Has the Word “Humble” Changed From Web 1.0 to Web 2.0?

eBrandMarketingPersonal BrandingPositioningSocial Media

A lot of people confuse personal branding with shameless self-promotion and for good reason. Personal branding involves letting your audience know that you exist, including your achievements, what you stand for and what you can provide to them.  Branding would be ineffective if you just did it for a single day, which is why our marketing plans last for our entire lives.  Companies don’t just hire PR firms for a day or even week.  It’s usually over four to six months or more. It’s like a rock band that only comes out with one album or single; it’s harder for them to become more successful because there is no new content to get people engaged again. 

To be a very successful brand, you have to be an aggressive self-promoter. All major successful brands are constantly promoting themselves for awareness, for repetition and for pushing people to buy their products and/or services.  This happens in companies like Ford or IBM, as well as with personal brands, where self-promotion is looked down upon by some.  Research has shown that a person will likely remember a product or brand after seeing a branded advertisement 3 times. If the three times are in close proximity, there is a very good chance people will remember it.  If you appear everywhere, from the New York Times, to Lifehacker to CNN, within a given period of time, it will have more of an impact then if they appeared in intervals of ten days, for instance.

Today, as self-promoting online becomes habitual and routine, everyone in some form or another is participating in this “negative” activity, almost every day and sometimes without even knowing.  That is why I would like to examine a word that is the antonym of self-promotion: “humble.”  I, for one, could never consider myself humble, although I don’t promote myself in a malicious way.  I think if I were “humble,” I wouldn’t have been even close to as successful as I am today.  In this web 2.0 world, we’re constantly publishing content, from a Facebook status update, to a tweet, to a YouTube video and more.  It was much easier to stay humble in a web 1.0 world, where most of our interactions were through email, on the phone and in person.  When conversations are put online, it becomes harder to remain humble because people are less careful, they want to be known (ego’s) and most of the content produced online is text, so it lacks the ability to analyze if the person is humble or not.

What does it mean to be humble?

Humble: Not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful. Having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience, etc.: In the presence of so many world-famous writers I felt very humble. – Dictionary.com

So the case I want to make is two-fold:

  1. When you’re sharing and publishing content everyday, which is mostly in text form, how can you remain humble?
  2. When you want to differentiate yourself from other people and appease hiring mangers, how can you remain humble?

A lot of decisions are made by information that is found online, both in the hiring sense and when it comes to purchasing products.  If you are very humble and don’t brag about what you’ve done or intend to do, then you miss major career opportunities.  I don’t believe there’s anyway to come off as humble online if you’re building a strong personal brand.

I don’t think the word “humble” is empowering either. If you look at the second part of the definition above, you’ll see that it breeds inferiority and insignificance.  To me, that’s quite negative, especially when I try teach people how to live a fulfilling life and become the #1 person in their niche!

To be completely humble in this web 2.0 environment means to be hidden, and walked over by your competitors, who aren’t humble and will steal the opportunities that you deserve.  I’m not saying to be mean or out-of-character, but I am saying to self-promote, in a way that strategically positions you as the best person to do business with.

Self-promotion is here to stay, but it will only get you so far

I always that you have to strike balance between promoting yourself and promoting others. It’s easy easy and free to promote other people’s work, whether it’s a simple retweet, a link in a blog post, an interview, etc.  If all you do is self-promote, you will be blocked, unfriended and ignored.  You only make money when you can serve (provide value) to others and you can’t network if all you do is talk about yourself.  Keep this all in mind because we can’t ignore this simple fact.

Is this a Gen-Y thing?

Now you’re thinking “it must be a Gen-Y thing.” You may be right.  A recent study out of SDSU confirms that 57% of young people believe their generation  uses social networking sites for self-promotion, narcissism and attention seeking.  As much as this may prove your current hypothesis, a survey of other generations wasn’t taken.  As more and more Gen-X’ers (Twitter’s main user base) and baby boomers use social media to connect, I think you’ll see this is more of a widespread “epidemic” rather than just a concentration of a specific demographic.  It’s pretty obvious that entire families are on Facebook now and that will be more commonplace after the next few years.

What do you think?

Do you consider yourself humble?  Has online branding impacted how you come across?