Whores, Pimps and the People Who Love Them

When you see people successfully grabbing for accolades, do you find it admirable or whore-ish? At what point does the sharing of one’s information become pimping? Is sensationalistic writing just more punchy and exciting, or does it make you feel nauseated?

With social media continuing to turn ever more people and organizations into publishers, the question of how far to push the envelope is now a consideration for many of us. Many espouse being divisive and polarizing as a way to break through the clutter and succeed. The fact is, these tactics usually work to deliver a burst of attention and some resulting star power. Why do people love it, and does this approach hold up long-term?

While most of us would like some attention for our work, at what point do these activities negatively affect one’s credibility and reputation? With no Miss Manners for our ever-more interconnected world, let’s analyze some professional situations. What are your thoughts on the circumstances below?

1. As blogs compete for eyeballs, post titles like “PR is Dead” or “Quit Social Media” are de riguer. In the case of this blog, a post called “Sexy Secrets When Doing It Solo” would probably attract a lot of traffic from Google. More targeted traffic, and probably buckets of comments, would be generated from a post on “Why You Should Never Hire a PR Agency” (after all, the content could always include a caveat that yes, sometimes, agencies are the way to go).

Question: As a reader, do you feel cheated when a title doesn’t exactly match the post? Or is it interesting and energizing to see discussions ignited?

2. You’re close friends with someone via social media who, upon achieving some notoriety, becomes only interested in associating with those who are more name-drop worthy than you. Not unlike the high school prom queen candidate, old friends are given the big blow off.

Question: Do you continue to behave online as if you’re friends with this person (after all, their notoriety could benefit you)? Or do you stay cordial, but keep your distance and just speak when you’re spoken to?

3. Sometimes bloggers will dream up an award or create a contest that requires people to tweet a hashtag, post a comment, fan a Facebook page, etc. to enter, nominate, campaign…

Question: Are these transparent link bait, or just good fun? Does the amount of goodwill you feel toward the blogger/brand impact your tolerance?

4. Occasionally in a blog post, but more often on Facebook or Twitter, a popular person will say “why do you follow me?” or “what value do you get from me?”

Question: Do you assume this is a regular person in need of an occasional pep talk, a genuine feedback solicitation, or the work of a chronic complement-fisher?

As a final question, how often do you actually notice the behavior above? I’m curious if many of us have become so accustomed to it, we’re desensitized. What attention-grabbing tactics have you seen that you thought crossed the line? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Kellye – that pic is fantastic. 🙂

    I've seen instances of everything you list above, and my reaction to them differ with the wind (and my mood). At times it annoys me, but often I just take it all with a grain of salt. The headline issue doesn't both me much. That's what headlines are for: to grab your attention. If someone started ignoring me to “play” with the popular kids, I would act the same way I would IRL. “Have at it. I have plenty of real friends.” I'd still be cordial, but you won't get much effort from me on keeping up.

    The award/contest thing is one I tend to keep away from. I wouldn't ask others to do it, and I rarely take part in others. It's usually based on some sort of popularity contest, and I don't have time for it.

    I haven't noticed the “why am I following you” question come up too often, but it would only bother me if the person asked it often. I'm pretty introspective, but that wouldn't be my style. I'm sure some folks are genuine when asking this, but I assume many are self-promoting

    One of my favorite tactics, which I'm horrible at – but at which you (that's right. watch me suck up) and @shonali are great, is just regularly asking people how they are doing. You're in people minds without being a whore or a pimp.

  • Thanks for weighing in, Jen! Great point about our perceptions often having a lot to do with our mood at the time — something I hadn't thought about, but I'm sure is very true. Everyone's lines in the sand are different, so thanks for sharing yours.

