Following the leaders is not a recipe for social media success

social media competition

By Srinivas Rao, Contributing {grow} Columnist

If Brian Clark and Darren Rowse (some of the biggest names in blogging) started their blogs today and followed their own advice, they would fail.

It’s tempting to look at how successful people have made their reputations and copy their techniques. You may even get some results.

But what made them successful was originality.  If you want to get results that other people haven’t, you have to do things that have never been done before.  In order to do that you have to take everything you’ve learned and adapt it to your unique skill sets. You are not going to stand out by simply regurgitating what you’ve read elsewhere.


In my very first conversation with Mark Schaefer, he said something to me that has been fundamental to how I approach the online world. “The courage to experiment is at the heart of originality, and originality is the heart of success on the social web.”

The beauty of the social web is that experimentation is cheap and, in many cases, free. You just have to have the courage to do it.

I look at other blog posts and advice I read as ingredients in a dish that I’m cooking. If you want to create mouth-watering content that makes your audience salivate, you have to mix up those ingredients and add your own flavor.

Best Practices Might Be Hurting You

Everyday I watch so many brilliant people with invaluable life and business experience come to the blogosphere and approach it all as if they’re starting from scratch. You may not know much about blogging and social media, but if we could look inside your head and your heart, I think we’d find they are bursting with insights and wisdom that you may take for granted. Many of us remain blind to our greatest strengths. We take what we already know for granted!

As a result we become dependent on repetitive “best practices” and formulas. We forget that our most natural abilities give us the greatest opportunity to be outstanding in a world full of noise. I’ve had conversations with hundreds of bloggers, authors and entrepreneurs and if i have learned anything, it is that there is no one formula for success. Just because it’s a best practice, it doesn’t mean it’s best for you.

Originality is Underrated

I’m always a bit irked when somebody who is new to the blogosphere starts a blog about blogging or social media. It’s such a tragedy that leads to the death of their own authenticity before they even start the journey.  What makes any blog unique or interesting is the person behind it. That’s why it’s essential to infuse your personality into everything you do. What makes any blog memorable is the author’s ability to invoke emotion in their readers and tell a good story.

If you’ve been following formulas, best practices, and scripts, and your results have been less than stellar, mix things up a bit.  Try something you’ve never tried. Try something no one has ever tried. Start by breaking one of the so called “rules” of successful blogging.  You might become the next big thing.

Srinivas Rao writes about the things you should have learned in school, but never did and his the host-co founder of BlogcastFM.  You can follow him on twitter @skooloflife

Illustration courtesy of BigStock photo

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  • Great point, Srini. I think that blindly following what ANYONE does – A-list blogger or otherwise, is never a good idea. But I think we can absolutely learn from their successes and failures.

    We still, however, need to be willing to test, try and fail on our own. Finding the right approach is like becoming a scientist – you have to experiment until you discover what works for you!

  • jennwhinnem

    You & I agree on one point: I’m tired of how many blogs there are about social media and blogging.

    Srini, otherwise, I’m still thinking on whether or not I agree with this. When I think of blogs I read regularly, YES, each of those individuals has a unique perspective that I enjoy. But those blogs are about: PR, social media, blogging, and best practices for consultants. In that case, it definitely makes sense to bring your voice to the blog and not just post “5 Ways to Use Pinterest to Crush the Competition and Make Them Cry.”

    I blog for my organization, which falls into none of the aforementioned categories. I have cultivated a friendly, open tone/personality, and I’m clear that it’s me blogging as opposed to when someone else writes for the blog – but bringing my voice to the blog would not be appropriate because my voice is used to cuss a lot. I do get the CEO’s voice on there as often as possible. The exciting thing is that we’re not following any leader really, because blogging in my sector is still a relatively new thing.

    And I still maintain that if you blog about anything other than PR, social media, blogging, and best practices for consultants (oh and don’t forget mommy/daddy bloggers), you’ve chosen a lonely path.

