There was a post by Seth Godin some time ago that completely changed the way I act on the web (of course, now I can’t even find the blighter).
I went from passively lurking on Facebook and silently reading loads of websites to setting up three blogs, commenting on other people’s content, and starting to yammer on Twitter. Double-yammer in fact. Okay, I confess, triple-yammer.
So what happened? I have quite a lot of introverted qualities. I struggle a bit meeting new people, even talking to them on the phone, even chatting with them online. I’ll admit it – even playing anonymous multiplayer games.
When my friend Roger’s book about psychology and the teaching of Jesus was first published, he reacted to my congratulations by asking ‘is it too late to take it all back?’ That’s how I feel whenever I publish a blog post. Or send a tweet. Or ‘like’ something on Facebook.
It gets easier the more I do it, but the feeling is still there.
So why do I put myself through this? Why not slip back into the silent ranks of people who only watch from the sidelines, or who leave the arena completely?
If you don’t vote, you can’t moan about the government
Seth Godin’s post was about people discovering that their favourite restaurant had closed down, and complaining. His question was – if you liked it so much, why didn’t you say so? Why didn’t you vocalise your enjoyment before it was too late?
You can’t complain about a pub or shop or radio station closing down if you never drank, bought or listened to anything there. If you love those things, you will use them. And, unless you want to keep their pleasures all to yourself, you will also tell your friends. Because it’s fun for your mates and it’s helpful for the business.
I think, although I may be retrospectively applying this emphasis, that Seth Godin pushed it as far as saying you have a responsibility to talk about the things that you like, because it converts into tangible support. Without your word of mouth recommendation, that business, or book, or idea, might shrivel up and die.
And it would be partly your fault.
I’ve never seen this more clearly than when my mate Debs had her directorial debut Africa United released to mainstream UK cinema. Its showing period in the UK was a test case for other countries. If it did well in the opening week here, it would be picked up all over the world.
By seeing it in the first week, I could make a tiny, tiny contribution to its worldwide success. By talking about it on Facebook and Twitter, that contribution could grow to be a bit more significant. I am only one person, but look at the difference I can make, all without leaving my chair. And, by the way, the film is stunning for these reasons.
The approval economy
On the web, consumer purchasing is not the only economy. Attention is the resource so many artists and businesses are competing for, or, more to the point since social media exploded, approval. That’s why a positive review on Amazon or TripAdvisor or Checkatrade means so much to the author, hotel, or tradesperson. There are people whose livelihoods literally depend on your rating.
And it is easier to boost a reputation than ever before. Just click ‘like’ on Facebook or tell your friends in 10 words on Twitter. If you’ve got a bit more time, write a blog post (my Tongues of Men site doesn’t get much traffic but for a while it appeared on the front page of Google for the search term ‘Africa United review’).
By taking half a minute a day on your laptop or phone you could give a little boost to 365 excellent causes, or products, or services, or creations, over the course of a year.
You might even stop some of them from going under.
Create the world you want instead of suffering everyone else’s
What these miniscule gestures do is move you from being a consumer to being a contributor. By boosting the good that you see around you, even in tiny ways, you are creating a world that you love, and that others will benefit from too. Your small acts of generosity reward the good things, and allow them to stick around, maybe even to grow.
Even if it’s not the reason that you do it, your generosity will come back round. Kindness breeds kindness. If you spend a little time recommending other people, don’t be surprised when they recommend you back.
And that is what got me over the hump. That’s what moved me from silent observer to blogger and tweeter: realising that not all the people who make noise online are self-obsessed or needy egoists in love with their own voices. Most of them have realised that we live in a participative world, and that by talking up the good, we allow it flourish a little longer.
So if you still don’t understand why anyone would, as my Dad says, ‘broadcast every trivial little thing that they do to the world’, have a closer look at that thing called Twitter. See if you notice any recommendations, sharing of news and resources, positive reviews or simply jokes to lighten up your day.
These people are actively and generously nurturing a world in which they would be delighted to live.
You still just going to watch?
With my fear of criticism and mild introspective tendencies, I am hardly the most vocal person online. But I realised that I had to say something. Before it’s too late.
If this is a helpful post for you, or might be for someone you know, I’d be really chuffed if you shared it on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks for reading.