People Online Are Real

by Jon Cooper

Today I just got an email saying that I was a “prodigy”. About a month ago I was called a “legend”. Heck, I was even called an “SEO celebrity” at one point.

But why is that? Why do we build up people we follow online way more than we should? Why do we keep forgetting that the people we follow are real & just like us?

This past weekend I met up with John Doherty and Tom Critchlow, two highly respected people in our industry. Before leaving, I remember telling one of my friends “holy crap! What have I done? I’m going to feel plain stupid in their presence.”

But you know what? I didn’t. I forgot that they, although smarter, were just like me. Sure, I did a lot of listening, but from time to time I had something to contribute to the conversation.

Which leads me to a bigger issue… 

I want to talk about how you should act when talking with influencers online. We understand “why”, but the subtleties of “how” don’t get talked about much.

Don’t flatter, appreciate

If you want to be on their level of expertise one day, then act like it. If you keep on flattering them and telling how amazing they are, it gets old. Just as Dale Carnegie said, “don’t flatter, appreciate”. Think about it, which of the below sounds better?

Jon, you are a freaking prodigy! I love everything you do and everything you write. You’re so amazing!


Jon, I highly respect your work.

Even though the second is shorter, it’s better, because I’m not overwhelmed. It’s also part psychology. If someone is saying how amazing I am, I imply that they are below me, because that usually means I’m significantly better than them in some way.

Instead, show appreciation, but act as if you’re on their level. Don’t forget to show modesty and watch where you step, but this will serve you much better if you want them to think highly of you one day as well.

Also, this goes way beyond the boundaries of the Web. I remember listening to Kevin Rose talking about people being afraid of approaching Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, in person. Kevin talked about how Jack was just like us, making mistakes and trying to solve problems. He just managed to hit one out of the park and learned a lot on the way.

Show them you’re real

I email & tweet a ton of people on a weekly basis, but few of them really stick out in my mind.

But it’s really not hard to be one of those people that I truly think of as real. Here’s a little hierarchy I created to help explain how to do so.

Picture < Podcast < Video < Phone Conversation < Meet In Person

It’s simple. If I see a picture of you, then I can put a name to a face. If I hear your voice, that’s better. It goes all the way up to actually meeting you in person. Shaking your hand & seeing you’re physically someone lets me know that there really is a person behind that twitter handle.

Golden Rule: Think Like Them

What I explained above isn’t rocket science. Just put yourself in their shoes and you’ll see what will make them like you. They’re real and have some of the same thought processes just like yours.

Thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading! Make sure you follow me on Twitter.

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 129 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper is a link builder based out of Gainesville, FL. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter @PointBlankSEO.

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  1. That’s a very healthy and sensible outlook Jon. I appreciate a lot of SEOs out there for leading the way and sharing their knowledge but mostly for just being nice genuine people.

  2. Excellent article, Jon!

    People tend to build us up rather than seeing us as human beings. They don’t realize how much pressure they put us under, as a result.

  3. Great post Jon, I highly respect your work ;). But seriously I do. I have been working really hard at this trade for my company and your advice has gone a long way and it parallels this article very well. Be a real person, start a real conversation, don’t just gush and ask for a link.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Jared! So many people get turned off by outreach emails because it doesn’t seem like a genuine person sent it & will respond to it. If you take care of making sure your email doesn’t seem like that, you’ve got the advantage on everyone else.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. I think people build others up for two reasons:

    1. They envy are wish to be like them.
    2. Some times they hope it will help them get notice.

    I like the approach you gave best – picture first, voice up to meeting in person and handshakes. You and a lot of other top niche people in the industry probably deal with hundreds of emails, tweets etc. To a lot of people you do seem well, unreal!!

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Both good points Thomas. I guess for the second one that’s partially my fault. From a personal branding & blog marketing perspective, I need to definitely produce videos or maybe a podcast, because I bet I do seem unreal!

      Thanks for leaving your thoughts!! 🙂

  5. Tobias says:

    That’s great advice Jon. Respecting others is important, but not to the level that you worship them and they feel that they are superior to you just because of your approach towards them.
    Of course, maybe they are superior in knowledge within your area. The point is that it will not change as long as you continue to treat them like superior.

  6. Jon:

    You’re amazing! I hang on every word you write. You’re the best:) Only kidding…lol.

