Why do we assume that you have to be a boisterous go-getter to succeed in marketing and the media business? Simple: these are the people who get most of the contacts, the deals and the glory. Extroverts, often thought of as “people people” with the “gift of gab”, seem to have an exclusive lock on this craft. Don’t rule out the introvert, though, because social media websites are leveling the playing field.
What is an introvert?
Here’s what the Merriam Webster Dictionary has to say about introversion:
the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life
We introverts tend to enjoy having solitary time for thought and reflection. We are not as dependent on other people as extroverts are. Introverts are often quite happy to spend time alone.
Putting an extrovert in an empty room, on the other hand, is a cruel thing to do. The extrovert thrives within a crowd, which is why they can be very successful marketers, sales people, and public relations professions. These three career paths often depend on successful interpersonal relations, where personal contact and soft-skills are key success factors.
An introvert can function well in the presence of other people, but, quite frankly, after awhile we feel drained and frail like Superman does after being exposed to Kryptonite, his great weakness. Personal interaction can be exhausting to an introvert; we need quiet time by ourselves to recuperate. This tendency to minimize social contact can make us seem cold, aloof, shy, or even arrogant.
Introverts - unlikely social agents?
On the surface, introverts can find social situations very challenging. In fact, many of us would rather hide in an underground bunker than deal with other people: consequently, introversion can be a career-limiting personality orientation when you have to work frequently with extroverts.
Times are changing, however. The growth of the Internet and new Web technologies are making social interaction possible from a distance. This “breathing space” can help us avoid much of the emotional stress and strain that can result from spending too much time with other people.
The mighty introvert
Assuming that Web technologies will allow introverts to compete on a roughly even footing with extroverts, let’s look at the strengths that introverts can bring to a role:
- Strong analytical skills (numeric, written, logical, symbolic, pattern recognition)
- Imaginative and creative (one name: Albert Einstein)
- Self-awareness (we are often horribly conscious of our own faults, but we are good at spotting flaws in other people)
- Strength of conviction: we won’t succumb easily to peer-pressure – we can be kind and encouraging, but we tend to stand our ground when we don’t agree with something or else, at a minimum, we remain silent when the rest of the crowd says “ditto”
To summarize, many introverts are superb analyzers and critics. We also tend to care less about public opinion and therefore we are more likely to be honest and candid about situations that we observe, particularly when face-to-face contact is minimized.
Web 2.0 and Social Media – the new enablers
New methods to communicate effectively at long distance are being churned out on an ongoing basis. Technology has evolved past E-Mail and message boards to include:
- instant messaging (Microsoft Live, GTalk, AIM, IRC)
- social networking sites (e.g. Facebook and MySpace)
- social bookmarking sites (del.icio.us, StumbleUpon)
- social news sites (Digg, Reddit, Mixx, etc.)
Blogs and forums allow groups of people to read about and debate ideas. All kinds of new and different social communities are spawning across the World Wide Web because new technologies make it easier to collaborate. Cell phones and digital pagers provide increasingly important mobility and flexibility to those of us who travel a lot.
Technology has evolved to the point that meaningful, real-time communication can occur anywhere, anytime over the Web. The importance of face-to-face communication as a medium for real-time information exchange is now reserved for the most intimate, confidential conversations. The introvert can quickly and easily communicate with almost anyone in a safe, comfortable environment. Suddenly things that seemed impossible can now happen when we become active participants on social media websites.
The virtual “you” – as real as necessary
New media can add a touch of humanity and personalization to electronic interaction through user profiles, avatars, and homepages. Careful and consistent use of these tools can us establish ourselves as a dependable and talented contact in the virtual world. A distinctive, yet tasteful avatar is as powerful a branding tool as a world class logo. User profiles can provide important information to curious visitors. Yes, people do look at user profile pages!
Let your words do the talking
Most of all, your words are your strongest asset. If verbal communication stymies you, you have the time and ability to choose your words, shape your message, and tell your stories with deft writing. Social media and blogs provide many ways to build solid contacts, and a credible reputation, through your words. Speak plainly, thoughtfully, and smartly through your writing. Over time, people will start to notice you and judge you not by your interpersonal skills, but on the quality of your ideas.
You can introduce yourself into multiple on-line social circles with ease using Web 2.0 apps. Start with one site, preferably a niche site that matches your existing knowledge. Learn the rules of conduct inside and out. Study successful contributors and research the medium. Carefully, but with spark and enthusiasm, contribute good analysis and new ideas to these networks. Do not overload or “spam” these networks, but steadily contribute. Read the contributions of other users, publicly acknowledge them, and build upon them. You will start to make online contacts who will respect you, encourage you, and promote you if you do the same for them. With patience and hard work, you will insert yourself into this network and become a vital part. Once you master one network, you can work on others. Best of all, you can contribute remotely without the draining need for personal contact.
The introvert’s new playing field
Web 2.0 is turning out to be a blessing for the introvert. This new frontier is not perfect. Buffoons and louts are present on-line and in person, but they can be shut down by software or by ignoring them. The Web allows you to strip out less efficient layers of socialization and communication so you can operate on a more cerebral level.
By skillful use of skills, knowledge, and on-line communication tools, you can handle most of the things that an extroverted marketer can do in person. It’s a liberating paradigm shift for the inwardly focused person and it’s about time. Introverts, our time has come and we can master the new media to our best advantage – without having to “press the flesh”.