  • I likes. I always wrestle with the snappy headline dilemma. I feel if go for misleading and catchy, I may get readers for the wrong reasons. And that wouldn't sit right with me. But I guess I'd have more readers, which would be a good thing. But at the end of the day, I stick with the safe route (which is why my numbers are nothing to brag about).
    As far #3, most of the ones that I have paid attention to have been good fun and legit contests. I don't remember any linkbait-y types of campaigns. Maybe my subconscious filters them out before I realize it.
    Keep up the good work, Kellye.

  • Thanks, Lionel – great input. I think perhaps people/readers are more tolerant of this behavior in others than we are for ourselves… which is why I wanted to ask these questions. Appreciate you chiming in!

  • Kellye, Some good questions. I have noticed a bit of the SM fame-whoring, but mostly brush it off.

    Two schools of thought: 1) it's in poor taste to self-promote and certainly ill-advised to do it a lot vs. 2) if YOU don't toot your own horn, who will? Sure we love to have followers, influencers, brand advocates of our own but it's hard. I've seen people I trust and respect experiment with RT themselves, something I've been loathe to do.. but it works and is necessary. The RSS feeds and Twitter streams just whiz by so quickly, so as long as that's not all you're tweeting I don't mind the hashtag promos or occasional questions about why someone is following, or reading a blog.

    Headline link bait.. a creative necessity but yes there have been times when the headline really had NOTHING to do with the post at all and I've been frustrated, but that's rare. Usually it's just a clever hook to get you to click the link, read the post.

    Lastly, ITA with Jennifer on the need to be more conversational. That's my biggest Twitter weakness by far, taking the time to just chat.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Jed Nitzberg

    The “enough about me, what do you think of me” syndrome of SM (and in any other medium) gets boring REAL fast. Folks who have to constantly talk about about all the “cool” people they rub elbow with, how they are jetting hither and yon because they are brilliant and in demand, and how much “I, I, I, I am changing the world” is a bore after a while.
    Fake awards, catchy headlines meant to shock — cute and fun, no harm, no foul.
    I think the better question than just “why do you follow me” would be “what would be valuable to you that you can't find anwhere else — what's on your 'knowledge wish list'.

  • Terrific insights, Davina. It seems we are probably pretty forgiving when witnessing pimping behavior, as long as it isn't the only thing that person ever does.

  • Jed, as usual you certainly have a way with words! Love your take on this — thanks for sharing.

  • Kellye,
    Great topic. I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t discuss this topic with a couple of friends from Twitter.

    I have been on Twitter for over two years and I think I’ve seen all the scenarios you’ve posted from the social beauty queen to the chronic compliment fisher.

    The most annoying to me are the people who ask questions but it's obvious they’re not interested in the answers. They’re only looking for a way to talk about themselves. After a few times, you realize that’s their MO for being narcissistic. Examples: “What do you hope to accomplish this year?” OR “what selfless act have you done today?” and they never respond to the people who answer them but do go on and on about themselves. That drives me up the wall!

    The other annoying habit is the twitterers who pick fights. They don’t do it because of their conviction to something but rather to stir up controversy. I equate this to the school ground bully.

    I’m okay w/ the occasional sensationalized headline — hey, newspapers do it so why not bloggers? I’m less okay with the types of people your described above. I don’t usually join contests but I will help people out if they need me to sign up or fill out a poll. I have refrained from nominating and/or voting in awards. There are too many and the categories are completely ridiculous.

    As to your final question – I notice this behavior quite a bit. I'm actually noticing it more now… and from people I respected (who never behaved this way).

    Great post. Thanks for letting me vent. 😉

  • Your “venting” raises some great points, so thanks for sharing. It strikes me that it's most bothersome when people are being insincere. Often, it isn't immediately apparent that a person is inauthentic, but as you note — once you've been around long enough, it will show.

