Deconstructing Name Dropping


Tell me someone on the social web who doesn’t name drop. The whole currency of the social web lies in referencing and mentioning people by name. Name dropping builds perceived value and equity. It’s at the heart of today’s influence measures right or wrong (see write up of Klout), and drives “weblebrity.” So we should look at it.

Is simply associating yourself with someone — even if it’s a fly by — an accurate measure of ability? I think even posing this question is absurd, but it seems to be the way of things right now. People go to conferences, tag each other and check-in with posts, mention casual lunches, and even business deals. Some do it with sincerity (happy to see you!), and some do it in an effort to gain street cred. (I just checked in at Facebook HQ!).


Let’s be clear, just because you see someone associated with another via a tag or a reference, doesn’t mean there’s a relationship. Nor does it mean that the person who does it should receive credibility. Just because a post is retweeted 20 times doesn’t mean it’s been read or that the ideas are valid (I can back this with data).

When I was on a vacation a year and a half ago, a Twitter follower spotted me at JFK airport between legs of a flight. A brief, pleasant interchange occurred. The tweet was up in five minutes. My wife was mortified!


Anyone who has attended SxSW knows this event takes name dropping to epic proportions. I personally dread seeing my name come across the Twitter stream. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a real famous person like Mark Zuckerberg at such an event. Really, SxSW embodies all that is wrong with the social web culture, from frat boy parties to vanity contests for the most name drops. At the same time, it is such a powerful networking opportunity, one would be a fool not to go and talk to people in person.


To me there’s no way to resolve the name dropping issue. It’s so hardwired into everything we do online. Perhaps, in parallel to old school name dropping, to not ever tag anyone would simply mean to live in an online hermitage.

At the same time, I think personally we should devalue name references as a valid measure of influence and stance. At the minimum, I hope after reading this post we’ll take conference tweets and casual mentions with a lot less excitement. And casually mention people with a lot less frequency.

P.S. To be clear, the JFK incident was a rare one. When I walk around in my home town of Alexandria, Virgina — a very blue blooded city — I am sure almost no one wonders who that nerdherder living on the wrong side of the tracks is. They are much more interested to see if the Ragin’ Cajun is in town for a real celebrity citing.

Trackbacks on this post are turned off. This post does not seek to generate in-bound links, instead it will hopefully inspire people to consider the ideas discussed in the context of their own efforts.


  • I’m glad to say that I would never drop a name gratuitously – for instance, to list out A-list bloggers like Chris Brogan or Darren Rowse or Geoff Livingston or Olivier Blanchard – just for the sake of garnering reflected glory by implying that they are best buds. I wouldn’t even toss out a quick Ike Pigott or Jeremiah Owyang, though I might discuss with Peter Shankman what Ann Handley thinks of the topic. Well, enough about you, how’s Liz Strauss these days? ;>}

    • Well, Steve. I am no A-Lister. Just look at my RT total! Ha, ha! Just a fun way to make us think about how we do this stuff. Hope you are well, and speaking of thinking, thanks for making us chew on strategy a bit today.

  • Hmm, I fail to see where the “deconstruction” of name-dropping happened up there.

    • OK, fair enough. How would you suggest doing it?

      • I don’t know that it needs deconstruction really. But you seem to have laid a trap for users of the social web. How might they resolve their anxiety about whether their use of someone’s name is merely a use or the dreaded ‘drop?’

        • Indeed, you are right. It was a socratic post in the sense that I wanted to leave a thought challenge, and jostle people, encouraging them to think about the motive of retweeting, dropping names, etc. No answers, because for each person right and wrong is a personal decision. Very savvy that you picked up on that. Kudos.

          • I’ve thrown you a bone at the end of my post, sure, but I think we should expect more resolution from a truly Socratic dialogue. You may protest that you’re merely encouraging people to think, but your post is an exercise of power. It identifies a pattern of behavior (use of name in absence of suitable warrants of intimacy) and associates it with a set of negative characterizations of people. This is precisely the way power is exerted by elites in social life. In the social media sphere, whether you like it or not, you’re an elite, and you needn’t disclaim it.