  • billythenavigtor

    I’m newish to blogging. I agree with the principles you state here Srini. I have banged around for a while testing and trying out things. It takes a while to “let it out, and let it in” if you know what I mean!
    But… after a while you go with what you know. Recently, very recently I decided to go with what I know. My site and the blog on it are an expression of where I am at right now. I am sure that will mature, but not change too much. For me the hurdle was that everyone is talking about the same thing. Over that and then some. A big help for me was speaking recently at SoSlam. I was myself. It was received well. I saw what I was looking for in the audience, people! People just like me. I used my life experience. I was myself.
    I don’t know if I had read this 6 months ago if I would have even heard you. But, today I do. Nice read with a cup of tea, and worth your time for me I’d say.
    Thanks Billy

  • billythenavigtor

    Hey Jenn. Good words…

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  • Amen to breaking the rules brother. Clearly, this is something we just don’t see enough of, buy boy is it needed. In my mind, the age of “Pushing the Social Envelope” is what’s going to lead to a new era of leaders–no matter the field.

  • Srinivas, can you give an example of someone doing this, that we can glean ideas from? Unfortunately we don’t have time to be original and we have spent so much time copying other people that we don’t know who we authentically are anymore. #sarcasm

    Great post, good advice, thanks for sharing!

  • “if you blog about anything other than PR, social media, blogging, and
    best practices for consultants (oh and don’t forget mommy/daddy
    bloggers), you’ve chosen a lonely path”

    A resounding YES. That discourages many people who are not blogging about the “hot” topics — in other words, talking into the echo chamber (although I hate that term, really). It seems it’s mostly the social media/marketing experts talking to each other these days.

    Then there’s the fact that blogging and social media in general are used differently in different parts of the world. For example, in northern Europe, the majority of serious business takes place outside of social networks. “Social” in our part of the world is seen more as a way to keep in touch with personal friends.

    I’ve quoted this before, but let me do it once again: “when it comes to commercial communications – email
    sweeps the board as the preferred method with 65-78% of people
    preferring it. A pitiful 0-4% of people prefer social media for
    commercial communications”. (Merkle, View from the Digital Inbox 2011, quote from

    The truth is that whatever you do in social media, you will wait for the results a lot longer than you thought. Maybe a little less long if you introduce a personal flavor.

  • Jenn,

    I’m glad you brought in an opposing viewpoint. Even with those blogs though, one of the things I see people do is not try things, but treat everything the hear as a formula and a prescription. The 5 ways post is one of the ones I hate most, even though I”ve probably written a few myself :).

    As far as bringing your voice to the blog, I still think it can be done without cussing. In fact from the sound of it you already do. In far too many organizations their corporate blogs sound like machines. I’m glad to hear that you’re not following a formula. In terms of a lonely road, I’d recommend this post by Greg Ciotti where he noted several successful blogs that don’t blog about blogging, pr, or social media.

  • HEHe. At first I thought you were serious until I saw the #sarcasm. Glad to hear you enjoyed the post. I’m not opposed to people blogging about social media. My issue is people following advice that other people have given them to the letter and wondering why they don’t get similar results.

  • Marcus,

    You nailed it my friend. If you look at all of the social media “celebrities” they got their by pushing the envelope. They tried what hadn’t been tried before and did what had never done before. I don’t think that blogging/social media blogs are the only ones guilty of this. Lifestyle design blogs face the same issues.

  • Great points Bill. I think people continually evolve. That’s the most exciting thing about it. I love it when I catch somebody at the beginning of a journey and I watch them transform.

  • Laura,

    You summed up my point beautifully. We can learn from all of these people. But following their advice blindly is what gets us in to trouble.

  • People fear to be different. It is part of why you have a million donut shops and almost no Candy Corn stores.

  • Well I guess that I am at that place, and my journey is really only beginning now. Nice to see you surf along on the net so well.

  • I feel like most people take the advice they see and apply it too literally.

    The easiest way to illustrate it is really that social media is simply a tool (such a groundbreaking discovery, I know). It’s a new medium and because it is a tool, these best practices and formulas that people are following ‘blindly’ aren’t to blame. The practices themselves probably work, but if you’re posting the same boring crap that everybody has already read… well, yeah, nobody is really going to care. Just because you follow a method doesn’t mean you’ll find success. If what you’re saying and doing is boring, not engaging or uninteresting then I think it’s probably time to take a step back and ask yourself what you should really be talking about.