    Social Media's “be human” mantra doesn't mean “act the way you think a human is supposed to act.” It means be real. If you're your true self, not everyone will like you, but at least you won't be a phony ho. 🙂

  • Hi
    1) No, I don't like that approach and sometimes unfollow those who post faked titles vs post
    2) I don't usually change my attitude towards friends or followers. I have my own personality, on real and virtual world and they match. As I am somehow cautions on real live, I do exactly the same online.
    3) If I believe the blog, site or person deserves a mention or a vote, I'll do it, but I do not give it just because it is asked for. I take a look at the blog/site/hashtag whatever and if it deserves it, then ok. If I don't appreciate it or if it's something completely out of my interests I don't.
    4) Again, credibility and previous tweets/blogs are a must before I reply. If I see it is like a poll to a genuine feedback, I surely do. Like on this post 😉
    Regards!
    @lindamachado

  • Interesting point about being cautious in real life, and that carrying forward online. I wonder if some of those who fall for the most egregious sensationalist antics are generally gullible in all areas of life. Thanks for your feedback, Linda!

  • There's a delicate balance one has to attain when it comes to promoting oneself – you certainly don't want to seep over into the 'dark side' of coming off like your pimping yourself. HOWEVER, you want to get your name out there, right?

    Having those little gut checks with yourself can go a long way…even if you think something may be a great idea…if you find yourself hesitating too much, you're probably getting into the 'ho zone'…keep yourself clean…and keep yourself with as much integrity as you can.

    Stay Gold,

    Narciso Tovar
    Big Noise Communications
    @Narciso17

  • Wow, the “Ho Zone” is a phrase I certainly hope catches on! Too funny – thanks, Narciso.

  • Livepath

    Kelly,

    You ask some pretty great questions. My thoughts;

    1. Having thought provoking titles is apropos, but disagree with the “Free Beer” title approach. Post titles should align with content, like this one does!

    2. “Close” is such a relative term. In SM I think we develop an illusion of closeness and must remember that folks are by nature, in the medium to network for specific gains. Unless you've spent time (more than once) with an online “friend” or “follower” and have seen a consistent, genuine interest in authentic friendship, I'd say you're not really friends – but some weird equivalent of “co-laborer.” These type of people will cozy up to others who can GIVE THEM SOMETHING… and that is all. If it's mutually beneficial to cordially extend yourself to get something back – fine — but don't be false, and don't lower yourself to kiss anyone's polished behind!

    While we're on the topic, I'm a bit astonished that such people have the ability to type with the chronic tendonitis they must have from patting themselves on the back. I am simply amazed at how many self-proclaimed rock stars have such ample time to tweet, write blogs (usually based on someone else's ideas or intentionally snarky to incite response) and speak at conferences!!! For many of them, I don't see any real work!! It seems to me that instead, they're organizing and capitalizing off the work of others.

    –> Does their output make me jealous? YES and I still have to pay the bills, so I work and fit tweeting/blogging in when I can.
    –> Do they produce original, thinking pieces? RARELY. Mostly they are collectors who republish and expound upon the ideas of others.
    –> Do I hate the attention they get? SOMETIMES. It depends on the Mensch factor. If the person is truly nice, no big deal. If the person is a jerk, it does bug me to see them get attention
    –> Would I hire or recommend most of them? NOPE. Not for client work, and not for a conference

    I say, be yourself, do great work, network with smart people, and let the jerks grab their 15 minutes of fame. Ultimately, the proof of our expertise lies in the work we do.

    3. Totally depends on the content. I'm a bit tired of “TOP X Lists” in social media and meaningless contests. They work to drive traffic, though… and hey — people LOVE lists. Easier to skim & read.

    4. See comment #2 above. Everyone needs a pat on the back now and then, but I can think of one person who does this REPEATEDLY. It's one thing to listen and want to provide value … but mostly, when I see this, I feel like people are trying to draw attention to themselves, their follower list, and popularity more than anything else.

    And yes, I have noticed this — and THANKS for writing this thoughtful post. I actually feel a sense of relief after reading & commenting!