          • Really, a Socratic dialog requires two voices, and I am not as smart as Plato. Demonstrate to me that I’m an “elite,” and I’ll believe that. Until then I’ll assume not. By almost any measure this blog is not a top ranked blog. Also, I tend not to comment on posts that require a log-in.

          • Before you guys get too deeply into this one – you must decide which definition of ‘elite’ you are using.
            I suspect that you have differing ideas of what ‘elite’ refers to here.
            Geoff, you have never shown any tendency toward ‘elitism’ as it applies socially. That is to say that you would never exclude anyone due to some artificially constructed barrier.
            But when Andrew wrote ‘In the social media shpere you’re an elite’ I heard it in the context in which people refer to talent & reputation. One might describe NFL Hall of Fame players as being an elite group of athletes – not because they have a social barrier, but because they have achieved recognition as being amongst the best of the best in their field.
            In that regard? I am inclined to see Andrew’s comment differently.
            For any one Hall of Fame athlete, there are hundreds of NFL players who won’t ever be inducted, and for every one of those players there are literally thousands of high school and college players who never play pro ball. If you ask the NFL player if he’s an elite? He’s likely to say no and point to a Hall of Famer. But to the average person? He is an elite athlete.

  • Geoff,
    It’s amazing to me what we consider “A-Listers” on social media. A quick peek at their bio will usually reveal nary a day worked in the corporate world (but they’ve got plenty of advice for corporations on how they can be more efficient, yes?), nor a fresh or original thought that hasn’t already been said by Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Tom Peters, etc. So why are we so impressed?

    If we took a real hard look at these individuals, we’ll see that they’re just trying to make a buck like the rest of us (usually by getting us to “believe the hype” and buy their book) and that they’re accomplishments aren’t really that impressive (I’ve met college-circuit motivational speakers that have 2-3 books they’ve “authored” – it ain’t hard).

    As for me, I recall a line in the movie “Suicide Kings” by Charlie Barrett (Christopher Walken): “But I come from out there, and everybody out there knows, everybody lies: cops lie, newspapers lie, parent’s lyin’. The one thing you can count on – word on the street… yeah, that’s solid.”

    That’s what I go by, not the subscribers, followers, or fans…nuff said.

    • Dan: Great comment. I think some bloggers/influencers seek it out, some don’t, but even on my own blog note the RT and Facebook buttons to port content. The entire social web is built off of this mechanism. So, in many ways the social web is gamed at popularity, not substance, though substance or good product can become popular. Would love to see a system based on actions.

      I love your reference to Suicide Kings, God was that a great movie, or what? Dennis Leary, too. Love the scene when Walken wakes up and starts asking them questions. Here’s this guy who you know is going to kill them as soon as he gets loose, and they are talking, OMG, and they cut his finger off. Man. Insane.

  • Interesting topic Geoff. I feel like this goes back to everyday socializing and manners in real life–not just online. I mean, how many people want to hang out with people who name drop all the time? or at inappropriate times (like on a date)?

    I like people who are raw, vulnerable, humble, and are curious. For example: On one of the first dates with my husband, I ordered wings. And he loved it. We laughed at ourselves and each other. My kind of guy (obviously). We didn’t talk about who we knew or what we’ve accomplished. But that’s just me–to each his own.

    Here’s an important note that I think might be at the heart of the name dropping and follow-wars: self worth. My hope is that people don’t measure their self worth and value by these measures. Otherwise, you’re missing the boat in so many ways. We all struggle with it to some degree–some days more than others–it’s human nature. But focusing and reminding oneself where you do draw your self worth and your purpose from is a great reminder of what’s important, IMO.

    • Dear Alex: “My hope is that people don’t measure their self worth and value by these measures. Otherwise, you’re missing the boat in so many ways.”

      So true. And for many they have been left at the dock. Let’s hope they catch the next boat!

  • Hm. You’re making me think hard about this.
    Not the least of which comes from the fact that I happily tweeted last year at SXSW that I was having lunch with you. Which, well, I was. And I was happy about it. But it never occurred to me that tweet might of been of more than passing interest to anyone outside of you, me, a couple of folks who know us both who weren’t there and said things like “tell him I said hi!”

    I have always thought that name-dropping was a strange behavior when the person in question doesn’t really know the other one. Who cares if I saw someone in LA or SoHo? (I mean other than the people glued to yes, this is a real link… read about it a couple of weeks ago – people realtime geotagging celebrity sightings. Creepy.)