    Another thing, if all you’re seeing is social media blogs and blogs about blogging, you need to get onto Google or whatever search engine you happen to use and look up some blogs about something you’re more interested in. It’s easy enough to filter out the ‘impurities.’

    As a marketing student myself, I hear (quite often) the boring and repetitive phrases like “Content is king.” and many others. However, if I’m being honest, these little sayings are annoying. While they’re cute and easy to remember, the key is to just be competent. If you’re competent with the tools and have something people want to see, I feel like you’ve got success in your hands and you should probably stop sitting around and actually do something about it.

    TL:DR, If you’re following a method that works but you’re not finding success, chances are that you’re just talking about boring crap that nobody gives a shit about.

    And that’s my 2 cents!

  • jennwhinnem

    Really appreciate you bringing in an international perspective, Kimmo. Too often we can miss those nuances and end up telling the world we’re a jelly doughnut. For the record, I am not a jelly doughnut.

    I’d say in my first year of blogging, I’ve had the best success getting buy-in within my organization…building the habit of reading the blog is a lot slower. Stakeholders have told us they prefer email – what’s interesting is that if their orgs start to play in social, suddenly they are willing to play with us too. But gosh, it is slow.

  • jennwhinnem

    Thanks Billy, great to see you here. Hope you’re doing well.

  • jennwhinnem

    The problem with the 5 ways post is that they really “work” in the sense that people read them! <- if that's what you're after. I know I am. I'd also like some next steps there…at any rate, I'm getting there.

    But. I DO see social media newbies taking everything they see as law. It probably feels safer to do that, because dang if you don't get the smack down for not following the unspoken etiquette of social.

    Finally, thanks for making me think more about this, and thanks too for the link. I find it encouraging that you can do well w/o speaking to the social echo chamber.

  • Srinivas,

    Bro… These are epic thoughts… So simple and clean…

    We come to the web with experience and expertise and approach it like we’re starting from scratch.

    Thank you for that line.

    Ryan H.

  • I am doing well, and may I hope that is true of you too. Seems like I am finally getting out of the gate with my future business goals. Thanks

  • I am not sure if a POV (point of view) can be deemed excellent, but WTF. Excellent POV Srini. 🙂

  • I love this! Thanks for sharing this. I recently started blogging myself so this really hits home for me. I know it’ll take me some time to find my groove and my voice, but I’m doing my best to do it myself and not follow the guides that are out everywhere. I’m channeling how I would talk with a friend asking for advice and I try to write that and channel it out.

    One thing I’ll have to slightly disagree with, is that you mention “telling stories.” That’s a very general thing and to people starting to blog it can mean literally telling a chronological, physical story. But you can tell stories with your vision, values, and emotions, and not necessarily experiences. Stories are beautiful in that they get expressed through an unfiltered pouring out from the person. People get caught up telling stories for the sake of telling stories because they heard people like that – and that’s hurting them too. (I’m not accusing you obviously, just telling you how I felt from my own experience when I was trying to figure out how to start).

    The best advice I got from a friend was he told me to just write. Don’t even publish the first post. Just open your mind and write why you decided to write, your fear of writing, anxiety about how to do it. Do that a few times and you’ll understand your vision a little clearer. But he said you’ll never find your vision, it’s just something that you catch a glimpse of and you always chase it and try to reach it. It sounded beautiful. And he’s not even a writer, he’s a musician! Just goes to show you that all art, whether writing or music stems from the same human source. Again, thank you for this article. It really evoked thought from me!

  • Pavel,

    Well said. The funny thing is that most of what I write never gets published because it is quite bad. But that’s part of what I have to go through in order to get to my best work. As far as telling stories go, I think that you do have to tell stories, but if its just rambling that’s when you get into trouble.

  • Thank Steve. I’m glad you found it valuable.

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  • bethinnc

    Yep, great advice!


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  • Awesome post…
    Thank you.

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