The Myth Of The A-Lister: A Musing On Celebrity Status And Succeeding As A Business Blogger

The Myth Of The A-Lister: A Musing On Celebrity Status And Succeeding As A Business Blogger

Connect with influencers.

How many times have you heard that as you strive to promote, grow and monetize your blog?

Just for fun I did a Google search, quotes included.

“Reach out to influencers”: 52,200 page results

“Connect with influencers”: 97,600 page results

“How to connect with influencers”: 134,000 glorious page results

That’s a lot of weekend reading!

We live in a celebrity culture and that extends to every niche and industry well beyond Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We’ve got celebrity authors (even if their books are written as if by a thirteen year old with a fantasy – I’m talking to you, Shades of Gray). We’ve got celebrity motivators (think Tony Robbins). We’ve got celebrity fails (William Hung), celebrity preachers (Pat Robertson) and yes, we’ve got celebrity bloggers – aka “influencers” aka “A-Listers”.

You know who they are. And since this isn’t a naming-names post, I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks.

So then, you might wonder, what is this about, exactly?

Well, first it’s a reflection on the celebrity status that we’ve imparted upon a select few bloggers. Second, it’s a reality check for those of us who have read or bookmarked any one of those 283,800 articles about influencers and who hang our hats on the possibility of being noticed by one of them one day. And finally, it’s a bit of a call-to-arms for the rest of us – the B-Z List bloggers – to refocus our priorities.

Prologue: In The Beginning, There Was Chaos…

And then the blog emerged; to teach, amuse, inform, opine and aggregate. Do you remember a world before blogs? It was a frightening and empty space indeed.

Not only weren’t there any blogs but there weren’t any influencers, either. And out of the chaos emerged the A-Lister, somehow, miraculously, through wit, wisdom and perseverance.

If you like a bit of history with your coffee, there’s a good argument to be made that the first blog began in 1997. That means we’ve only coexisted with blogs for a mere 15 years.

And if you pay attention to any of the A-Listers – I mean really pay attention, not just to their mindbogglingly ineffective advice to “create epic content” – you’ll see a common thread in their histories… many of them struggled for years before they achieved their fame and success. Six, seven, ten years… sometimes before earning a single dollar.

Oh yeah, there are some bloggers out there who will put on a free 45-minute webinar so they can spend 41 of those minutes telling you how awesome they are, how they unlocked the key to getting 5,000 subscribers a day and how, if you’ll just listen to them for the remaining 4 minutes then pay them large sums of money, they’ll tell you exactly, precisely, in painstaking detail how to be just. like. them.

As far as I’m concerned, those aren’t really bloggers. Those are salespeople with a blog.

It’s the other kind of celebrity bloggers I’m more interested in because they made it – on their own, without a single influencer in sight – and they became the ones we now want to be.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is… if they did it, so can you. They didn’t need influencers to do it. And you don’t need them in order to do it. Did you hear me, A-Listers? We kind of don’t need you.

::::waits for hellfire to rain down::::

………

……………

……………………

Nothing?

So now that we’re all still alive to tell the tale, I want you to repeat that to yourself: I do not need influencers to succeed.

A bit scary to think out loud, isn’t it? A little blasphemous, maybe? Daring the influential to smite us, perhaps? Damning our blogs to eternal mediocrity?

Alas, we are the only ones who can do that because, recognized by influencers or not, our content is still our content. And if it’s great, it’s great on its own. And if it’s not, then no supernatural A-List powers will save us.

So the next time you’re frantically searching for guest post opportunities on top-flight blogs and endlessly courting anyone with a Klout score over 70, I want you to remember that. And instead of wasting your time looking for your next big break, I want you to go write your next big post.

The Myth Of The A-List Influencer (Debunked)

The first thing we need to do if we want to be one of those people is stop chasing them and start thinking like them. And do you know how they think?

Well, I hope you’re not waiting for me to tell you, because damned if I know. What, did you think I was going to pretend to know what goes on in the mind of a 6-figure-plus blogger? I did tell you this was partly a reality check, right?

I can tell you with some confidence what they’re not thinking though. And that’s, “Boy, I wish one of those other billion bloggers would reach out to me so I can promote them.”

