[Originally published on Huffington Post]
I remember when Facebook first (noticeably) altered the way that we experienced the newsfeed. To that point, it appeared to be based on actual chronology of our friends’ posts. Suddenly, it changed to relevance. People were outraged. “How can Facebook tell me what’s relevant?” We demanded that Facebook change back to the old way of interacting, but that chapter of our Facebook experience closed forever. Our social media experience today is all about engagement. According to research, if we don’t engage with a post, it’s not worth seeing it in the feed.
Despite what we wanted, Facebook had a different idea. It gave us what we needed, not what we wanted. Facebook was concerned with engagement, and believed that relevance yields engagement. The more relevant a post, the more we engage with it. The more we engage with it, the more relevant it becomes. Facebook also had an ulterior motive: It needed to stay relevant. And by focusing in on what people need, it has maintained its status as the leader in social media – by translating our relevance to its relevance. There are many online “gurus” right now telling you to validate your products and services before you bring them to market.
Many of these so-called experts say you should poll your audience, ask them what they think, and then develop a product (or service) to accommodate the answer. The logic seems valid, but it’s flawed. People vote with their actions, not with their words. Facebook was watching the actual data while you were busy searching for validation. The gurus give you this advice because it’s the easy way out. If your product doesn’t sell, it’s because you didn’t validate it with your audience first. If your audience didn’t validate it, it’s because your product isn’t relevant. Trust me, that’s a vortex you don’t want to get lost in. Rather than ask you what you wanted, Facebook studied your actual habits and the data surrounding those habits. It then determined what you want when you couldn’t even articulate it yourself. Not surprisingly, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and other technology titans do the same thing. Are the products that they roll out each year the ones we have asked for? Obviously not, but what they do roll out are products and services that we race to acquire. How do they know so much about us and our habits? They pay attention.
How are you paying attention to your audience and validating your ideas without sacrificing your position as a leader to your tribe? It’s an important question, because when the crowd sees you asking for too much input, it subconsciously and automatically invalidates your position of authority. After all, why are you be leading if you don’t even know where you’re going? A true leader always knows where they’re going, even when they don’t. That’s what you’re projecting, at least. Here are three ways you can validate your ideas and maintain your leadership status.
Create Conversations, Not Questions
“Email is an outdated method of communication. Agree or disagree? Why?” That’s a conversation starter. Rather than seek a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ you are instigating a debate on the topic. You’ll get so much more mileage out of the post, along with meaningful information for you to readily determine if you should still be sending email to your followers. You can also chime in and move the conversation in different directions, enabling you to focus in on critical decision-making information.
Contrast that with, “Do you find my email newsletter valuable?” Not only does this question invite a dead-end ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, it tells you nothing about why your customers may or may not want your newsletter. More importantly, it invites your customer to question the value you place on your newsletter. If you thought it was valuable, would you really be asking the question?
Start Walking and See If They Follow
I always wanted to put on an event for creatives to show them how to make more money doing what they love. Events, however, involve a lot of risk. There are expenses, no-shows, and many other potential snags. Rather than simply announce an event, I started walking towards one. I started writing articles towards that demographic. I shot out some videos on social media. I jumped into conversations happening in forums and Facebook groups. The validation was there, but no one realized I was looking for it. In fact, all I was doing was contributing. Once I received the validation I needed, I set up my first event. It’s shaping up nicely, and I was able to ensure the audience was built in before I ever took a single risk on the event. You can do the same.
Walking in the direction of your ideas means dropping little bread crumbs and seeing if your customers eat them. If they do, your idea is validated even without you ever asking. If you don’t receive the validation you need, you can pivot quickly because the investment was small. Drop a different bread crumb in a different direction and see what happens.
Be Humble and Don’t Blame Your Customers
One of the quickest ways to invalidate yourself as a leader is by bragging when you’re right and/or blaming your customers when you’re wrong. If you’re leading your customers in the correct direction, just be humble and keep moving forward. You lose focus on the goal when you take the time to pat yourself on the back for being clairvoyant. Likewise, if you miss the mark, you instantly destroy your leadership status when you blame your customers. If you miss it, own the miss and keep moving forward.
Idea validation is a big topic these days. Some entrepreneurs and business owners won’t even risk an step without validation. The methods of validation being taught, however, are wired to undermine your validity as a leader. If you want to ensure your customers will follow you, apply these tips and you’ll see the strength of your vision enhanced.