When we break these rules, we are likely to suffer consequences. Run the red light? You could get a ticket, or injure someone in an accident. Soak your cereal in the expired milk? You could have a sour breakfast, or wind up very ill. Didn’t pay your taxes on time? You could face harsh fines, or prison.
Outside of the “real world” exists the Internet world. Like the real world, it is ever-growing and ever-changing. However, unlike the real world, the Internet comes with few rules or instructions.
In the past, when companies wanted to initiate a marketing campaign, they would have to set aside large sums of money. They would focus their efforts, ensure that their message was consistent and carefully consider what vehicles to run their advertisement. They might have chosen billboards, television commercials and radio spots. Those types of advertisements used to (and still do) cost large sums of cash.
For the last ten years or so, companies have been expanding their reach into this space we call “social media.” The thing that makes social media unique to real world advertising is that it doesn’t come with quite as many rules. In the real world, an employee couldn’t buy a billboard ad to show how much he loved (or hated) working at his job. In the real world, advertisements are carefully thought out and planned, not just thrown together on a whim. In the real world, small businesses don’t always carry the funds necessary to go head to head against the big boys.
The Internet? Different story. Anyone can create a message and evangelize it. Anyone can profess to be an expert at something. Anyone can make a claim, and not have to worry about backing it up. There is no regulatory committee focused on checking social media marketing companies to see if their advertised claims are 100% accurate.
On the Internet, you don’t need permission.
Without permission, you can do some pretty crazy things. You can build a commercial empire or crumble an existing one in a short mindless burst of communication that may cost nothing to broadcast, but could cost the company its future if it sends the wrong message.
With an Internet connection, you have your own printing press, television studio and radio station. You have the opportunity to create anything you want and you don’t need permission.
When you go to create your blog, or your podcast or your YouTube channel, use your imagination. Take every post or broadcast as an opportunity to hone your craft. Get better at it every week. Share what you learn with your followers and colleagues.
Creating a digital brand isn’t going to replace your income overnight. It isn’t going to be an instant replacement for your job. It might bring you fulfillment in that you are doing something that you are passionate about, but it won’t pay your mortgage within the first few weeks.
When you create something online, be mindful of the consequences.
Because your idea isn’t likely to cover your living costs in the immediate future, you need to consider the impact that it might have on whatever does pay your bills. Writing a blog about food and wine when you work for a winery? Make sure that you’re not violating any policies regarding social media or product endorsements.
Going to do a podcast about workplace happiness? Make sure your boss doesn’t think you’re insinuating dissatisfaction with your current gig.
We all have the right to express ourselves, but we also have to be careful how it could impact our lives. Remember, the Internet is permanent, so be mindful of what you share.
You don’t need permission, but you do need discretion.
No one needs to give you permission to play the guitar, or to paint a picture on the weekend. However, if what you decide to create online interferes with your vocation, you could find yourself wishing you had been more careful.
Keep the 80/20 creative passion rule, spend 80% of your energy doing what pays the bills and 20% doing what you love. You don’t need permission to be passionate or to become an expert, but you do need to be careful.
When can you call yourself an expert?
Like anything, if you are seeking mastery, you will never consider yourself the best. Hopefully you are always trying to get better and comparing yourself to people better than you. Although you won’t achieve mastery overnight, you should be honest about who you compare yourself to. If you only know a few chords, then you’re probably just a beginner, but if you can play classical guitar from sheet music without too much trouble, you might be advanced.
You can call yourself an expert when your peers consider you an expert. Until then, you’re just learning, but we all are, so that’s okay.
It all comes down to permission. You don’t need permission from anyone to call you an expert, but if you call yourself one and you’re not, your reputation is at stake.
The beauty of all of this is that we are free to express ourselves however we want, to attempt mastery on whatever drives us and to reap the benefits once we have become really good. The best part is that through all of this, we never need permission.
Photograph: Daria Musk performing at The Living Room in New York City, NY, 2012 by Peter McDermott