Career Advice

Don’t confuse Visibility with Success

It’s the age of social media no question. It’s ubiquitous and if you are in business you need to be active, but it’s also seductive and can make you confuse visibility (wow, I’m famous) with success (I’m truly making a difference). I know a few entrepreneurs like this – do you?

Do you know people who are more concerned with how they look on Facebook and landing speaking gigs than they are with how the company’s quarter went? Are they distracted in the office more than involved? Did they make it onto a “top something-or-other” list but you know their business is fluff?

It’s understandable why people get caught up in being “visible.” Fame is seductive. Celebrity is followed more by the media every year. Even something as simple as getting a like or a comment on a blog post makes you feel good. Research by Dr. Dinah Hurwitz, a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge, shows that people become hooked to the endorphins that come every time someone responds to their post. She said the symptoms are almost the same, when comparing heavy social networking users to drug addicts. It’s gotten to the point where, as an HBR blog post stated, “our unending use of social media has radically elevated the level of ego in our personal lives… we are in the middle of a narcissism epidemic.”

Take that in for a second: It’s an epidemic—that means thousands of people, millions even, are suffering—from narcissism!
I’ll bet you know some of the people I am talking about. People who are so wrapped up in their social media presence that, like Estelle in No Exit, they can’t see that everyone else can see how self-serving they are.

If your goal is to be a celebrity, then it makes sense. For example, the Kardashians’ whole empire is built on a good social foundation and Lady Gaga turned social media fame into a market development strategy. But if you want to be a high growth corporate professional, beware of substituting celebrity for the substance of your business. Because if your business fails, you won’t have much with which to carry on being famous. It’s important to find a balance between growing your own brand—which, don’t get me wrong, is certainly mutually beneficial if done correctly—and growing the business.

One way to ground yourself is to never forget what “success” is. Successful businesses are ones that make and grow revenue or have millions of users as proxy for future revenue. Brand recognition (and, yes, that includes you as a representative of the company) is an important cog in the growth wheel. But visibility is not success in and of itself.

So if you find yourself checking Facebook more than a couple of times a day, or promoting yourself on Twitter endlessly, come up with a scheme to strike a balance between your own social presence and your business success. Maybe you allocate only a certain amount of time per day (outside of working hours, perhaps?) to social media. Or limit the number of tweets you send per day. Or, even, have your marketing team help you (they have their own work to do, so they’ll help you if it will help the business—that seems like a good barometer to me!)

The bottom line is: before you set out to make yourself a corporate household name, know what your success metrics are and make sure you don’t confuse celebrity and visibility with true success. Those who really matter know the difference.