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Invisible = Impotent

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In other words: Out of sight, out of mind.

Ever wonder why Sally Struthers needs to show us little Ethiopian babies before we’ll give away a bit of dough to them? Easy; it’s because we don’t care– until it’s right in front of us. Would those Ethiopian babies need feeding if their plight was broadcast into every home?

Ever wonder why Big Brother is so powerful? It’s because his message is everywhere. You can’t escape it. Even if you disagree at first, over time it’ll end up convincing you, just because you’re hearing more of it than anything else. Would Big Brother be as frightening if he only had a low-budget 30-second commercial that played on late night television?

The supremely visible are supremely powerful. Because they can make their will known, over time, it becomes the will of the people. Their opinions become the zeitgeist.

The invisible are largely impotent. Because they can’t influence others to their point of view, their will is largely their own. If they are wronged, they need to resort to other means to obtain justice– or anything else they want.

The rule of law keeps the biggest and toughest from overpowering the weakest. If you wipe out police and legal repercussions, you would quickly see a transformation in power structures that would bring the largest and strongest back up to the top– specifically in smaller communities that aren’t dominated by other forms of power (ie, wealth).

As law is to the weak, new media is to the invisible. Now, everyone has the ability to be #1 on Google for a problem they have, or can publicize their own revolution, no matter how small.

But among those who are gaining back visibility are those that are choosing to become extremely visible. Some people have done it just with Twitter. Others use every channel available to them. How you become visible will influence where your power flows.

This is why the medium is the message. People who use tools like foursquare will come to be known locally due to their influence in bringing others to a new venue. Social graphs based on other metadata– or social objects– will do the same in their spheres.

As always, the most important thing is to become visible, to build the channel, before the need. And as always, those with some forms of existing advantage will use it in this new space.

But the creation of new tools allows users a kind of jumping point. Chris, Gary, or whomever may have been huge with their respective platforms but them bringing the audiences onto Twitter allowed them to leap further forward, faster than they would have otherwise, gaining a lead that is now very hard to beat. You can do the same.

Power has always been dependent on visibility. But now is the time when there are more places– you could almost call them markets– to develop visibility and attention. This leaves you a better chance than you would ever have had when the barriers to entry were high.

So get to it.

* Filed by Julien at 1:33 pm under trends


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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13 Responses to “Invisible = Impotent”

  1. Tamsen Says:

    But it doesn’t stop at visibility. You have to offer something people want to see…

  2. Brian Says:

    Hahah Tamsen if only that were always true!

  3. Ellen Rossano Says:

    Interesting and timely, Julien! I really like the idea of “building the channel before the need.” I agree with Tamsen that you have to have something with substance to offer, but this post provides great info to share with people and potential clients who might not understand these new channels.

  4. Christina Says:

    And you also have to stay visible… I would venture to say that Sally Struthers, along with her worthwhile cause, has become part of the background noise.

  5. Ed Says:

    Indeed.
    It is more important than ever, to “exist” visibly
    if you have any goals beyond hermitage.

    The competition for mind share has never been so
    abundant.

    We are truly now a tree a the forest,
    and not one alone in your field.

    Q: How to stand out and not be overlooked?

    A: You will be known by your fruit

    #SameAsItEverWas

    Thank you Julien

  6. Dr.Mani Says:

    Visible, yes. But in the ‘right’ way. To the ‘right’ people. The rest is ‘wasteful’

  7. whitney Says:

    Well, and I think the problem traditional retail has is that they don’t fully comprehend their competition is not the guy down the street only, but everyone on the net as well- and failure to appreciate the broader competitive space can put you at a real disadvantage.

  8. Tamsen Says:

    @ Brian: People will *look* at just about anything, but to keep them looking, well, that takes sustained effort.

    To Ellen’s point, these new channels absolutely provide the opportunity for establishing wide (and / or deep) platforms on which to operate, but it’s key, I think, to remember that there is no one best way. It doesn’t help me at all (or the people I want to help) if I try to build a platform that would best serve someone else.

    There are many different types of visibility, some much more public than others. In essence, visibility is contextual: are you being seen, and being seen as being of value, by the people whose attention you want / need to attract (or by those whom you wish to help or serve)?

  9. Peter Childs Says:

    Obscurity is not the same as being unimportant – and popularity is not an indication of wisdom.

    Single individuals toiling in alone have regularly redefined the world – with the value of their accomplishments being recognized long after their deaths – when the herd finally catch up to them.

    And adoration by the the masses has proven equally wrong – again as the mid point in the last century so clearly demonstrated.

    While there is wisdom in crowds – and value in recognition – there is also value in a quiet life in pursuit of ones vision and beliefs.

  10. Daniel Johnson Jr Says:

    Even purple cows stopped getting noticed if they keep showing up in the same places over time.

  11. Michael Russell - @planetrussell Says:

    “Invisible = Impotent” brought to mind an anecdote a colleague told me about early software-based language translation systems – (i.e., long before Rosetta Stone was a mischievous twinkle in anybody’s eye.) Basically, they didn’t work very well. I think it’s a good metaphor and an object lesson in the right kind of visibility.

    One system (going from English to Turkish, I think) translated “out of sight, out of mind” as… “invisible imbecile.” You don’t want to be one of those.

  12. Larry Says:

    Well, I certainly have to agree with what you say and with all of the commenters as well.

    I have been “getting to it” for about a year in the “toiling alone” mode – “it” being a website that I hope will help the impotent people you refer to by addressing what I think is the main cause of their impotency: the inseparable union of lobbyists and legislatures. And I believe it will have what it takes to keep people looking – and thus effecting real, positive change.

    The trick is to figure out how to use and manage this new-fangled medium you keep referring to – which is why I bought your book and read your blog (although not for very long; I just recently met you at TribeCon in New Orleans).

    Thanks for pumping out interesting food for thought!

  13. Ryan Critchett Says:

    Word.

    I’m with it. Great points. I think there are many ways to really get out there and create visibility.

    I think people can teach other people ways of creating visibility, but I also think there is more room for ingenuity, and better more novel ways of gaining exposure.

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