I can also tell you with some confidence that they’re probably thinking many of the same things you are. Where’s the coffee, when’s lunch, and how long until I can post that photo of my kid to Facebook? A-Listers are people (gasp!) and when they’re not being A-Listers they’re just being people. They’re no better or worse than we are. They just happen to be a whole lot more recognized for what they’ve accomplished.

The only difference between them and you is they’re not obsessing about you on a regular basis. And so you should stop obsessing about them.

And now that you’ve got all that extra space in your brain, I want you to consider the rest of what I’m about to say.

A-Listers Are Not Interested In You

Do you know how on any given day your phone will ring, your email inbox will get backed up, the snail mail starts piling up on your desk and it seems like everyone from your cat to your most aggravating client wants your attention?

Now imagine about a billion bloggers soliciting you for guest posts and sending you tweets and commenting on your Google+ posts and waiting for your response.

Just the way Brad (or Angelina) is never going to walk into your local Starbucks and notice you, the cute one with the magical eyes and heart of gold pouring lattes to pay the rent… the A-List bloggers aren’t going to notice you either.

By the time they do, you’ve done something worth noticing and you don’t need them any more anyway.

I’m not saying you should give up looking for guest post opportunities or building your relationships. I’m actually telling you that’s exactly what you should be doing – just be sure you’re not doing it with starstruck blinders on.

A-Listers Don’t Need Your Content

Put this in the “stuff we want to be true” column. You know, when someone tells you why it’s a great idea to “reach out to influencers” and how they’ll totally appreciate you for it because hey, they’re bloggers too, and they need content!

No.

They don’t.

Even if nobody ever guest posted for them again, I have a pretty good feeling that they’d manage just fine. They post our content out of generosity. Maybe they even want to be helpful toward the rest of us and give us our 15-minutes. Who knows. But they certainly don’t need our content.

And if they did need content, they’ve got an entire contact list of other A-Listers and a whole pool of hangers-on to ask.  They may appreciate your content. They may welcome it. They may even thank you for it as it disappears into the archive of a thousand other hopeful guest bloggers. But they don’t need it.

It’s A Lot Easier To Give Advice When You No Longer Have To Live By It

When you’re learning something new – whether it’s riding a bike or coding a website – you probably struggle a bit, get some stuff wrong, fall down a lot. It can be frustrating, exhausting and discouraging.

But when we succeed, when we have that lightbulb moment and everything suddenly makes sense, we can’t believe how hard it seemed. In hindsight, it’s all quite simple. You just get on the bike, stick your foot on the pedal and go. Maybe we try to teach someone else how to do it.

“It’s easy!” We tell them. “You just do it like this…”

But unless you’re living in the trenches it’s hard to tell someone else how to do it. You lose a certain sense of perspective. The falling down part fades and the simplicity of doing a newly-learned task takes precedence.

That’s why advice like “write epic content” is so utterly useless and yet so frequently repeated. It’s the equivalent of “just get on the bike.”

Just make a viral video.

Just write an epic post.

Simple, right?

The real influencers and A-Listers certainly have wisdom to share. We can learn from them, but just remember that they’re speaking to you from a completely different place somewhere up high and by the time the echo reaches you it’s a bit distorted and muddled.

The Bubble’s Gonna Get You

You know how they say that after a while you start to look like your pet?

After a while, A-Listers all start to sound the same. The advice, the stories, the news, the products… been there, done that, heard that, bought that.

Whenever there’s a group of people there’s always the danger of convergent thinking. Instead of everyone becoming wiser, challenging the status quo and otherwise adding their own perspectives to the conversation, they start to think more and more alike. There are more heads nodding. More of the same ideas bouncing around and around to general agreement.

Unless you just want to be a celebrity clone then you need to stop listening to what you want to hear and start hearing something else. Anything else.

Challenge your thinking.

Do something scary… like saying that you don’t need A-Listers, thank you very much.

Get your head out of the celebrity cloud and think on your own. Stop blowing bubbles. Be the pin instead.

