Social media guru Brian Solis: Engagement, influence, leverage, and a question of the packaged self

An Evening with Brian Solis in Minneapolis An Evening with Brian Solis in Minneapolis
I attended An Evening with Brian Solis in Minneapolis last Tuesday. It was a full house (250?) at Solera‘s A/C-challenged, 3rd floor conference room. Kudos to Jennifer Kane and Kary Delaria of Kane Consulting for a well-run event.

Engage or DieA month ago, I’d purchased the Kindle version of Brian’s new book Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web (Google book here; Scribd here) and found it not only informative but intellectually challenging. Brian’s as much a sociologist as he is a marketing and communications guy.

I’m mainly interested in how people in leadership positions can use social media themselves to be more effective, whereas most of Solis’ presentation and his book are about how organizations (primarily businesses, though much of it could apply to non-profits and even governments) can use social media to be more effective.

So his presentation was inspirational and informative to me because I’m gearing up to take my own business, Wigley and Associates, to a different level and need to apply his principles just like any other business.  But I found two elements of his speech were especially relevant to leaders who use social media themselves


I like it that Solis defined influence as "the ability to inspire desirable and measurable outcomes" and that those involved in using social media for their organizations must not lose sight of this (to wit, the funny but ineffective Old Spice guy campaign and the inane Fast Company Influence Project).

I’ve long preached influence vs. numbers to leaders who check the traffic stats on their blogs too often, and I now tell it to those who pay too much attention to their number of Twitter followers and Facebook friends/fans/likers.

Yes, you need an audience. There’s not much point to giving a sermon with no one in the pews.

But numbers don’t give you the kind of feedback you need on whether your social media efforts are having the kind of influence you want on the people who matter to you. (Informal feedback that let’s you know people are paying attention is good. Measurable outcomes, of course, are best.)

Leverage (AKA social media sharing)

I don’t remember if Solis used the term ‘leverage’ but it came through loud and clear when he asked the audience how many were tweeting about his presentation as he was speaking. A third or more of those present raised their hands.

His memorable phrase: "With social media, you are marketing to an audience with an audience." 

Most leaders don’t get this.

Scott Neal, Eden Prairie City Manager I remember the first time the ‘power of the permalink’ got through my thick skull. It was late 2003 or early 2004. My client, Eden Prairie City Manager Scott Neal, told me that one of the people following his blog was a reporter from the local newspaper. Scott was amazed when excerpts from his blog posts began showing up in newspaper articles without the reporter ever phoning or emailing him. And he was more amazed when others started emailing/linking to those articles and in turn, mentioning to Scott informally that they read/heard what he said.

Likewise, Scott was surprised when, after posting to his blog at 7:30 am, he’d walk down the hall and have employees mention that they’d just read his post. And then later in the day he’d hear employees tell him that someone had emailed them a link to a recent blog post.

That was happening seven years ago.  The state of social media now is such that nearly everyone has an audience and a leader’s ability to effectively reach the audiences of their audience is unparalleled. From Brian’s book, page 4:

Social media has created and magnified a new layer of influencers across all industries. It is the understanding of the role people play in the process of not only reading and disseminating information, but also how they share and create content in which others can participate. This, and only this, allows us to truly grasp the future of communications, which is already unfolding today.

A confusing quotation

George Bernard Shaw Solis ended his presentation with a George Bernard Shaw quote: "Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself".

I’ve always like the quote because of its optimistic, you-can-be-or-do-anything message.

But without some elaboration, it’s puzzling to me why Solis would use it in a presentation that emphasized the importance of authenticity which, on the face of it, does not seem to go hand-in-hand with ‘creating yourself.’ 

Social media tempts us all with its ability to make it easier to package ourselves. Today’s NY Times ‘The Way We Live Now’ piece by Peggy Orenstein, I Tweet, Therefore I Am, focuses on this (though she seems to miss the distinction between lifecasting and mindcasting):

Peggy Orenstein The fun of Twitter and, I suspect, its draw for millions of people, is its infinite potential for connection, as well as its opportunity for self-expression. I enjoy those things myself. But when every thought is externalized, what becomes of insight? When we reflexively post each feeling, what becomes of reflection? When friends become fans, what happens to intimacy?

The risk of the performance culture, of the packaged self, is that it erodes the very relationships it purports to create, and alienates us from our own humanity.

It seems to me that Solis might elaborate a bit on what the Shaw quote means to him in the context of Engage and his writings about the egosystem. Or maybe find a different quotation that epitomizes it. Maybe one of these authenticity quotes? (And while he’s at it, he might want to offer his services to the company with that 1999-style website!)

I’ve been waiting for some substantive blog posts to be published about An Evening with Brian Solis but thus far, haven’t seen any referred to in the Twitter real-time results for the #solisMSP hashtag.  Lots of tweets have captured some of his quotes, though, for example:

Every company is a media company, EC=MC

Upload your excellent written content to and to get found by a wider audience

Youtube is the #2 search engine after Google. Want to build your brand? Get on Youtube with high-quality, SEO’d video

People is now the 5th P in marketing (with product, price, place, promotion)

Engage people where they congregate online

If your dentist isn’t on Twitter, get another dentist. Same goes for your wife.

70% of all social web users are just spectators

RRS = Relevance, Resonance & Significance

One room at a time makes a difference for engaging people. I want to engage you so that you will engage others

You’re only as good as you were yesterday

Twitter apps like tweetdeck and Seesmic are slot machines of attention

Empathy is the toll booth in the last mile of engagement in social media

Influencers don’t magically find information