by Miriam Ellis

I just finished reading, for the second time, a remarkable book by New Yorker writer, Ian Frazier entitled On The Rez. This book was published awhile back, and has nothing whatever to do with SEO or SEM. It’s an unsentimental and insightful account of the author’s time spent on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota. The tale is memorable for many reasons, but one of Frazier’s remarks that had little to do with the main storyline stood out to me as so catchy, I wanted to share them with all of you SEOs and SEMs who have come to Search Engine Guide today looking for an interesting read.

In the opening chapters of On The Rez Frazier is giving his theory of what has made colonial and modern America different from its European progenitors. He hypothesizes that the whole concept of ‘the land of the free’ would never have evolved without the American forefathers’ contact with those ultimate possessors of the idea of freedom – the Native American Peoples.

Many scholars have concluded that American revolutionaries based their confederacy on the powerful model of the longstanding Iroquois Confederacy and that Indigenous influence on early colonial society was profound. Essentially, if after years living in ye olde Europe, you met with an entire continent of happy people who had never kissed a king’s hand, never drudged in servitude and who viewed every man as autonomous, free and equal, your mind would be blown.

Frazier goes on to make what I consider to be both a humorous and near-to-the-truth assessment of freedom and commerce in the United States today:

Americans today no longer work mostly in manufacturing or agriculture but in the newly risen service economy. That means most of us make our living by being nice.

The first time I read that quote, I laughed and then I went back and re-read it, reflecting on how such a statement applies in the world of Search Marketing.

Just one or two workforce generations ago, there were so many more rules to follow for earning bread. Business etiquette, kissing the hand of the boss, wearing polyester suits and ties, bowing to seniority, working under the assurance of long-term employment and a retirement package – so many of these things seems to be receding further and further into the background. There was an element of being nice in all of these things, but the code, rigidity and outward trappings of it all used to be a lot clearer than I think they have become.

Search is an entrepreneur’s game, and while corporatization has definitely occurred at one end of the spectrum, most of the search marketers I know are either their own bosses or work for friendly little firms of a few people. Niceness, as far as I can see, is playing a noteworthy part in our niche of the service economy. I can think of 3 major areas in which niceness ends up clothing, feeding and housing us:

First and foremost, we are nice to our clients. If we want to earn and keep their business, we are attentive, polite, respectful and friendly.

Secondly, we are nice to our peers. We refer business to colleagues, link to their work and attend conferences where everyone is nice to everyone else.

Finally, there’s the whole Social Media thing – an ultimate virtual realm built on niceness in which everyone is beaming pleasantry toward everyone else in their circle.

From these 3 activities come most SEMs’ reputations, work and money. We fit Ian Frazier’s description of the state of our current service economy, with one little added detail thrown in…

Niceness + Brains

The entrepreneurial marketers I know who are earning a good living have managed to couple their good people skills with their native or acquired technical smarts and skills. I can see their smiling avatars in my mind right now.

These are people I jump at the chance of chatting with because I really like them, or people to whom I would gladly refer my own clients for specialized services. There are exception of course – some people have made a success of their business by being the opposite of nice; by being the muckrakers, the attention grabbers, the controversial loudmouths of the industry. It’s nice to be free to present yourself authentically, but for the most part, I’ve witnessed the combo of friendliness + skills earning people long-term goodwill and financial solvency.

Another volume on my bookshelf, In The Shadow Of The Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck, makes mention of a slogan-emblazoned t-shirt the protagonist sees a colleague wearing at a California University; a t-shirt reading Will Think For Cold, Hard Cash.

I pretty much think that sums up what you and I do for a living. People pay us to think (think about their websites, their marketing, their audience and their goals) and they will stick with us if we know how to be friendly. I confess, I’m pretty happy that I live in a time when knowledge is still so highly prized, and while I don’t think it’s all that great of thing that so much of my country has given up manufacturing goods for delivering services, I feel very fortunate to be able to make my way in the world with a dose of friendly goodwill and a functioning brain.

What about you? Have you ever thought about the nuances of the way in which you earn money thanks to the Internet? I’d love to hear your take on this.

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