    -Leigh

  • Glad to offer some relief, Leigh! This is all good feedback, and I enjoy the idea that there is a “Mensch factor.” I also believe you nailed it when you say, “the proof of our expertise lies in the work we do.” Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

  • Livepath

    Another thought… People who rail in blog posts about treating others with respect, and who preach about integrity and standards are not necessarily people who treat others well or demonstrate integrity, either. Shakespeare once said “The man doth protest too much” …. Just sayin…

  • Leigh, Kellye, Ditto, ditto and ditto. 😉 I think we have all had this conversation, so I don't have much more to add except karma and time. Karma – what goes around, comes aroung. Time – there will be a time when poeple will say “Remember when…” or “Remember what's his/her name…”

  • I meant “around” (the second time). Darn typo!

  • Crazy headlines can sell ideas. But crazy people, not so much. This is one of things that you know it when you see it. I have been on Twitter since 2007 and blogging since 2005, and I have to say that I have made plenty of my own mistakes while experimenting.

    I do agree that people should spend more time distinguishing themselves (meaning working) than they do preening before the Twitter looking glass. As the mirror on your car says, objects may appear closer than they are. Or in other words, the more someone focuses on themselves, the bigger they seem in their own estimation. As I have written before, I believe in the power of a hard-earned reputation over the power of building an effigy to one's own social media prowess.

  • Kellye, enjoyed your post. I do believe that no business (big or small) will survive without smart marketing and ability to draw attention, but you are right, there are multiple ways of doing so and not all of them are great. Adding value is one thing, but promoting yourself 100% and not walking the talk is another.

    P.S. Also loved reading Leigh's (livepath) comment 🙂

  • Great additions, Beth – I'm a firm believer in this. Over time, we see many of “flavors of the month” – people who get lots of accolades, and then flame out. Slow and steady wins the race!

  • Kami- As you know, you're one of my top mentors and role models on this topic, so thanks for weighing in. (Note to readers: see more from Kami here: http://soloprpro.com/how-to-build-a-name-for-yo…)

    What a terrific insight about the role self-obsession plays in the evolution of those in the title of this post. I hadn't thought about it, but you're right – and it explains why some people can go from normal to intolerable in a few short months!

  • The comments are the best part of a post like this, aren't they? I agree, “smart marketing and ability to draw attention” is the holy grail. For a company like yours (Intel), it requires high-level oversight of the many moving parts, which you provide. When it comes to individuals, I think some of us could do more self-promotion (while others, of course, could do less). Thanks for your thoughts, Ekaterina.

  • Kami, you have always said slow and steady wins this race…and you are right. Reputations (good or bad) live on long after the buzz wears off. With the Internet today, I think so many people who may not have received the attention they needed from their management, families, etc. are now seeking it online. Some people just need that 'high' but, the crash might be painful. (I think I just changed Kellye's analogy from 'Whores & Pimps' to 'Addicts and Dealers.') LOL! 😉

  • Totally love the “addiction” analogy, cause I think it is appropriate. It is very easy to get addicted to the attention and start thinking that you “deserve” it. I have grown weary of it, and am too busy actually working to participate in it, but there was a time I loved the attention myself. True admission. I have actively worked to counter balance what is a very natural inclination to take the spotlight. And yes, online reputation is a marathon, not a sprint. Some people don't realize that and try to squeeze every drop out the attention that they can, thinking it is their only chance perhaps?

  • I honestly have loved watching you grow and develop in this space. You truly understand the dynamic that allows you to be both popular and beloved. Your community here proves it. Thanks for the compliment, but you have really hung your own star by being thoughtful, helpful and giving to your community. They love you because you have earned their trust. Excellent stuff.

  • I don't like to rain on anyone's parade, or give them “rules” about how they “should” act on Twitter or Facebook, but general, obvious and well-accepted guidelines of social behavior should translate into online social media and social networking. Usually, they do. But what we also end up getting are the peacocks and the glad-handers and too-much-cologne types that you find at almost any party, cocktail reception or chamber of commerce mixer. Social media is like money: it doesn't make you a better person, it just magnifies your beauties and your flaws. : )

    The hashtag contests kill me. “Let's be social, but if you tweet my crap enough times, maybe you'll win something!” Social media marketing at it's worst. Doesn't mean I won't run one someday, though, LOL – I reserve the right to put a lipstick on my pig.

