There are certain people in life, and especially some on the internet, who I think about as my own personal little bellwethers and canaries. That seems like an odd statement so let me start with some definitions and move on to explaining what I mean.
In the past, canaries were used by miners. The miners would take caged canaries down the mineshaft with them and if there was a buildup of noxious gases like Carbon Monoxide, the canaries would die and the miners would know that they needed to get out of the mine. The canary came to represent danger or a warning signal in common, modern vernacular.
Bellwethers were the lead sheep in a flock that had the bell around its neck so that the sheepdogs and shepherds could easily track the flock. Similarly to the canary, the word bellwether became synonymous with something being used as an indicator of what was to come.
There are a number of people who I’ve come to know online and offline that are a bit like this. To give you an example, there’s a hockey writer in Toronto named Damien Cox and whenever I think something and he says the opposite, I feel pretty good that my opinion or thought is sound, but conversely, when I find myself agreeing with him, I get a little worried.
To me, Damien Cox is my hockey canary.
When it comes to online business and marketing, I have all sorts of these canaries and bellwethers, both good and bad.
In fact, yesterday’s email about Selfishness and Service was inspired by one of my bellwethers. He was talking about changes he wanted to see made to a platform he sells on and lamenting how recent modifications to various policies had caused problems that vendors may never recover from.
I have a complete 180-degree opposite opinion from him; I think that the changes to the platform have made a ton of sense and that eventually, revenues would return to normal because the new policies were predicated on the best interest of the customer.
I felt pretty good that my perspective was on the right track because this individual had shown himself over the last year or so to be incredibly selfish, shortsighted and being totally honest, not very smart when it comes to marketing. If this person says something, I always feel good about being on the opposite side of the issue.
It doesn’t have to be all negative either. There are some very smart people out there where I feel the opposite, especially when it comes to marketing online. I have found some people for whom I’ve gained a certain respect and if they say something on an issue, I tend to reflect on my own opinion a bit more if my thoughts differ too wildly from theirs.
The other aspect of identifying positive bellwethers is that they are almost like trendsetters or cool spotters in a way. These are people who I pay attention to because they seem to be able to predict when something is going to take off or they’ve discovered a strategy that’s working really well at the moment. When you see these people doing things or talking about stuff, it would serve you well to take note.
Word of caution on this one, thou shalt not worship false gods. There are well-known personalities that are nothing more than shills. They are constantly pimping “the next big thing” so that they can land grab and be onboard with something before it “was the cool thing to do”.
To me, someone like Robert Scoble falls into this category in a big way and to a lesser extent, so does a guy like Gary Vaynerchuk. They are always ramping the next thing because it lets them ignore and gloss over the misfires. These guys almost always trot out some lame analogy about breaking eggs or whatever to wipe away their slate of consistently failed predictions.
The bigger message in this is that it’s really important to look for signs that something is working or really wrong as early as possible so you can take action and progress. In how I do things, that’s the role that my canaries and bellwethers play. Take the time to identify your own bellwethers and canaries for your business, both positively and negatively, you’ll be glad you did.