Don't be sheep: Follow your peers, not necessarily the 'A-list'

Sometimes brainstorming with your cube mate is going to yield you more creative and appropriate ideas fitted to your business better than someone speaking on a high level about social media or social media marketing.

I was thinking this morning about the two experiences that really sparked my passion for and involvement in social media. It wasn't following around a bunch of A-listers and going to conference after conference and reading book after book. It was listening to ideas from my peers.

Most of my close friends know that I wince every time I hear the term "A-list." I'm reacting that way because I fear that a lot of people who are trying to get their feet wet in social media are turning into little rats running after the Pied Piper. Sometimes brainstorming with your cube mate is going to yield you more creative and appropriate ideas fitted to your business better than someone speaking on a high level about social media.

I certainly mean no disrespect to the more popular folks. I am grateful to call some of them close friends. To better explain where I am coming from, let me quickly shed some light on the two people who had the most impact on my growth. Depending on your industry you might not have heard of them, but you should:

Kyle Flaherty: Currently the director of marketing for BreakingPoint Systems, Flaherty was at The Horn Group when I attended a Webinar he was hosting on social media. During the Webinar he recruited a bunch of us to Twitter and I am proud to say he is the first person I followed. To this day, if I could only follow one person, it would be Kyle  (@kyleflaherty). He's insightful, he's driven and he understands B2B social media better than anyone I've ever met. If it wasn't for he influence and continue mentorship I wouldn't know half of what I do today. He is a true innovator and thought leader.

Ryan Naraine: Naraine, a fellow ZDNet blogger, is very well known in the security space but he's not someone whose considered hot on the radar in social media -- yet. I first met Ryan (@ryanaraine) at a security conference in March of 2008, where I was running around trying to recruit every business person and security researcher onto Twitter. I was hell bent on building a security community. He put the idea into my head to build a formal community called the Security Twits and it just exploded. While I don't manage the community anymore (Zach Lanier does a much better job!) it really helped me get my head around what the security industry needed in terms of social media. Ryan's big ideas didn't stop with the Security Twits. He's one of the brain trusts behind Kaspersky Labs' Threatpost site, which is now the primary aggregated news source for the industry.

Does success always track back to Twitter? Of course not. Your success can be found anywhere. It could be at SXSW listening to panel upon panel of people who have popularity and success and big ideas. Or it might be the guy you're having a beer with at a local networking event, who has a vision that you know you can make a reality by working together.

Here are a few suggestions for making some of this happen:

  • Don't only go to networking events when big names are present. Go anyway. Work the room.
  • Talk to a few people rather than counting how many cards you get or hand out. Have meaningful conversations. Find folks who have likeminded business interests and ideas.
  • Go back to the old-school brown bag sessions at work with your peers. You can even leave the internal 'A-listers' (aka executives) out of it. Get ideas from the other people in the trenches like yourself.
  • Do not be afraid to take risks. Just because you haven't seen anyone do it yet doesn't mean it can't work. Not all ideas have to be recycled and proven. Granted it's sometimes harder to get executive support in those cases, but the worst you can hear is no.
  • Expand your reading list. I published a blog several months ago that included 10 lesser known bloggers I admire and who help me grow on a daily basis. Create your own list and evaluate who you are really getting your guidance from.

Any other ideas? Please share them in the TalkBacks.