June 25, 2012 by Nabanita Chaudhuri
Nabanita Choudhury, MSc in Management Consulting Cohort 2011-2012
In the age of user generated content when all of us seem to have our personal printing presses in the form of blogs and social media websites, what if you were to find yourself unable to author anything new at all? I suppose this is a deeply disquieting thought for someone who finds himself watching from the side-lines as the internet churns out whole generations of highly articulate authors who are building and shaping opinions across cultures and geographies.
Those of us who aspire to create our personal brand online are often advised to start off by posting comments on other writers’ blogs and discussion threads and then graduate into authoring our own articles and pages. This is undeniably excellent advice, especially when you are not sure of the subjects that you’d like to write about or when you are yet to find your “voice”. But what if you still find it difficult to take the next step, or for whatever reasons, you never succeed in creating your own full-fledged articles, something that is believed to be important when it comes to creating a body of online work? Does it mean you are destined to be never found on a google search (beyond the now mandatory LinkedIn page) by anyone interested in you, and critically, by recruiters and prospective employers? And if I could be a bit more dramatic, does it mean you are going to be one of those who would never leave their footprints, albeit digital, on the “sands of time”?
The answer is no. While I am sure there are millions of people out there who are quite content to remain “google-obscure” so long as it does not come in their way of finding jobs, I would like to believe that it makes sense to have a web-presence; if for nothing else, to create and sustain a growing network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. We value our networks for various reasons – from the very mundane like finding a job to the more evolved human need for recognition. Therefore, being able to stay in touch by sharing what one is thinking and thereby encouraging a debate and discourse is undoubtedly a valuable capability. And if doing so enables us to acquire an interesting “web-profile”, there is every reason to make the effort.
Many would agree that our online experiences closely approximate our offline ones. In real life if you are someone who listens carefully and reacts intelligently in a discussion and enriches it by introducing new, interesting angles, why not do just that even when you are online? You could be the guy who makes every web-discourse come alive by contributing hitherto unexplored issues and facts. If you can play that role consistently, in a constructive and respectful manner, chances are that you will find yourself among that rare, much sought-after group of “opinion shapers”. People will look out for your comments and before long you will have built up an enviable reputation as someone whose comments count. If you keep this up for a sufficiently large number of discussion groups and blogs you are bound to grow your network as well. There is a practical side to it too: it takes more time to write something from scratch. But as an intelligent reader and “reviewer” you can be far more prolific. You can also cover a range of subjects that you are interested in. Finally, if this is a route that you’d like to take, maybe you should also consider using your full name (to facilitate searches)!
The point is there may be as much merit in being a constructive reviewer as there is in being an author. And I dare say that you can go on being just that so long as your contributions are meaningful and of high quality. I would go as far as to say that in an age when everyone is encouraged to publish as much as they can and as fast as they can, there is a need for people who can maintain a distance, see the gaps in the arguments and the conversations and draw attention to them. At the same time, people who write need people who read and react. Therefore, I would like to believe that by playing the role of the reviewer you are creating valuable IOUs. When you start to write, they will return the favour!
So, my suggestion to anyone who thinks: “But I don’t have an article in me…!” would be this: don’t be pressured into authoring your own pages. Sit back and observe the game, look for the holes in the logic, help unearth the real issues, look for opportunities to enrich a debate with facts and figures, and if nothing else, play the devil’s advocate. Your contribution will not go unnoticed.