Why Credibility Matters

The events of the last few weeks (see here if you don’t know what I’m talking about) have made me realize the unbelievable importance of credibility to business, blogging and life. I think Quinten Farmer of OnSwipe said it best when he told me today, “It doesn’t matter what you say, it just matters what your credentials are.”
I think there’s no better example of this concept than my blog. In January I wrote a post on an old blog entitled “Failure In Public: How To Improve Yourself by Eating M&Ms.” I dashed it off in the middle of developing one of my earlier projects, Dilemma Roulette, which by the way was a complete flop, and maybe a few people read it. It had approximately zero impact. No tweets. No likes on Facebook. One or two of my friends told me they had read it and thought it was cool, but that was basically the extent of it.

Fast forward two months. WhereMyFriends.Be had just blown up on Mashable and I had written a couple of fairly well-read posts on our experience building and running the site. I was wracking my brain looking for a cool topic to write about as a follow-up. Then I remembered the failure in public post. So I brought it up in a text file and started playing around with it. A half an hour later If you’re not failing you’re not trying emerged. I thought it seemed pretty good so I posted it on Hacker News and my Twitter and went to bed (it was like 3 AM at this point).

By the next day the article had been liked over 300 times and tweeted over 200 times. The post had 90 points on Hacker News. So what changed?

The first time I posted the article I had zero credibility. No one knew me, and I wasn’t positioned to write a popular blog post in any way. At present I’m by no means well-known in the startup community, but I’m certainly better-known than I was. I have some marginal bit of credibility. And even that little bit was enough to turn a pretty good post that no one read, into a pretty good post that tens of thousands of people read.

So what’s the takeaway? It can be frustrating building products that no one uses and writing blog posts that no one reads. But just because no one uses your product, or no one reads your blog doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re offering or what you’re writing isn’t any good. The missing ingredient is marketing and credibility. Because once you get that first little bit of credibility, you can build that into a business, a blog and a life.

As Quinten said, “It doesn’t matter what you say, it just matters what your credentials are.”

9 Mar 2011, 9:43pm | 4 comments

  • joeyespo

    It can indeed be frustrating. Especially when you believe you have to sacrifice ideas to gain credibility. “Implement this; it will fail since nobody knows you, but you’ll gain credibility from doing so!” Do you think people should do this?Shipping good ideas when you’re unknown is tough. They will most likely fail. There are some great ideas out there that have been shipped, but are wasted because nobody knows about them. (On the other hand, shipping lesser ideas before your top project might have a negative effect, since you’re not necessarily passionate about these and will give up more easily.)Connecting with others first might help. Reaching out. Helping others explore their ideas and even expanding on their work. (It’s much easier to do this with projects on GitHub.) This can be a way to gain credibility without sacrificing ideas first. What do you think? Are there better ways to gain project/startup credibility without trading success for credibility?

  • Dan Shipper

    I definitely agree that you can use channels such as creating personal connections to help enhance your chances at finding success with your projects. But I don't necessarily think that you have to trade success for credibility. In fact I would argue that success and credibility go hand in hand, and what may perhaps look like an act of sacrificing an idea isn't really a sacrifice at all. Sure it may not have a high chance of succeeding, but it still has a chance. And it certainly has a higher chance of succeeding when it's on the market than it does as a concept.  I'm glad you shared your thoughts it's great to hear from interested people like you. 

  • Tommy Dwany

    Credibility obviously helps your ideas spread in the internet world but I would not go anywhere near as far as the quote you quote states. Credentials are far from everything. The internet is the most efficient meritocracy the world has seen, where those who offer interesting, insightful ideas and knowledge get promoted, shared, tweeted, and re-tweeted.Of course it is not 100 percent efficient so situations like yours will arise but at least those with internet credentials have typically earned them. If you write something stupid, you’ll be told it was stupid regardless of any “credentials”. And if you write smart, insightful shit eventually you will get noticed and rewarded.Many aspects of life are not like this so I think you should overall appreciate, not criticize, the fairness of attention distribution on these magical interwebs.

  • joeyespo

    You’re right, shipping something absolutely does give it a chance. And more people need to realize that. They’ll believe it logically: it’s obvious that a fraction of a shot is better than the certainty of failure from silence.Shipping is very much a mental game though. Developers need to *emotionally* realize this. So many people still feel they need to “save” their best ideas until they find success. And it’s exactly that which keeps them from shipping something worth while.


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