    What I really love are the social media people who gloat about the death of “traditional” media…until they're written up or mentioned in a newspaper or magazine. Then, every tweet trumpets their latest publicity coup. : )

    But I do hate to rain on people's parades. Social media is just a reflection of life, and I while I have my own pet peeves about people's behaviors, just as in offline life it's ultimately about what works for them, and what makes them feel validated. An online social life, no matter how clumsy or awkward, might be the only outlet someone has or needs. (Sorry I didn't really answer too many of the question you posed.)

  • Thanks for writing this, Kellye. You touched on a few of my main gripes. I especially concur with “Livepath” and her sentiments.

    My answers:

    1) A headline should be both compelling and relevant to the content. If there's a compelling headline but irrelevant content, or if it's a simply a relevant headline with compelling content, you're doing it wrong.

    2) I totally agree with Livepath on this. The social web has fostered such an environment of the false illusion of “closeness” that it makes me wonder what the hell happened to us as human beings, “social” in the original sense. Simply by living my life and taking life as it hands it to me, I've been accused of “betraying” people who thought I was their friend, when I'm sorry, but chatting for a few minutes at a couple tweetups and exchanging DMs once in a while does not a friend make. That's an acquaintance, at most. I've also had some followers on Twitter DM me and say things like, “You haven't replied to my @replies in a week, are you mad at me?” When I'm like, “Dude, I've been super busy and by the time I saw the replies they were irrelevant and/or untimely.”

    That said, there are people whom I used to respect and admire as nice people who had good ideas and knew their stuff that I no longer think that way about. As their digital footprint and heads got bigger, they've become uber-douchey and more about themselves than the actual stuff they preach. There's no time to practice what they preach, they're too busy talking about it and not recognizing you/your screen name as if their minds have been wiped away by a MIB laser thingie. Now all I can think of when I see them is “why'd you have to turn into such a douche?”

    3) sometimes contests/hashtags are good fun, but after a while, it gets old. My main beef isn't necessarily with contests like that but when EVERY time people get together with their friends, it has to be called a “tweetup” and has to have its own hashtag.

    One) If you know everybody already, it's hardly a “tweetup,” it's hanging out with your friends, and Two) Nobody cares about #goingforcoffeewithmybff or #bobsbackyardbbq

    4) I don't see the “Why do you follow me?” questions very often, but I often wonder to myself and out loud on Twitter why the hell all 4000+ people care about the random stuff I blurt out. I don't have any kind of agenda and I don't think about it much, but I figure that I follow people because I think they're interesting, and it's gotta be reciprocal. I truly do wonder why all these people follow me, and I'm not looking for a pep talk in the least. I don't need <140 character affirmations to confirm my self worth.

    These are great questions and points, and I'd like to throw one of my latest bitches into the hat, and that is the ostentatiously self-important people who use Twitter to (attempt) to make themselves seem much more important/cool than they are.

    I've seen tweets like, “just had a meeting with @MrBigShotExec from XYZ Corp. Excited about the future.” Guess what? You just tipped off your competitors.

    Or even, “working on [this], [this], and [this] for a client today” or “I might not be around much on Twitter today, big project launch for a client.” Guess what? Nobody cares and nobody would notice anyway.

    Keep up the good work, Kellye.

  • Very true that there are no rules (I've always defended the rights of the silly hashtag'ers, like yesterday's #ohyoufancyhuh – an actual trending topic!). Social media is what you make of it, but it's good to keep in mind that if what you want is attention, the community may leave if you go too far.

    I love the image of these being “too-much-cologne types” – hilarious. But you're also right that some of them, even those who have achieved notoriety online, may not have much of a social life IRL. When we find someone grating, it's a great idea to be empathetic about that person's need for attention. Excellent additions to this discussion, Patrick!

