I’ve often written about “NASCAR Blindness” — the strongly held belief that if no one in your little bubble of upscale artsy BoBo friends is into something, then clearly no one else could be either– and how it afflicts the advertising community. But there’s an equally insidious syndrome affecting the tech community: Scoble Blindness.
Scoble Blindness is the strongly held belief that everyone using social media is supremely interested in what Robert Scoble and others like him have to say.
But nothing could be farther from the truth.
Now Mr. Scoble is a very bright man who legitimately has many interesting things to say. But the topics he discusses are mainly of interest to people working in the greater technology field. And hard as it is for those afflicted with Scoble Blindness to accept, most people using social media are not in the greater technology field. And that percentage is growing rapidly, as more and more non-tech users discover things like Facebook and Twitter.
It’s why I roll my eyes in amazement at the endless discussions (and subsequent hand-wringing) about the power of/desirability of/definition of “influencers.” As if said “influencers” were universal or (and this is key) people outside of the Silicon Valley bubble had any interest at all in Scoble-type “influencers” of any stripe or for that matter, in using Twitter as a “tool.”
Think of how your friends and relations outside the Silicon Valley bubble use MySpace or Facebook. Are they putting up blog posts about how to increase site traffic? Commenting on Zappos’ brilliant use of Twitter? Or are they commenting on their friends pictures from their trip to Jamaica last month and posting mildly funny clips they found on YouTube?
So what makes you all think they’re going to act any differently on Twitter?
Rather than a “tool” that “provides value” most non-tech users are going to use Twitter as an asynchronous IM device to (a) keep up with their real-life friends (b) follow the ramblings of a celebrity tweeter like Shaquille O’Neal or Britney Spears– people with whom they have zero expectations of reciprocity and (c) get updates from broadcast-only news feeds like the New York Times or the BBC.
The notion of the “citizen-expert” — someone like Robert Scoble, who is well-known in his field, but makes time and effort to reach out to unknowns– is unique to Silicon Valley culture where the difference between “known” and “unknown” can change overnight.
This paradigm does not exist in other fields. Silicon Valley is still building up an infrastructure around social media and social media itself is evolving daily, so blogs and tweets have become their primary information sources.
But if I’m a golfer, there’s already a world of information out there: books, magazines, DVDs– all from established media sources. So it’s pretty easy for me to find it all myself, both online and off– I don’t need a Twitter “golf guru” to point me to interesting golf articles or to opine on Tiger Woods’ putting game.
The closest golfers might get to a “Twitter guru” is a well-known golf journalist whose comments about the PGA tour provoke discussion among golf fans. But that’s a discussion, not a learning experience and the golf journalist is not influencing anyone, at least not in the sense that many in Silicon Valley see their gurus influencing the masses. (To wit: many Silicon Valley “gurus” also have a sizable following in the investment community, since investors are hoping they’ll alert them to the next Google or YouTube.)
Twitter offers the option of keeping one’s feed “closed” and that’s an option I’m seeing most of my non-tech world friends choosing. And while they’re an admittedly non-scientific sampling, they are, to a one, baffled by the notion of following/being followed by strangers and the fact that there are people who actively seek out strangers to follow them. They view it both in terms of security and social normalcy: why would you want all these complete strangers to know you like raisins in your oatmeal (and vice versa)?
And while there are those who’d respond that the solution is to only tweet things “of value” (rather than one’s breakfast menu) that’s sort of beside the point. Part of the charm of Twitter is the ability to share our friends’ breakfast menus, which creates something the writer Clive Thompson calls “ambient intimacy.” And outside the Silicon Valley bubble, the twin notions of “tool” and “value” are lost on users for whom those terms have a complete different meaning.
The solution to Scoble Blindness is an easy one: acknowledging that the rules and norms of the Silicon Valley social media scene begin and end with that scene. So that when a Guy Kawasaki asserts that everyone on Twitter really wants to have thousands of followers, he needs to frame his statement in terms of the Twitterers he’s actually talking about: those people working in the space who wish to use Twitter as a business tool to market themselves, a group which includes both the tech community and (funny enough) the “multi-level marketer” community (who have also discovered the business possibilities of Twitter, but that’s a whole different post.)
For marketers, the proposition is different: we’ve got to stop listening to the chatter coming out of Silicon Valley. To remember that the people we’re marketing to have a very different view of social media, it’s values and uses. And that we’ve got to advise our clients accordingly. We also need to remember that the rules for promoting one’s own personal brand are not the same as the rules for promoting our clients brands. In other words, we need to avoid coming down with Scoble Blindness.