By Suzanne M. Wood
It’s Groundhog Day in the U.S., in case anyone forgot. I say this because it’s also Superbowl Sunday, our new national holiday, which with all its hype and celebration has surely overshadowed the annual rite of getting an extended weather forecast from a rodent.
As I write this, our local groundhog prognosticator, Sir Walter Wally, is about 10 minutes away from being held aloft in front of the N.C. Museum of Natural Science. Up in Pennsylvania, Punxatawney Phil, the country’s most famous groundhog, has already weighed in. His verdict? We’re stuck with six more weeks of winter.
Phil, Wally and their counterparts across the country are famously grouchy and prone to violence. They’re not even that accurate as meteorologists. Phil has been right 31 percent of the time, while Wally’s record is a slightly better 50 percent. The only thing they really have going for them is their chubby good looks.
Still, these overgrown squirrels have the kind of brand recognition and media clout that most companies, celebrities and politicians would gladly endure a root canal for. Their reputation as experts is so assured that one of them could infect the mayor of his city with rabies and still the public would tune in every Feb. 2 to see whether spring was coming early or not.
So it is with many so-called experts in business, medicine, academia, public service, politics and so on. Within any given field, it seems the same people get followed, quoted, aired, retweeted, contracted and more, while other equally, often more qualified folks or companies struggle to get traction. Even when the Anointed Ones have their resumes or backgrounds revealed as flimsy or false—as is often the case—their names/brands still pull in fans, readers or customers.
Seeing mediocrity lauded is enough to make really good professionals and exceptional businesses who are seldom given expert status bitter and envious. Some become cynical about marketing and want to throw in the towel, while others react desperately, shooting out press releases that don’t get read, crafting newsletters that don’t get opened or ordering up cold calling or direct mail campaigns that don’t get responses.
Blame our lesser brains for responding to what rhetoricians call “the bandwagon effect.” It’s been going on since high school. Remember how much everyone wanted to be a member of the In crowd, even if they didn’t have much going for them besides brand recognition?
The bandwagon effect influences who’s considered hot or not, as I’ve learned from skulking about public social media sites operating in my elder daughter’s sphere. The same 10 or so girls from each grade or school are named as the “dimes,” when I know for a fact there are way more than 10 pretty girls who would make such a list. And while it’s uncharitable of me to say this, some named girls aren’t that special. But only girls who have first been identified by a popular male upperclassman, or maybe girls who are in the most popular crowd, are ever mentioned. Are guys (and even girls) that afraid to go out on a limb by acknowledging the attractiveness of someone who hasn’t already been vetted?
Sometimes I’m in the business of helping firms or individuals gain recognition as experts. Other times, when I’m writing magazine articles, I seek out experts to quote or reference. So I know how to get attention for my clients as well as how to secure the best resources for my readers. As for the latter, do I always do the best job though? I’m not sure. When I’m looking for sources, I’m in a hurry, as are, I expect most other journalists. So are consumers when choosing a lawyer, dentist or plumber, or booking agents looking to fill a guest spot on a TV or radio show. We tend to choose the path of least resistance, which means:
Contacting the expert whose name appears most frequently in the news releases that cross our desks.
Choosing the product, restaurant or book that has the highest number of stars, or the best star-to-total-reviews ratio.
Booking the celebrity doctor, chef, terrorism expert, attorney, veterinarian, etc., whose book has generated the most buzz.
Engaging the plumber, dentist or contractor our neighbor recommended or the one with the most glowing online reviews and the fewest number of complaints/sanctions.
Using the same people over and over again (I know I’m guilty of this—sometimes I’ll use the same source for multiple articles simply because we already have a connection.)
Approaching our selections this way may or may not result in getting the best person for the job, experience, or quote. Almost certainly, though, great people/firms will be overlooked because they never hit our radar.
So if you’re worthy but don’t get the attention (recognition, business, contracts, etc.) you feel your better-noticed competitors do, here are some things to consider:
You have to be in it to win it. I’m talking about the Web and social media. And that means a dynamic, not static, presence, with frequent (weekly at least) updates to your blog, website, Twitter or LinkedIn account, or Facebook and Pinterest page.
Consider adding videos of you or your head honcho(s) to your site and/or create a YouTube channel to harness the exploding popularity of video as content.
Think podcasting. It’s a great way to establish thought leadership and if you can attract interesting guests and/or piggyback on burning issues, you have a decent chance of gaining subscribers and momentum.