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Being Popular – When Being Yourself Fails

When we look at 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 “how to gain followers,” one common theme is “high energy” and “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 that we want to show while hiding the sides that we don’t want to be 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 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 to 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

Just like businesses, we’re taught to do something that would make us popular. We’d 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 seem to use big, sweeping general groups:  ‘wealthy,’ ‘smart,’ ‘athletic,’ ‘pretty,’ ‘funny,’ ‘cool,’ ‘religious’, etc. Society and those we interact with are like extreme magnets that are constantly pulling us to fit in or pushing us to stand out. Being a part of the popular groups usually translates directly to our livelihood and to our success.

Be yourself” is the cliché told to everyone who feels like they don’t 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 don’t agree with the masses? What if we don’t fit in? Do we really need to 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 it 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 can be extremely difficult. They are getting exposed slowly.

A business is no different. A business that cares only 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 superstar influencer makes good content and then is exposed for doing something wrong or not in line with their audience, this ‘exposure’ doesn’t always amount to much. 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 are 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 and written history to glorify the victor. It is no longer always possible to underscore the great things and downplay the bad. Despite the threat of being exposed, more and more, we’re having to learn to accept the dichotomy of a crappy person being successful or doing cool things.

The Niche

The niche is something that is a ‘small specialized section of the population,’ sometimes this could be seen as ‘obscure.’ There is an extremely large number of 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. For example, if we google ‘cardboard’ or how it is made, we can see the topic gets thousands and thousands of pages and views. There is a niche for just about everything, and every single one of us has niches that they love.

The internet is somewhat redefining the term, because what was traditionally ‘obscure’ is now accessible to anyone. The numbers are all relative to the size of the population in question as it relates to other similar areas. So there’s no hard rule of what classifies as a ‘niche.’ In the US, American football seems to have a large number of fans, but if we compare it to the entire world of sports, it is small enough to be considered a ‘niche’ even with millions of fans. Fans of the NY Giants American football team would be even smaller but even that itself still has more than a million fans.

Strength in numbers is a social dynamic that likely goes back to the caveman and cavewoman days. In a school the handful of unpopular kids who aren’t athletic, pretty and rather read than socialize in the cafeteria with others had no numbers traditionally. They were easily misrepresented. This is no more, now the most traditionally unpopular groups are represented by millions across the world. They are represented by millionaire and billionaire business owners. They have ways to connect with all of them.

Today, technology and the general state of most well-off countries allow for people to live by themselves communicate with everyone and survive just fine. The need to stay in large groups is becoming less and less important. Smaller subsets and tribes are being created all over the globe 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 Versus Real Life

The only catch is that our interactions in real life versus 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, we will find an online troll that spews hateful talk and nasty social media comments every day; yet we won’t encounter that same behavior as much in person.

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 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 or what our niches are.

All they can see is what we physically look like and how we 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. Without full context, we cannot make sound generalizations.

The problem of generalizations will never go away in real life or online, but it is clear opportunities for popularity is much better in a globally connected world than in a disconnected one.

Follow Your Niche

Despite the chase to be in the large popular groups, being popular in 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 judgment.

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. Our own niches are essentially filled with things we actually care about, things we enjoy not on the basis of someone else’s interests. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Be yourself.

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