    BUT… someone told me once I was name-dropping because I was talking about some very real events and life-lessons I learned from friends of mine who apparently, are “name-drop-worthy” in some peoples’ eyes. All I could reply with was “Really? So, am I supposed to say ‘there was this one time when I was talking with someone-really-awesome-who-I-know-but-I-won’t-say-his-name-because-that-might-be-name-dropping about this very thing and he that-guy-who-you-would-think-is-super-cool-but-I-can’t-say-his-name gave me some great advice’ instead?”

    Look, straight up. If I’m checked into the same Geo-location on FourSquare/Gowalla/Whrrl with you, and we’re eating lunch or sitting next to each other at a session intentionally or I haven’t seen you in a year & finally found you across a crowded (ugh) party? I’m not going to twitter “ooh, I’m with the neatest-person-you-wish-you-knew-who-shall-remain-nameless-check-foursquare!” I’m probably more likely to twitter “cool! Just ran into @geoffliving – see? There’s a reason I drag myself out to noisy, crowded parties!”

    Am I ‘name-dropping’? In my book, only if I don’t really know you. Or if someone else reading it thinks that saying I saw you has any relevance other than expressing happiness at seeing you. Problem is? Some of the people I know and love, respect, get excited about seeing might be considered name-drop-worthy. That’s what I get for being lucky enough to know some amazing people.

    Oh – except I will totally twitter something like last year’s Rick Springfield sighting on a cruise that turned out to be the Annual Rick Springfield cruise. Dude. Rick Springfield! Yes, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Happy for the dude that he has such loyal fans. Not going to not poke fun at the situation on Twitter. It’s what I do. No one ever thought that Mr. Springfield and I were close buds as a result of that.

    Crap – I’ve written another novel in your comments.

    Let me rephrase the important question: how does one address one’s friends, biz-relations, &/or event-sharing companions if one is talking/mentioning/tweeting about it AND they are considered ‘name-drop-worthy’ in order to *avoid* name-dropping?

    • LOL, Lucretia, this is what I mean by thought challenge, but if we think about these things we become more mindful. This deconstructing ideas, from names to A List influence is just what we should be doing right now…

      I increasingly tweet less about seeing people, and need to remember to tweet about remarkable things that people like you do. Or to just talk with people rather than blindly play the game. I think this is an intensely personal question, what’s right, what’s wrong, so I imagine for every person it would be different.

      • I like that approach Geoff.

        I try usually to point out interesting thoughts and posts and good work that people are doing. Sometimes, the limitations of Twitter turn what should be a couple of good solid sentences about something into “Dude – you have to read @BloggerX’s latest post.” plus a link or RT. Not much to most. But those who know me know that I seldom just put up random links – I’d lose *my* reputation for adding worth to someone else’s stream and once that’s gone? You pretty much don’t get it back.

        This made me realize something else tho: I am not comfortable with the “blind RT” that I see people doing so often. Pretty much every post @mashable ever puts up is echoed immediately by hundreds of accounts that have given them auto-posting access to their stream. I don’t get that. Ironically, if I do go look at the story and think it deserves mention? I don’t RT anyone. I will post the link & a comment of my own (not usually a headline) as I’m not “choosing” which one of the auto-RT-accounts and giving them credit for something they clearly didn’t read.

        Do you think auto-RT is a form of name-dropping? Or just laziness? (I’m suspecting it might be both.)

        • I think Auto-RT is a great way to feature some else in your stream. But it quickly becomes easy and lacks the depth of a traditional RT. I do it when I’m being lazy, or don’t want to engage.

  • Hey watch your feet….name droppin going on over here. I always use this one when I drop a name or two when talking about conversations I have had or saw….it gets a chuckle because people know I am not a name dropper…

  • Hmm. Makes sense to me – SM gurus don’t want lowly followers acting like they “know” them. I mean, eww. Sooo very high school, and so nice for the former geeks to now be the jocks! lol. Very cyclical – nice!

    • LOL!!! Kind of like if the trash man, er, sanitation engineer won the lottery, and pretended they went to Harvard, never having soiled their hands once in a hard day’s work!

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