I had an interesting chat to a customer of mine last week about the art of doing business in the digital age. Fresh from hearing a motivational talk on the benefits of things like linked in, facebook and twitter for the modern high flier my client was keen to learn more and implement change within their business.
This is all well and good but I do have my reservations about life in a virtual reality…..
I talk to lots of people in a week some of which come to me for help crafting ideas and getting projects off the ground. Without fail after talking through their ideas, viewing their pinterest ideas boards, looking at their website copy and packaging choices I ask if they have been out and tested the concept, you know, in the ‘real world’. Does my mum and aunty count? Errrrrrr no.
Time after time the people who I meet are building a brand in virtual reality rather than actuality. They spend hours pouring over images, talking on forums and ‘connecting’ with people online without investing more than a passing second or two in the real world. When I say ‘real world’ I do say that with my face a little contorted as I think ‘what is real anyway???’ that’s the philosopher in me poking out its head. No matter, what I mean is in the three-dimensional world of the sensual where we can touch, smell, feel, taste and interact. Where we can sense Peoples gut reactions rather than have to analyse their carefully thought out prose.
That said I am online a lot. For maybe 5 or 6 hours on my office days and I both enjoy and get a lot out of my online life. But it isn’t everything.
So what is appropriate? Where does the correct balance lie?
That is something that each individual has to spend time in working out but for me it centres around the concept of ‘keeping things connected and real’.
Does this concept/ product/ idea make sense to others?
What do people who don’t know me or what I am trying to achieve get this/ buy into it/ like it etc?
What are people thinking and feeling right now? What is the mood of the market (coffee shop talk/ art gallery exhibitions/ public forums/ political talk back shows etc)
What does the world look like?
I always keep at the front of my mind the fact that the thing that people love about the online world is that they can create their own version of it.
You choose your reality by ‘liking’ or ‘following’ groups, causes and people who are similar to you already which results in you being immersed in a world where maybe 1000 people a day are confirming your views on the world and sharing content that you are interested in. This is the whole point but it distorts reality somewhat – for example I talk about Palm oil a lot and spend a fair bit of time researching alternatives but mention palm oil to any 50 of my real life friends and I’d be surprised if more than 5 have any idea of what I am talking about and out of those maybe only 1-2 are motivated to look into it with any depth. Yet in my online life and even my business life everyone has an opinion!
What is ‘real’ in the above scenario? It is an applied real, it would depend on whether the engaged people are your competition, your target market or your collaborators. I feel that being aware of who and what you are feeding is key to online success.
Because you choose the reality it also pays to be aware that some online interactions are not actually backed up by anything concrete or real. In other words they are at best fragile or shallow or in the worst case blatant lies.
I see this most often in relation to the following:
The sharing of obscure research that while popular in the virtual world doesn’t stand up to a robust peer review in the real world. This isn’t to say that the research is always wrong but it often means that it isn’t quite the ‘golden ticket to enlightenment’ that we might think it is.
The self-interested posts by professionals who look like they are sharing information or opportunities to help you when all it is really doing is helping them climb some virtual ladder.
The small, young brands who make big noise in terms of their safety and efficacy (especially when compared to ‘other’ brands) when in reality they either haven’t got a clue what constitutes evidence based claims or do have a clue but no money to make it happen.
Rather than think of all of the above as ‘blatant lies and deception’ I see it as ‘mis-guided optimism’ or the ‘fake it ’till you make-it’ mentality. There is nothing wrong with that in theory but when your virtual world crosses into reality (real people buying real stuff from you based on fake promises) it becomes illegal – false advertising…..
So my tip for my customer who is eager to extend their virtual reach was this. Just like in the real world at some point in time somebody actually has to produce something tangible, something of value to share or else we will all end up having our time collapse into a deflated bubble with no extra sales, real credibility or personal development.
So, the questions are as follows:
What tangible thing of value do you have to share?
Why do you want to share that?
Who do you want to share with?
When are you going to share your material/ how often?
How can you make that happen?
And all of a sudden we have created ourselves a virtual life business plan.
And that is exactly what we need to do.
So back to the time spent here vs there.
It doesn’t matter where you draw the line as long as you have done the above and understand what you are trying to achieve. BUT whatever you do you please remember there is only so much that GOOGLE can teach you, for everything else you have to go outside.