    I just want to add that three “magic” words can go a long way when communicating with people online. They are “appreciate” and “thank you” – with the former having the most “magic.”

    When I communicate with people online and they help me in some way, I always tell them thank you and that I appreciate them taking the time to help me. Example: “Thanks Jon for the opportunity to guest post on your blog. I appreciate it!”

    People tend to forget these common gestures in the online world we live in today.

    Travis Van Slooten

    P.S. Another gesture that is often forgotten is respect for one’s time. When I’m communicating with people online I will almost always acknowledge that I respect their time. Example: “Jon, I know you’re busy so no rush on getting back to me on this, but what are your thoughts on the XYZ backlink strategy?” It may seem like such a minor thing but acknowledging you respect someone’s time can go a long way in standing out from the crowd.

  7. Sean Smith says:

    Incredible post! You’re brilliant Jon! I’m speechless! ;]

    Good point though seriously. It’s funny what a person’s psyche can do to build up someone or something so irrationally. Tim Ferriss actually talks about this point in his book “The 4-Hour Workweek”. He gave a lecture at prinston and promised a large sum of money or a scholarship of some kind to any student who attended if they would attempt to get 1 of 3 major celebrities to contact them in a reply of any sort. That was it! Apparently 100% of the kids failed because they didn’t even realize he said “attempt” they were so scared and awestruck at the concept of contacting these major celebrities and political figures that they shut down the challenge in their mind and didn’t even try. 100% of the kids failed the challenge the first run around.

    These were PRINSTON students and they were scared tooth and nail to even attempt this challenge. He then issued a second attempt, saying and emphasizing that if they were to get a reply of any sort meaning a tweet, an email, a voicemail, a text etc. that they would win the challenge. Apparently around 80% of the students succeeded the second go around because he instilled in them the second time that there is absolutely no reason to fear contacting these people, and what would seem like a risk (that really isn’t) could potentially get them noticed on a much larger scale. I believe one of the people they had to contact was Bill Clinton too.

    Point being that you are never too small to speak to someone who you inflate in your mind to be a super-human or demi-god. As you said, we are all people.

    Refreshing stuff though, nonetheless.

  8. Liz says:

    Very true and something that I think most people forget about. We tend to think that these guru’s just appeared one day out of the blue. We forget that they slaved away for year(s) trying to come up with the perfect business plan, marketing scheme, or winning idea. Appreciation is appropriate.

  9. James H says:

    This is a crucial thing that gets overlooked far too often. I’m glad to see you address it.

    I graduated with a degree in communication, then turned around and worked on a Masters. As part of the Masters I conducted research in virtual worlds online to discover what made communities work or not work. The key thing that came out of that was an understanding that communities that worked were ones were everyone there realized that there were real people on the other end of the screen. When people were treated with respect and sympathy the community succeeded. When people were treated simply as parts of a game or tools to be utilized, the community failed.

    Working in the world of SEO this point keeps getting driven home for me. I see so many people engaged in SEO who are treating the people and communities they are trying to connect with as tools to reach a goal, and not as people. I think this is as much a part of why so many people have a negative view of SEO as Black Hat practices. When it comes down to it, success at SEO comes through success at being empathetic. The first step of SEO always comes down to remembering that you are dealing with real people, with real goals, real needs, real worries, and real lives. Always keep that in mind, and you’re more likely to create a real connection that will help both your goals, and those of the other person.

  10. John says:

    Was a real pleasure to meet you dude, and you’re definitely just as smart as Tom and I. I really enjoyed our chat!

  11. Adam Henige says:

    Great post Jon. I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate on some small things with you in the past and I really do enjoy your perspective on search. I’ve been in the game a little longer than you, but a lot of your insights remind me of those “a ha” moments I’ve had in the past. As an SEO it’s very easy to get into hero worship following the influencers, but I’ve had the same experience – if you approach them respectfully like real people, you’ll find out they are. I just blogged the other day with a mention of one of the first influencers I got in touch with and he sent me a message thanking me for the mention and kind words.

    Another good post and people really should take this to heart.

  12. carisoprodol says:

    Hey Jon, the information and the detail were just perfect. Many thanks for this very useful information you have provided us. 🙂

People Online Are Real - Point Blank SEO