When The Big Fish Gets Away, Little Fish Make Fantastic Dinner

We seek out the influencers because we want to ride in the wake of their success. We hope their stardust will brush off on us and we’ll benefit from the boost in popularity.

This is such high-school thinking.

If you grew up like me, someone along the way told you to hang in because life after high school was different. The cliques would be gone, the geeks would rule the world and everyone would be much more accepting and friendly.

Well, sort of. At least the cheerleaders don’t throw mashed potatoes at my head anymore but the world is still full of cliques and exclusion.

There are “the influencers” and then there’s “the rest of us”, just trying to get a piece of that.

Yet in our narrowly focused quest to nab the big fish, we tend to miss the most obvious fact of all: compared to “them” there are a whole lot more of “us”. There are people all around us. By the hundreds and hundreds of thousands. People who, if asked, would be far more willing to engage with us, help us, share with us and promote us than any A-Lister.

These are the people who comment on our blogs. Who tweet our posts. Who are reading this right now. These people are the power. They’re right in front of you. They’re smart. They maybe even do need your content. And they’re willing.

Ask one of them. Ask me. Then ask an A-Lister. See what happens.

So next time you’ve got your fishing line out and you’re baking in the sun wondering whether you’ll ever get a bite, I want you to remember this and repeat after me: I don’t need A-Listers.

Epilogue: The Myth Of The A-Lister (Reprised)

In spite of my brilliance, alas, I am not an A-Lister. Maybe one day I will be, and I’ll get to tell everyone else how to succeed by writing epic content, too.

I would like to be an A-Lister. It comes with recognition and a certain amount of confidence that your products will be purchased and your blogs read and shared ad nauseum.

When that happens I’ll live comfortably in my bubble and hand pick the lucky few whose blogs I choose to promote while giving my 41 minutes of meaningless webinars.

Ok, I’m kidding… except about wanting to be an A-Lister.

But I’ll tell you how I won’t get there. I won’t get there by tailgating on someone else’s success. I won’t get there by concerning myself with what the “important” people are doing. I won’t do it by obsessively chasing guest posts on “the right” blogs and retweeting the influential.

I won’t do it by being that person… the one who nags and hangs on and bows at the altar of influence.

Because the thing is, I think I have something to say. And I think I say it pretty well. I care about what I do and I care about the people I help. I care about relationships, community and being part of the success of the small fish.

And I don’t know, but… yes… I see you there in the same fishing boat with me.

So as long as we have each other, say it with me: We don’t need A-Listers.

We are the influencers. We are the people we need.

Now you tell me: has this been the most ridiculous rant you’ve ever heard? Or are you feeling empowered to be great on your own? What are your thoughts on the bloggerati? Do you see yourself as just as valuable?

This post is part of the October 2012 Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners. (It’s the most fun you’ll have all month!) Check out the rest of the fabulous carney work here.

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • Carol, you are a marvelous writer!

    I love your tongue-in-cheek mannerisms and your totally refreshing sense of humor.

    Quite honestly, though, this isn’t exactly a “funny” topic, is it?

    No question about it, this is my favorite line:
    “As far as I’m concerned, those aren’t really bloggers. Those are salespeople with a blog.” Amen to that!

    I’m growing REALLY tired of everyone telling me to buddy up with the alleged “Influencers”. No matter their perceived celebrity, they still manage to get the flu and flat tires just like the rest of us. And I hate to say it but some of the high and mighty wouldn’t qualify for my friendship list. We have nothing at all in common and let’s just say I don’t subscribe to their “ways” of doing business. You get the picture, I’m sure.

    Thoroughly enjoyable post!
    Oh, by the way, I’m already chanting …
    “I don’t need A-Listers.” 🙂

    • Thanks Melanie, I’m glad you enjoyed this. It’s true, we get bombarded by advice to find influencers and how to connect with them and how to approach them etc. It feels disingenuous to me and I don’t think I could do it even if I wanted to. I just approach people as people, and to your point, they have to be people who make MY list. People I would want to befriend, who share my business values, etc. I’m not a celebrity stalker. My husband likes to make fun of me because we were out at a restaurant one night and Wolfgang Puck showed up at our table (it was his restaurant) and asked how everything was and I said basically “good, thanks” and kept eating 🙂 Same in the blogosphere. I just want to know if you’re good people. Don’t much care about your credentials.

