There are plenty of big names in the tech industry. Folks with twitter follower counts in the 10's and 100's of K's. You'll find them giving keynotes at conferences and writing up blog posts that skyrocket to the top of social aggregation sites.
And for every big name, there are hundreds of medium names. These people "only" have follower counts in the thousands. They're still talking at conferences, but not yet being asked to keynote. They write blog posts that are fantastic and heavily shared, yet still don't reach the impact of something from the ranks of folks above.
And for every medium name, there are thousands of small names. People like me, who reach out to a small tribe of folks out there. We've yet to get that "K" in our follower count, but we're happy doing what we're doing because it's a fun ride.
There's nothing wrong with being at any of these levels, and just because your're "small" doesn't mean you don't have important things to say. It's just the nature of our limited listening capacity to have this hierarchy to society.
This post won't talk about how to "rise in the ranks". I think that's a misplaced goal to have. Being popular won't solve your problems; and it can even make them worse.
But there is a truth to being popular: it gives you a megaphone for your ideas.
Whether a product is good or bad, if it's being talked about by someone popular, it will be seen. That's not to say it will succeed, but it certainly has a good chance.
Conversely, whether a product is good or bad, if it's not being talked about by someone popular, it will hardly be noticed. That's not to say it won't succeed, but it certainly has a tough road ahead.
So if the success of a product relies on being noticed, and you need someone popular to help you there, how do unknowns in the industry become known?
Ever hear the phrase "standing on the shoulders of giants"?
What most people think of when they hear that is that some "giant" in their industry mentored them or provided some insight that allowed them to continue further. It's tempting to think that "if only this giant heard my idea, I could be a giant too".
The issue is that giants are really not giants at all. They're regular people like you and me who just happen to be well-known. As normal people, they have limited time and attention, so they simply can't have everyone standing on their shoulders (even though I'm sure many of them would love to help everyone).
So what do you do when there's no room on the giant's shoulders for you to stand?
You find not-so-giants.
As I mentioned in the second paragraph, for every giant out there, hundreds of "mediums" roam that landscape of the web. These are the folks working behind-the-scenes, helping keep popular tools afloat and making conferences run.
Because they're the ones making things go, they're also packed for time. It's not going to work to tell your idea to them, because they're already super-busy with their own one. Again, everyone you know is just a regular human being.
The way to stand on the shoulders of Not-So-Giants is to let them stand on yours.
As I mentioned, Not-So-Giants are busy folk. They're passionate about what they do, but time isn't something they have to spare. They want to do it all, but simply can't.
Rather than expecting the Not-So-Giant to do it all, and do your thing too, instead, figure out how you can help the Not-So-Giant. What are the things the Not-So-Giant wants to do, but simply doesn't have time for?
And that's where I get to the actual advice of this post.
1. Write blog posts and record screencasts about tools and share with the tool author
A good tutorial is worth its weight in gold. But, good tutorials/examples take time to create. Time that "mediums" don't necessarily have.
If there's a tool out there or concept that you love, write a blog post about it. Record a screencast about it. It may not be the best thing ever, but it's a contribution back to the community.
And then, when you've finished your work, share it with the tool author. Share it with the Not-So-Giant as a gift to them for the awesome work they're doing.
Not-So-Giants love to see people using the stuff they made and will happily share. Not because they're egotistical, but because it's really meaningful to create something that has value.
This isn't a "trick" or scam. You're not putting crappy content out there then spamming the tool author into sharing it. No, you're putting in hard work to make something of value for people like you, then making sure people get value out of your work by sharing it.
2. Give talks at conferences
Conferences take a ton of work. My heart goes out to the organizers of them, as their job is often thankless. They're amazing at what they do and kind of crazy for trying.
The best appreciation you can give to them is to give an amazing talk at their event. After all, that's why they're doing all that work. To provide an excellent event for conference goers and the industry in general.
Talks take a lot of time to create, and take talent to give. But I'd rather see a talk by a newcomer who's passionate about something and has prepared as best they can, then listen to some "famous" person wing a keynote (not that many famous people do).
You don't have to be an experienced presenter to give a great talk. You just have to practice and be open to feedback.
From it, you'll get a stage (for a short amount of time), and people's attention along with it. If your content is good, then people will keep listening, regardless of your follower count.
3. Follow other unknowns
This last one isn't about the Giants or Not-So-Giants. It's about the small folks. The ones who don't organize conferences or maintain a popular open-source tool. The ones just like you who simply want to share their experience with others.
Following the unknowns means reading their blog posts and giving feedback. It means watching the first-draft of their talks, so the actual talk is a success. It means playing that role of "giant" through mentorship, even though you feel really small.
By following the unknowns, you're sharing an experience with people. Sharing experiences is what this life is all about. It doesn't matter if neither of you "make it big", because the journey is the real fun.
One Final Thought
You should never feel like you're being a spammy marketer. If so, you're probably being a spammy marketer. Sharing good content should feel good. You should feel like you're providing value with your time.
Yes, sometimes you have to be uncomfortable reaching out to folks, and it's awkward to step out of your comfort zone. But there's a difference between discomfort and disrespect.
As long as you respect the time of others, you're never getting in the way. You're part of a busy world with busy people, trying to be heard in a sea of voices. Sometimes that takes talking a little bit louder.