Thursday, February 07, 2008

another Lotusphere theme: pimping yourself

Having people see my badge at Lotusphere and ask "are you the Charles Robinson who blogs" was a little surreal. Having at least half a dozen people at Lotusphere tell me I have a moderate level of name recognition and I need to build on it was just plain weird to me. They were saying I need to market myself, build my brand, and get my name out there so I can take things to the next level. In short, I need to pimp myself.

pimp (pmp)
n. One who finds customers for a prostitute; a procurer.
intr.v. pimped, pimp·ing, pimps To serve as a procurer of prostitutes.

The interesting part about this is I had already considered going down that path. I had business cards printed and I was planning to hand them out at Lotusphere and try to get some consulting gigs, or maybe even a permanent job. From the start it just felt wrong, though. While getting to the bottom of my reluctance I started thinking about why I participate in the community. Did I want to turn it into a money-making venture by soliciting consulting work or a job? Did I want to use it to build name recognition so I can join the pantheon of the elite in our little fishbowl? In short, did I want to capitalize on it in any way?

After mulling it over I finally came to the conclusion that I'm not here to prostitute myself. I never joined in with the idea that I'll get anything other than personal satisfaction out of it. I'm here to share information and participate in discussions, plain and simple. For me to try to turn that into anything else just seemed wrong.

When the subject came up at Lotusphere I was honestly offended. What I found offensive was the prevalent idea that everyone wants to go that route, and the vehemence with which most people presented it. It was like there was no consideration that not everyone had the same goals. I expect to catch some heat for saying that, but I want to be clear that I'm not at all opposed to people who use their participation in the community for some amount of personal gain. I support capitalism and I fully understand that the people who blog are known among the community at large because we are the ones willing to put ourselves out there on display, regardless of our motivation. It is a lot of work and you do attract some unwanted attention so if you want to capitalize on your efforts I say go for it.

There is no doubt that I have benefited from my community participation, but I have never asked for it and it wasn't monetary. For the past two years at Lotusphere I was invited to participate in a special Q&A session with Mike Rhodin. Last year my blog was shown in both the opening and closing sessions. I know if I am eventually accepted as a speaker at a conference (I've submitted sessions for the past two Lotusphere's and I have my fingers crossed for ILUG) it will be at least partially because people know me from blogging.

The difference between my approach and some others is this is the real me, not some sanitized version with an eye toward being as acceptable to as many potential customers as possible. Recognition is great and if it works out that my efforts are rewarded in some way I'll be ecstatic, but I'm not doing any of this with the idea that I will eventually benefit from it in a material way. It's a difference of intent.

The reason I'm saying all this is 1) I fully expect to be eviscerated so I want to defend myself up front and 2) I I know I'm not the only one who believes participation in the community is its own reward and 3) I want to let people joining the community now know that you can do it for purely altruistic reasons. There is room for everyone. All you have to do is be honest with yourself and the community and you'll get the returns you want. That may be a warm feeling from a heartfelt "thank you" in a blog comment, or it could be a new job. The choice is yours. You may end up with some amount of name recognition, but that doesn't automatically make you an attention seeking whore. And you certainly don't have to pimp or prostitute yourself if you don't want to.


  1. Evisceration's a little harsh :0)

    I've done my fair share of ASW moves over the years I'm sure, and I've certainly profited from starting my site, no question. I like the honesty of your post though, and hope you don't feel that everyone who blogs and speaks is out for $$$.

    As an aside, I don't believe in presenting a sanitised version of one's self just to get gigs, but if others want to do that, that's their prerogative.

    With regards reaction to this post, your use of the word "pimping" appears to make it very clear what you think of people who do these things—that's where you could get some heat maybe: one man's "pimping" is another man's "networking"!

  2. I agree, Ben, "Pimping" is an emotive term and it's not one that I would use...

    We all have our own motivations for what we do, and they cover a wide spectrum - there is no definite split between altruism and capitalist self-promotion. There is plenty of grey area in the middle where I would say that most of this community reside.

