’m not going to call you out for bugging me on Twitter, trying to sell me stuff I don’t want, for instance, in the same way I’d do so if you shoved flyers in my face or called me on my cell about time shares. It just doesn’t work like that.

Being the guy to talk to feels great.

How can I complain? After all, I’ve written much of these posts on finding jobs in social media in order to help others. And I understand if that’s not enough, and if people want to get additional, specific advice. My priority is going to be helping those that take the time to know me, to do things like comment on my blog, or attend an event I’m promoting. But I’ll never want to help those that have that look in their eye. Although they are few in number relative to the cool people I meet everyday, they’re especially prominent in social media, where the boundaries are blurred.

Use the phone test.

Every time you're about to ask for something from someone (like I did 100 times during my job search), ask yourself this: Would I feel comfortable picking up the phone and doing this? And if so, how would I expect them to respond if I did?

© 2016 Ian Greenleigh