Labels Limit – Toss Them Out in 2010

In contemplating the words I’d like to see drop from use in this industry in 2010, I began to ponder the larger concept of labels and how they limit us. As humans we have this need to conquer our universe, and one way we do that is by labeling anything in it. Sure, this helps us keep track of our world, but in the end it only encourages stagnation. We are the makers of our own glass ceiling.

Think for a moment about the words we have used for the last three years as we early adopters and teachers forged ahead in this “social media” iteration of the internet and relationships – the words that those who follow then take into mainstream conversation: compartmentalizing, limiting and isolating what should be free flowing and connective.

For example, words like authentic and transparent were quick and easy ways to convey a tricky idea to businesses in the beginning, but how do they hobble you now. Have people and businesses online become so concerned with the concept of personal brand that they’ve lost sight of how important it is to be real, both as businesses and people?

Don’t lose yourself or your clients in buzzwords and mumbo jumbo. Here are some concepts I think should change for 2010, starting now:

1) Using words like authentic and transparent

These words obfuscate the desired effect. They are distancing language that puts the real business or the real person behind a smokescreen of “trying” (As in “I’m just trying to be authentic here”). “Trying” can last indefinitely, and doesn’t require the person or company to ever accomplish much or share anything. Much better to first be ok with who you or your company is, then simply: Be Yourself – Be The Best You. The real you will fail, fumble, and occasionally show the world your imperfections, but in the end, you will create a stronger foundation to grow from.

2) Personal Brand

Why on earth did we ever start using this phrase? It’s marketing speak that means so little. Go forth and attempt to own your name. Go forth and be consistent and identifiable in your photos and logos and profiles. If you aren’t an early enough adopter to get your name, handle it with grace, pick a close one, and make it yours. If you are following #1 above, people will have no trouble knowing who you are. If you have done it well, you can even change your name or handle mid stream, or get a new logo, etc, and the people you interact with online will get it without a hitch.

3) Social Media

I’ve been on a bit of a crusade against calling it social media for a while now. I seem to recall writing a post about it last year. All social media amounts to is another new layer of the internet, coupled with new technology that is more fluid than ever before. This new layer allows us to broaden our horizons in business and life. It makes it easier to connect. We also bandy about engagement marketing, but not all of these connections have to fully engage to be effective (although the more you have real engagement, the better your efforts will turn out). This culmination of connection, possibilities and technological advances is so much more than just social – why do we limit it to that?

4) Curate

This one tries to inflate something (or someone) into more than it is. For example, you “curate” a museum full of gorgeous art and national treasures or history. You “keep” or “make” a Twitter list in order to better see the people you need to see online, or sort a busy stream into categories to make it a bit easier to read if you happen to be forced to use the web interface. By using words like curate (and expert – don’t get me started) you deceive by implication, and end up limiting yourself here as well, as it is a kind of language use that can put people off from you or your company.

5) Next

On the one hand, people like me think about the big picture and what is coming next and how we can shape it all the time. It is our job, after all. For the person in the trenches for a company however, your job is to (most likely) get sales, gain audience, increase your company’s reach, etc – not to theorize about tools and techniques and the future and my advice is to focus on your foundation first, then what’s next will follow. Without a foundation, solid knowledge of your own “now”, you will flounder and flail when trying to follow someone who’s been studying and doing this longer into “next”. This is part of being the best you – mastery of your present before tripping over it to get to your future. Building blocks. You’ll be surprised how naturally “next” comes if you give “now” a little attention first.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the words most on my mind as we embark on 2010 and the new crop of fakers and dittoheads saddles up, and the old crop finds new ways to pull the wool over client eyes. It’s pretty hard to find a great person or company to help clients navigate this vast, connected space online, but I can tell you buzzwords and inflated language aren’t the signifiers that someone knows their stuff – happy clients and success stories are. Keep it real.

(H/T @michellemmm for opening the curate discussion)