    Also, I think that motivations can and will change with time and with one's situation. Whilst I was in a well-paid secure job with a BP, absolutely I was in a position to contribute for genuinely altruistic reasons. Now I'm in a far less stable position seeking consultancy work under my own banner, would it be "unethical" to make the most of the reputation (limited as it is) from the blogging and input to the community? I would say not - we all have bills to pay after all...

  3. Charles, I might going out on a limb here, but I'd say that given the number of times you've complained publicly about your current and prior employers, and how clearly miserable they've made you, perhaps other people's suggestions are meant to encourage you to actively seek career resolution.

    It's absolutely true that you have a reputation It's also true that your readers hear a lot about how much you hate your job. Some of us out here think that because of the first, you don't have to put up with the second.

    Evisceration is the furthest thing from my mind when I remark that I think you have your moral compass a bit off from true north in this case. How on earth is it wrong, or even just distasteful, to leverage your public visibility into making yourself happier? Is there some mystery party that gets hurt if you leverage fame into finding a career that benefits both you and your employer? Or is it just some sense of esthethic, because then you would have had to "sell yourself?"

    If it's the latter, consider this: wouldn't it be the HEIGHT of conceit to think that you are SO GOOD and have shared SO MUCH that the perfect job should just fall in your lap? If it's tacky to self-promote, what is it to consider yourself above self-promotion?

    I guarantee you if you wrote all the time about how cool your job was and how much you liked working there, no one would suggest that you try to capitalize on your blogging success.

  4. Actually, I liked the post... :)

    I know everyone has reasons as to why "everyone else" blogs. The real reasons are known to the person who is actually doing the blogging. And those reasons may shift over time. I know the reasons I started blogging back in 2003 are nowhere near my reasons for doing it now. My directions are different, my benefits are different, and at no time did I ever imagine blogging would have taken me in the directions it did.

    I don't think it's wrong to use a blog to "promote" yourself. The type of promotion (or the attitude behind it) might be what sets people off. If you're ending every post with "gee, aren't I clever?", you're going to get the ASW title for real. If you genuinely like to help others and share, then your blog is still "promoting" you in that aspect.

    Now, since it's way too early for me to get getting philosophical, I'll end it here. Bottom line... blog for the reasons *you* want to, with your voice and with your real self. Those who like it will read and follow. Those who don't, won't. And remember, it's absolutely impossible to appeal to 100% of the audience.

    Just ask any speaker if you can look at their evaluations. :)

  5. I liked the post, too. Charles, you are an incredibly articulate writer! I'm from the "there are no rules" avenue when it comes to blogging. I think the main thing is to do what is comfortable to YOU, and not use your blog to any avenue that makes you feel 'wrong' about what you are doing. It sounds like you follow this line too, so that's wonderful. Just don't get pressured into doing anything you don't feel right about!

    Don't forget, many of us are independent consultants and don't have the luxury of our companies getting us work for us, so when we 'pimp' our blogs, that's just us doing cheap advertising. :-) It's still possible to keep a roof over your head while keeping your professional integrity intact. I don't pretend to be anything I'm not on my blog. I don't pretend to have any skills I don't. When I had my eyebrow ring (gosh, I miss it), I considered that part of my "brand", too. I didn't apologize for it. If any company had a problem with it (which they never did), then that's just one less company I'd want to work with.

    People use their blogs for all different reasons. To give back to the community, to write as an outlet, to use ads to help offset the hosting costs, to help their companies, etc. Who am I to judge? Why would I care?

  6. I didn't intend this to be self-righteous or holier-than-thou. There is no condescension or conceit in my post. I'm against self-promotion for me. As I said, I fully support people who choose to turn recognition into personal benefit. I'm not being judgmental at all. I'm not suggesting that anyone change what they're doing today. If it works for you keep doing it. This was mostly intended for people new to the community who stumble across this post, to assure them that there is room for them regardless of their motivation or goals.

    There are a lot of Notes/Domino bloggers who are here just to share, but those aren't the ones you hear as much about. It's the tireless self-promoters who dominate mindshare, which is to be expected. That's the whole point of marketing.

