Being Popular: When Being Yourself Fails.

When we look at the various social media sites and those posting in it, sometimes we can feel ‘fakeness’. It’s “too nice” or “too happy” or “too empathetic” or “too perfect”, almost as if many of us are trying to master how to balance being liked by as many people in our community as possible. Yet, when we don’t do that, if we are just ‘ourselves’ we may not get the likes and interaction we are hoping for.

With social media like YouTube for example, if we search for “how to gain followers”, one common theme is “high energy”, “be excited” which most of us can’t do 24/7. We end up creating this persona that shows everyone this excited, high-energy side we want to show, while hiding the sides that we don’t want shown. Some of us can separate these areas well or it fits naturally with who they are, while others may get ‘tired’ trying too hard.

In business this is no different, the same concepts are used to a maximum; focus on the product or service in a way that allows for the most followers, which they hope translates to the most profit. For a business that caters to a very particular group or audience, the number one goal is to sell or ‘market to that group’. We are taught to create a product or service and tailor it for our audience. In fact, we shouldn’t even choose to do a product or service that isn’t marketable, doesn’t have a big enough audience or is already extremely saturated.

Businesses however, are also taught to ‘find a niche’ within markets to get access to areas that are otherwise overly saturated. These niches allow businesses to thrive with just enough audience for them to do well, but small enough such that they won’t get pushed out by larger businesses and higher competition. They essentially create a way to be popular by being their own niche.

Being Popular

Imagine however if we lived our lives like businesses and how they are traditionally taught to be. We’d be taught to do something that would be popular. Find something that we can shine in so people will like us. Do these things so we can find a good husband or wife. Build our resume so we can get a good job. It’s almost like a life long sales job of getting someone to believe in us enough to hire us, be in a relationship with us, be our friend.

In social circles, traditionally we seemed to use very big sweeping general groups:  ‘wealthy’, ‘good career’, ‘in shape’, ‘pretty’, ‘funny’, ‘cool’, ‘religious’, ‘play football’, etc. In school, for kids it was a matter of getting into the popular groups. If we were a part of the group everyone around us liked, they’d like us too, as long as we weren’t also a part of a group everyone didn’t like.

Society and those we interact with are extreme magnets that have us constantly pulling us to fit in or stand out. It makes sense because we have to interact with everyone all the time. Doing so usually translates directly to our livelihood and to our success.

“Be yourself” is the cliche thing told to everyone who don’t feel like they fit in. The idea is good, but it often just fails in execution if we happen to be someone who is outside of the popular groups. The unfortunate truth is that if we are not accepted in our society or culture, we will find it hard to navigate in life. We won’t get jobs as easily, we won’t find friends as easily, we won’t find relationships as easily. But what if we just don’t agree with the masses? What if we don’t fit in? Do we really need to just wear a mask all the time?

Being Exposed

Things are changing. Those who are faking it to fit into a particular group are finding that is becoming harder and harder to fake. Social media is on 24/7 and as such, they have to try and be fake 24/7 which is probably extremely difficult. They are getting exposed slowly.

A business is no different, a business who cares about the bottom line will make mistakes that will get exposed. Ultimately this should help flush out the fakeness, allow us to be free to be ourselves and maybe even not have to live a life ‘marketing’ to others.

Yet something happens that is somewhat counter intuitive as well. When a super star influencer makes good content, then is exposed for doing something wrong or not in line with their audience, a funny thing seems to happen. Instead of being ‘exposed’ and large portions of their audience going away, it instead further increases their audience and the existing audience either forgives them or makes reasons as to why it must have happened or why it was ok.

This seems to be somewhat true for many large groups as well. When election time occurs, all sides fire against the other side. Most things that are ‘exposed’ during these times are largely not taken seriously by anyone on the ‘exposed’ side.

Social media and technology is underscoring time and again that the creator of “good content” and “good ideas” doesn’t equal “good person”. We have often painted our heroes in a good light, written history to glorify the victor. This is no longer always possible to underscore the great things and downplay the bad. More and more we’re having to learn to accept the dichotomy of a crappy person coming up with really good things.

The Niche

The niche is something that is a ‘small specialized section of the population’, sometimes this could be seen as ‘obscure’, but the fact is there is an extremely large number niches. Anything can be a niche; the topic of ‘cardboard’ can be a niche both in business and in things people like to talk about. If we look for ‘cardboard’ or how it is made it gets thousands and thousands of views. There are people who are clearly interested for some reason or another. There is a niche for just about everything, and every single one of us has niches that they love.

Niches are relative to the size of the population in question as it relates to other similar areas, and there is no hard rule of what classifies as a ‘niche’. In the US American Football itself seems to have a large number of fans but if we compare it to the entire world of sports it could be small enough to be considered a ‘niche’. Fans of the NY Giants American Football team would be even smaller. Then fans of the NY Giants and the Patriots would be even smaller.

In cave man and cave woman days, being a part of a small niche like this would mean certain death or a low survival rate (maybe the case for someone who’s both a Giants and Pats fan in NYC….). In those days we depended on others to survive, so being popular and in a big enough group allowed for more security and options.

Today, technology and general state of most generally well off countries allows for anyone to live by themselves and survive just fine. The need for staying in these large groups is becoming less and less important. Small tribes are being created all over the internet based on the millions of niches out there. This dynamic is allowing all of us a chance to be ‘popular’ in our own way, just as it’s allowing a vast number of new small businesses into the economy.

Online vs IRL

The only catch is that our interactions in real life vs our interactions in the online world haven’t found a good balance with each other yet. For example while racism plays no real role during most online business transactions (because we have no idea who we are talking to or dealing with), it can still exist in real life. Or vice-versa, an online troll that spews hateful talk and nasty social media comments, we will find every day online; yet we won’t encounter that same behavior as much in real life.

In the same way, niches are great online and for businesses but they haven’t fully translated in real life. This is likely because our in real life perspective has much less context to draw from. If it’s our first day in school, in a class of 30 other students, if they don’t already know us they have no context of who we are. What we like and don’t like. What our niches are.

All they can see is what we physically look like, and how we seem to act. For many of us, that is enough to make sweeping generalizations. These sweeping generalizations turn into judgments or stereotypes that can become very negative, which is also likely where nasty things like racism and bullying get their roots. It’s all somewhat naturally occurring because of the way we tend to generalize and our particular experiences and education. Without full context, we cannot make sound generalizations.

Follow Your Niche

Despite what we are driven to do and chase being in the ‘popular’ groups, niches will have more and more impact. The more we all embrace this concept, the more it will only be natural for the negative stereotypes to slowly dissipate. How would we maintain a racist attitude if we saw the positive ‘niches’ in a particular race? Bullying wouldn’t target the ‘unpopular’ kid because that kid would have their own niches that others would acknowledge and support. When we see someone who we don’t have context for, we will start to automatically look for context instead of passing immediate judgement.

This may seem far fetched, but in a world of 24/7 exposure, for most of us it only makes sense to stop trying to fit into groups we aren’t really a part of. It will only end in either us being internally frustrated and conflicted, or being exposed. The best idea is to stop chasing something we aren’t. What may not have been apparent is that our own “niches” are essentially filled with things we actually care about, things we actually enjoy not on the basis of someone else. That sounds familiar doesn’t it?


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