Social media influence: active and passive access
Social media access is either active or passive, as is the resulting influence. Active access is the deliberate and direct pursuit of entry. Reaching out to someone directly through LinkedIn to request a lunch meeting is active access. Tweeting at an editor and asking them to read your proposal is active access (no, I don’t make that a habit). Active access is sometimes risky. Your cards are on the table. You’re knocking on the door and asking to be let in. It’s easy to find your approach a bit jarring or abrasive. Who is this person again? What do they want? And why are they tweeting at me? On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore someone being so direct.
Passive access is earned over time, and sometimes it’s unexpected. One of your blog readers may be organizing a conference, and thinks you’ll be a great speaker. The event’s attendees are exactly the kind of people you’re trying to get in front of. Passive access is like being invited in, as opposed to requesting an invite. It’s built through steady engagement with decision-makers and the people they trust, and is focused on making true contributions before making any self-interested requests.
But you don’t have to choose between active and passive access. They aren’t mutually exclusive; they’re actually quite complimentary. The trick is to build pathways from passive access to active access. Start with a passive approach, earning mindshare and influence, until you feel confident that whoever you’re reaching out to directly will know who you are, and will want to help you out. If you’ve been given more than you’ve been taking at that point—sharing or creating great content, helping them spread their ideas, engaging with them on a regular basis—your direct approach will seem like a natural next step, and you’ll get more of their attention and consideration.
This is how I started talking to Seth Godin—author of 13 bestsellers, and one of my heroes. It started with a tweet:
I'd like to see more books w/ official hashtags so readers can discuss while reading. Not just SM books.
— Ian Greenleigh (@be3d) April 22, 2011
A fleeting idea…or so I thought. Several people re-tweeted it within the hour, so I decided to blog about the idea. Weeks passed with little activity on the post. Then, out of the blue, a Twitter friend of mine emailed Seth Godin about the idea, and introduced us. The next day, Seth blogged about it, linked to my post, and assigned official hashtags to the three most recent books from his imprint. Since then, we’ve kept in touch by email, and I interviewed him on my company’s blog. If that didn’t feel surreal enough, a coworker of mine visited my desk and plopped down a copy of his latest book, We Are All Weird. Printed on the back was the official hashtag for the book. I’ll never forget that moment, and that it all started with a tweet.
From passive to active access in a matter of weeks. Sometimes the most rewarding access is indirect, delayed, or unexpected. While it may seem a bit karmic, it’s really just a balance sheet. If you continuously deliver value to the audience you’re cultivating, every so often a social side door will open. You’ll think about all the times you doubted whether you were creating anything worthwhile—anything worthy of the world’s attention. And then you’ll get back to work. Because social media, like nothing else before it, can help normal people make an abnormal dent in the world around them.