    The reason I became concerned is because the shameless self-promotion message was one I heard a lot at Lotusphere. The final straw was when I overheard two people after one of the blogger-related events. Neither of them participate in the blogs, either writing or commenting. One was saying to the other "but I'm not sure I want to be a consultant or work for a BP". Their conversation went down the path of blogger = ASW, and stayed in that realm.

    @Stuart - I agree completely, there is a lot of gray area. Not everyone who self-promotes does it all the time. And not everyone who self-promotes does it for financial gains. Some are just ASW's who like the ego boost. :-)

    @Nate - I would go along with that had the advice been given to me specifically or individually, but it wasn't. It was presented to a group of people, and in nearly every case there seemed to be a blindness to the idea that not everyone wants to turn community recognition into something else.

    I appreciate it tremendously that some people are concerned about my well-being and the deplorable state of my career. Whenever I say something about that it's not because I expect anyone to do anything about it, though. I put that on my blog and my Facebook status to share what's happening with me. If you're one of those compassionate people who is compelled to try to help people, I'm sorry for triggering your compulsion. :-P

    For me, actively seeking to turn my community recognition into personal gain would be ethically unacceptable. If it happens organically, though, I will accept it. It's the difference between the kid who cuts the grass for the elderly lady next door all summer and unexpectedly gets a nice birthday present, and the kid who does it then knocks on her door and demands payment. There is a difference in the intention and the expectation. My intention is to share, and I have no expectations.

  7. Charles, I like your concluding analogy very much :)

  8. Tom made a great point when he said that everyone blogs for different reasons, and that those reasons may shift over time. On my personal blog, I discovered that the majority of readers were coming from specific Google searches. So now, to be helpful to the Google searchers, every once in awhile I'll throw in a "how to" blog post. I think I did how to arrange books on a bookcase once... it gets a lot of hits, lol, I just hope I am helping them as another site helped me when I had the same problem. Might there be Adsense ads on their one day? Probably. I took a huge salary hit when I went out on my own, and another huge hit when I had a child. Am I going to actively seek blog sponsors? Probably not, because I'm not a salesperson by nature and it's WAY out of my comfort level to approach ANYONE and ask for money for ad space.

    In fact, it's safe to say, I'd probably be making a lot more money doing computer training if I wasn't so uncomfortable when the subject of payment comes up. :-)

    Bloggers are analytical by nature. It's like I wrote on another blog's comments awhile back:

    It's like the movie "Spaceballs". The quote goes,

    " 'Preparing to go, sir'. 'You're always preparing! Stop preparing! Just go!' "

    So now, change that too, " 'Your'e always analyzing! Stop analyzing! Just have fun!" :-)

  9. Charles, you make my point exactly with your analogy. If you're the nice kid that cuts the grass for the elderly lady next door, what's wrong with seeing the middle-aged couple across the street and asking "would you like me to do this for you too? It's only X dollars."

    Honestly, and I mean this with no ill will, it saddens me that you describe that behavior as "ethically unacceptable." Your employer is not your victim, Charles. No one will hire you unless they receive benefit for their business that is AT LEAST equivalent to what they pay you. That is the necessary result of a voluntary transaction.

    The fact that you initiated such a conversation has no ethical bearing.

    I would be happy to discuss this with you further via email or phone if you like. I mean this with all sincerity: I think you're looking at this matter through distorted lenses.

  10. Nathan, there isn't anything wrong with the situation you describe. I applaud the entrepreneurial people who take that kind of action upon themselves. Where it gets a little weird to me is if the kid were of the mindset "If I do this for free then others will [insert reward: offer me money, congratulate me on a job well done, thank me for helping, etc.]." I see that happen in our community periodically. A lot of people who participate have an expectation of rewards.

    To extend this analogy even further, let's assume the kid in question, for whatever reason, is willing to cut the grass of anyone who asks for free. What should his response be if his friends try to push him into turning it into a business? That was exactly my takeaway from some of the discussions at Lotusphere.

    Based on my principles and what I want out of this experience that is ethically unacceptable -- FOR ME. I'm by no means condemning it across the board, or suggesting that people who feel differently are morally bankrupt.