  • I think this comment is a perfect example of why 4,000+ people would want to follow you – it is filled with straight-talking goodness. To note that the “uber-douchey” act like they've had their minds “wiped away by a MIB laser thingie” when they see you is downright poetic. That's exactly what it's like! And thanks for adding your latest peeves – I usually just let tweets of that sort float by, but it's good to be aware that some find it annoying.

  • My mother always said, “People most need love when they are at their most unlovable.” And go figure, she's never laid eyes on a social media site. 😉

    I struggle with all this stuff daily, as surely most of us do (the cologne-bathers aside, perhaps); and one person's attention-seeker is another's “life of the party”… I guess we just keep on doing our best, keeping those feelers out to test the temperature of the room, and making it all up as we go along?

  • Rebecca- it's so appropriate that you would comment on this post, because you were the first person to ever actually *respond* to me on Twitter when I first started (don't know if you knew that). Responding to those who have 10 followers the same way you respond to someone with 10,000 is the hallmark of someone who is generous and “real.” Obviously, your mama raised you right. 🙂

  • Oh, Kellye, really? Thank you so much for letting me know!

  • I can only imagine the traffic you're going to get given the title of this post, Kellye 😉

    I'd like to comment on #1 and 3 above since I have used those approaches in the past (and probably will continue to).

    As a rule, I don't try to “trick” readers with post titles. But, I do attempt to use intriguing titles that certainly aren't the norm from time to time. Case in point: “All I learned about social media I learned from Barry Manilow.” It as a play on the fact that I was just at BlogWorld and there was a 70-foot tall mural of Barry and I wanted to have some fun with it. The post was one of my most read and shared posts of 2009.

    As you know, I'm a big fan of lists. But, I probably have a little different approach than others. I know many see these as popularity contests and link bait, but I don't. I see them as tremendous community building tools. Case in point. When I created my “Most Intriguing People” post earlier this year, I received a comment from one Gini Dietrich. At the time, I didn't know Gini. Today? She's a good friend and someone I look to for advice and assistance regularly (she's since guest posted on my blog). And now I'm looking forward to meeting Gini in person in August in Chicago. That list led to a mutually beneficial relationship. Link bait? I think not.

    The PR Readers Choice Awards is another example. What most may (and have) painted as a popularity contest (and to an extent, it is–any readers choice award is, to be honest), I see an opportunity to publicly recognize some of the best blogs in our field (by the way, bummed this blog wasn't nominated–I probably should have done that). Is there a benefit to me? Yeah, sure. But, do I care? A little, but not nearly as most people probably think. I care much more about the people and blogs on that initial nomination list. Really, I do. That list is meant to be a resource for all–the ultimate PR blog roll, chosen by the readers. No more, no less.

    So I definitely fall on the side that think lists are valuable–and I will probably continue to use them liberally.

    Great conversation starters, Kellye. Well done.

    @arikhanson

  • Thanks for sharing your motivations, Arik – nice explanation. Interesting that numbers 1 and 3 are the two approaches you've used, since the consensus among commenters is that neither of these is bothersome (and in many cases, it's expected). So, obviously you're right on the money!

  • aime

    I guess the people that desperately grab for it are the ones that need it. If they don't mind the negative attention they get from looking desperate, more power to them.

  • This gets me thinking about “steak and sizzle.” The product (which is the article, content or media of some sort) has to be delicious. A sizzling title will enhance that, but without a good product, there's “no there there.”

    Ogilvy and Caples knew how to do headlines well – but they were also committed to great products/companies/brands, focused intently on the right audience/target, and linked great titles with great copy.

    So.. as always.. greatness/remarkableness/uniqueness/delivering-the-goods is the key. 😉

  • Great title, btw. And the article is definitely steak.

  • Very nice use of the sizzle vs. steak – couldn't agree more!

  • Wonderful post. I wish I would have seen this a bit earlier for personal reasons, but glad that I stumbled upon it this morning.