  • This is the blog post I wish I’d written. “We are the influencers. We are the people we need.” Hellz yes, Carol Lynn!

    And if you’re not an A-lister by this time next year, then something’s wonky with the time-space continuum.

    • Whoohoo, high praise indeed, Tea. As far as I’m concerned, I found all my good people right here in this carnival!

  • Wow, great post, Carol Lynn. Caring about the small fish is what it’s all about – count me in on the chant. 😉

    • Let’s be loud about it, Sharon! We have more power than we think, if only we’d use it for ourselves and each other instead of expending all that energy getting on the influencer party guest list.

  • clarestweets

    Gold in every word here. A-listers and celebrities of all stripes do live in a bubble and as such become less relevant to the rest of us. Thanks Carol!

    • Thanks Clare, I generally avoid blanket statements but I think in this case it’s safe to say that most people who have that top-level status do get sucked into a bubble of people adoring them and repeating what they say and hanging on their every word. It just contributes to a loss of perspective. Good thing we’re around to keep things in balance 🙂

  • So much to love here, but what resonated deeply was the admission,”I’m kidding…except about wanting to be an A-Lister.” and the commitment to doing it your way.

    The rebel in me is doing the happy dance and singing Sinatra’s “My way.” Thanks for that!

    • Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be rich and famous 🙂 But I love being part of the “ordinary”, too, and just connecting and helping and learning and growing. Yeah, my way. Maybe that’s the hard way but there it is!

      • It’s not the rich and famous part I have trouble with! It’s the “listen to me, I have the solution for YOUR life” that I have issues with 😉

        • No doubt that’s very high-handed, not to mention ridiculous. I recall a recent webinar that pretty much said exactly that, with very specific “here is exactly what you have to do” advice that was worse, I think, than vague advice because there is no “formula” for getting this stuff right. If there was, wouldn’t we all just be clones doing it?

  • THIS was an epic post. 😉 Sorry, I had to. It’s just such a trivial thing to say now. LOVE this post! I always wondered why not learn from people still in the trenches, along side you, someone you could relate to MORE than someone whose already ‘made it’?? It makes more sense to me anyway.. That we should learn from our peers, not the people we pine over. So maybe the ‘small fish’ should all give each other a bigger hand!

    • Thanks Janet, and I’ll forgive the epic comment and just smile 🙂 I think successful people have a lot to teach us and sure, we should listen. But that’s not the only thing we should be listening to and thinking about. It’s “the rest of us” who are living and learning and doing and trying who have something to teach as well, and sometimes even more so. I’m totally with you – any helping hand I can give, I’m all for it!

  • This is an AWESOME post, Carol. I can’t honestly think of anything else to add – you covered it all, including how useful (and inspiring, and helpful) it can be to connect with people who are on your same level, instead of always aiming higher. If nothing else, the next crop of “A-listers” is going to come from somewhere, and if you’re constantly making friends & being genuinely helpful to folks on your level, instead of sucking up to people “above” your level, they’ll remember that when they need a guest post or a JV partner or anything else further on down the line.

    • You got it, Michelle! The next crop of A-Listers is going to be US. Everything in its time, and we’ll get there by lifting each other up.

  • Keith McMean

    The best blog post I have read…period!! Just wish everyone would get off the ‘obsession train’ and do their own thing.
    Thanks for making things a little clearer…

    • Thanks, Keith, glad you enjoyed! Love that line: “the obsession train”. how true. Stop obsessing and just go out and do something. And make it YOUR thing!

  • Carol – nicely done. Is “the bubble” a 30 Rock reference?

    “Unless you’re living in the trenches…you lose a certain sense of perspective. The falling down part fades and the simplicity of doing a newly-learned task takes precedence.”

    Yup. I’ve taught very complex technical topics to non-technically inclined folks for a few years now – and, I hate to say this, the best way to break it down for them is to treat them like you’re teaching an alzheimer’s patient.