  11. Charles, I think you hit the nail on the head exactly in one of the points I tried to get across in my BoF. I think that if you define WHY you blog, not only does it clarify things for you (to help you post and still respect yourself in the morning), but it will also actually help you come up with topics to write about, which is another common blogger problem. In your case, you've clearly defined why you blog. Great! It should be that much easier not to let any sort of peer pressure deter you from that definition.
    It sounds like you have that under control, anyway. I think we've deviated from you original posting purpose, and I'm sorry.
    If I have it correctly, can I try to explain what you were trying to say in your original post? No, there is no time. Let me sum up: :-)

    *waves madly*
    Hey! There are people like me who are just doing this to give something to the community and that's OK. Some people are not trying to build their brand, it is not all about personal gain (though it may be for some) and if you are thinking about starting a blog, you CAN just do this purely because you want to and for no other reason that that.


  12. @Jess That's a fine summary, and if Charles had written that then I don't think Nathan, Ben or I would have questioned it.

    However, writing about members of this community "prostituting" or "pimping" themselves for personal gain is just not an appropriate accusation to be making...

    Charles, I had you down as a more sensitive member of the blogosphere, and didn't expect to hear you using that kind of language to describe your peers.

  13. Stuart, I believe this is a language choice issue, perhaps American vs. the Queen's English. In American daily vernacular, "pimping" onesself is an oft-used term to describe someone who is selling themselves. While the word has an unsavory connotation, there are many other words that get sanitized in their daily use in conversation. That's certainly true on your side of the pond as well :-)

    As for Charles' original post and subsequent conversation -- I think there are some excellent points raised. Charles is clearly trying to provide a safe haven thought to those who would like to blog that not everyone who does so is after something -- exposure, personal gain, fame and fortune. We need more voices in the Lotus community -- either writing or commenting. I love seeing new blogs pop up on because I am sure some of these blogs are not ones I was tracking on my own, yet now they all come to me (and I read almost all of them at some point or another).

    Networking is a great reason to blog or participate in blogs, but it isn't a required element. In fact there are bloggers in the Lotus "community" who never so much as read another blog, much less comment on them. I often feel a little sad that someone has time to be write-only but not read, but ultimately, I think almost everyone gets caught up in the sense of community and the true value of social networking.

    I am sure, for example, that nobody writes their Lotusphere live blogs or summaries thinking, well, gee, IBM has quoted bloggers during the closing session walk-in the last few years, maybe I can get up on the big screen! Still, some are certainly aware of it, and maybe it does subconsciously affect the writing. I don't want anyone to blog just to be a fanboy, as they say, and that is why you'll often see me willing to take the arrows on the critical blog entries as much as the kudos on the positive ones.

    We need to encourage more voices, and I'm sure that the various blogger BoFs did that -- I think Charles maybe is trying to ensure that we don't all cite the incentive for doing so as "you'll get invited to speak in Timbuktu, you'll get stereo equipment sent to you for free, and you can even run ads and make some coin". Some just like to write (which is how I got started).

    Last, for those who just want to try things out, I believe the blog on is open to all, and you just have to register in order to start blogging there.

  14. Jess, thanks for distilling it down.

    Stuart, I can see that I mixed a couple of messages here. It all made sense in my head but it came out jumbled. :-) I never intended to offend anyone, and since I didn't mention anyone specifically I don't feel I accused anyone of anything. I don't think anyone will deny that there is a practice among a small group in our community of self-promotion for personal gain. The people who do that tend to be the most visible because the self-promotion works. I'll repeat myself again: I'm okay with that. I have absolutely no issue whatsoever with anyone who chooses to go that route. I'm not attacking, dismissing, or condemning that in any way.

    I wanted to make sure that people joining in now didn't see those people and think they had to follow suit to achieve satisfaction. Hearing people walking away from a blogger gathering express concerns about what they saw as a prevalent attitude they didn't share is what spurred me into action.

  15. I appreciate your blog "voice", Charles. I experience you as a brave person; with not only has valuable ideas and knowledge, but also shares vulnerabilities, and, importantly, a peripheral vision. You're a blessed relief from the "alpha" fe/males, exhausting us with their flagging. Stand tall.

  16. As I said in the blogger's BOF: Me me me me me, me me Me me ME ME me, me me ME, ME ME me me ME!