    You have to break down even the most simple components into something that makes sense and is relatable. The most common example is, “how do you eat a banana?” Most folks start with, “Peel it”.

    But if you have no context for the word Peel, it makes no sense. Great teachers have great empathy; it’s hard to have the empathy required when you live in the bubble.

    A few A-Listers are on the cusp; they’ve figured it out and still have their empathy, but it’s something they have to personally keep a lock on to stay grounded.

    Great post!

    • Sadly I have never seen 30 Rock – I know, it’s practically sacrilege. I know what you mean about teaching. I usually think of it like teaching 5-year olds but it’s the same idea! You have to start from ground zero, basically, and really be able to put yourself into the place of someone who does not have any of your context or experience. It’s like you have to learn it with them at the same time you’re teaching them. Not any easy thing to do, for sure. he ones who can will succeed and those are the ones we’ll remember!

  • Hi Carol Lynn,

    WOW you hit them between the eyes with this one….

    I have to totally agree that we should be our own influencers, the blogs we visit the “PEOPLE” we mix with and the relationships we build along the way.

    You referred to them as Big fish and us as small fish and I have to agree with the comparison. We see it online and off, all the little clicks that will only be seen with similar “status” people.

    And yes it does do your head in when you see people kissing up for the chance of a golden hour in the company of ——-

    I used to see it a lot when i started online, as well as in my early Basketball days and I’d have none of it then and I’ll have none of it now.

    I’ll do my thing and hang around with those that show us they we’re all worthy of each others company.

    And together we can scratch each others backs, learn, earn and have fun while doing it.

    Barry

    • I’m totally with on on everything you said! To me it’s not about who’s cool and who’s not, it’s just about people, and those that you can connect with. Seriously, I was always pretty much the nerd kid but that was perfectly fine since I had the rest of the nerd kids on my side. You’ve got to find a place you fit and it has to be authentic, not just kissing up to get somewhere you **think** you want to be.

  • Nicole Fende

    First of all I love how you’ve broken it down. Thumbs up to everything and my additional two cents. (More myth debunking) Some A-Listers just got lucky. They were at the right place at the right time.

    And my favorite two sentences of the entire post “We are the influencers. We are the people we need.” Rock on!

    • It’s true, some people do just get lucky but I tried to avoid saying that and sounding all sour grapes 🙂 But hey, sometimes we all fall on some plain old good fortune and you can’t duplicate or teach that!

  • Get DOWN with your bad self, Carol Lynn. There’s so much heart and awesomeness here, I don’t even know where to begin. But I will call out that statement about having something to say and caring about what you do and the people you do it for/with. That, to me, is the bottom line – it’s what’s missing in many of those slick IM A-listers and their ubiquitous, tired content, and what’s essential to this whole medium.

    • Agree! I don’t mind the sales pitches, I mean if you’re going to give me a legit free webinar then you’re going to pitch something and that’s ok. But I don’t like when things get all sales-y and the people factor gets removed and it’s all about the right copywriting, the right hook, the right call to action. It’s very clinical and that’s not my cuppa tea.

  • “It’s a lot easier to give advice when you no longer have to live by it.”

    Ha! Truth. I just want to tell you that reading this was pure entertainment.

    You’re right in saying that A-listers don’t really need anyone else. But if you play into that, and give them what THEY want (i.e. stroke their egos), you can actually use them to your advantage.

    • Yes, true. Everyone likes a little ego-stroking and you can capitalize on that psychology. But I’m not good at that kind of thing. I’m not all diplomatic and game-playing and I like things to be real, as difficult as that may be! I’ll have to take the long road around the big egos 🙂

  • SandyMcD

    Beautifully encapsulated Carol Lynn. You have given us all permission to just get on with it. Just enjoy doing what we do well. Forget the influencers and all they promise. We truly don’t need them.

    I tell those I work with, you don’t need thousands to have a clan. One person who loves what you do and advocates for you is a community of one. They are also an unpaid sales person. More and you have a sales force. One that you actually look after, care for and serve. Together, you can do some great stuff and build an abundant business.

    • Totally agree! Success is not about getting on the “important” people’s radar. It’s about treating EVERYONE as important – everyone you connect with, and appreciating those who stand by you.

  • Hi Carol,

    I love, love this post. Well, let me tell you something; the content that you write on this blog is actually superior than the content that I have read on A-lister blogs. I know you don’t have to worry about that one!

    You are so right, those people don’t need us and it can be more discouraging than anything to try to write our best content and see our blog posts to be rejected, especially when you see that they have posts in there no better than yours.

    I agree with you, and I don’t lose my time anymore trying to guest post for them. As you mentioned I propose guest posts or I’m offered to guest post with people who are not A-listers and who appreciate my writing, and that’s what counts. It’s still a guest post and it’s appreciated, at least.

    In any case, at the end of the day, I do realize that guest blogging doesn’t bring as much traffic as one would like to think. And, yes, I changed my mind about this. I was one to defend this, saying you had to guest post to gain traffic, but really, that doesn’t pay its price in gold. At least not for me. So, now when I guest post it’s more for the extra exposure and experience than it is for traffic.

    Thanks for this great post, Carol!

    • I often have that debate with myself, Sylviane… to guest post or not to guest post? So far I haven’t really bothered to do it, mostly because I’m busy enough writing here! I’ve heard mixed opinions. Some people have some good luck with it, others don’t. Sometimes people don’t even notice who the author is at all. I’ve seen that happen here, where someone will comment and address the author and get the person totally wrong. But I also don’t lose sleep over it. Too much to do! And i have a perfectly good group of friends and bloggers who do care – like you and my blogging groups, so that makes me happy!

  • Adrienne

    Girl, I’m fixing to tell on myself here. I didn’t even know any influencers when I started blogging. I couldn’t have followed them and tried to be them if I wanted to. Now isn’t that a hoot.

    But you’re right, we don’t need to worry about being like them. Instead we need to find our own voice in this big old blogoshere. I know, people say that all the time and then most of us walk away even more confused but it’s the truth.

    My blog didn’t see the light of day for the first year and a half. Like some of these other “famous bloggers” they failed over and over again time after time so sure, they can talk about being in the trenches. But in the end we all have to find our own unique voice and our own wonderful audience and those are the people who are going to appreciate us for us.

    I love this post Carol and you my wonderful blogging friend are an a-lister in my book. Your posts always rock. That’s the whole truth too.

    Thanks so much Carol.

    ~Adrienne

    • Thanks Adrienne, you’re exactly the kind of people I want on my side! Sucking up to ‘the big people’ is not my style. I like to do exactly what you said and find the people who I can relate to and then we can appreciate each other. Everyone fails and sometimes it takes a while before we get our feet under us, but so what? There is no rule (in spite of what some people might try to sell us) that we need to get rich quick. Enjoy the journey and get there your own way. Thank you for your kind words 🙂

  • Carol I love this post and I see most others here before me do too.
    You are an awesome writer and I love your sense of humor.
    I never really followed any celebrity bloggers. I was lucky enough to meet someone who was running a course on putting your blog together and she told us day one to be ourselves. Find our voice. Now that took me a while!

    I have worked with some famous people (speaker/authors) and they do have a certain ego but bottom line they are just people.

    i have enjoyed reading this Carol and loved some of the comments.

    Sue

    • “Finding your voice” is the best and probably the hardest thing to do! There are soooo many bloggers and the ones who get noticed are the ones who have something interesting to say and who say it well. They tell stories, they relate to us, they entertain us. It doesn’t matter who we latch onto if our content can’t stand on its own. And you’re right – everyone is “just people”. We can get a lot further when we treat them as such.

  • Good post Carol! When I started, I didn’t know any myself and I was clueless so it was all new to me. This post really puts it out there because there are some bloggers and sit on every word another blogger says. I believe the message and value shared helps many people, but when people start to act like groupies is where I draw the line. Like celebrities, I have always lived by this,”when they start paying my bills each month, then I will give a dam”.

    Be yourself and keep it moving. Life was fine before you knew who they were and life will be fine after.

    • You’re right, Sonia, life will go on 🙂 It’s true that some people will hang on every word someone else says. I think they only hurt themselves because they could be spending that energy learning and doing a whole lot more.