You can’t land the plane without a runway. The same is true for trying to land a cold email or DM.
There are a few constants in the interactions of this digital world.
- people (or at least thinking they are) seeking signal over noise
- discovery of quality / relevant individuals is important focus personally and professionally
- heightened focus on finding the real and underlying essence of a person, brand, or cultural trend
- eagerness to discover, learn, and passively follow things of interest
Surface area develops as a result of these continuous actions. Surface area is the visual collection of online footprints that may give others a sense of what you may be doing, thinking about, working on, communicating with, interested in, feeling, etc.
At the broadest level it’s “who you are” and “what you’ve done”. This is my first+last name and these are my prior associations (college, jobs).
On a personal level it may be your background and what you are thinking about. This is my ‘About’ page of a personal webpage and here are some recent ‘blog posts’.
It could be as simple as how you represent yourself on a friendly personal level and allow us to access what your latest hot take was. Here is my well crafted Twitter bio and recent tweets.
Digital surface area is continually built up and torn down as your presence and activity varies on social networks, account profiles, and messaging products. Each new property brings with it new angles, coverage, and potential depth for an internet stranger (or modern friend) to consume. Properties carry historical patterns of usage as well as unique community and space-specific habits.
Potential surface area in 2019. The accounts themselves and the publicly available content within them.
Is having a digital surface area merely a bi-product of using today’s networks and apps? What is the main advantage of having well-defined personal surface area?
If you have any surface area at all, you’ve at least given people a chance to land. 🛬
Instead of blindly parachuting in, you’ve given both of yourselves a fighting chance to connect, riff, and talk. Just as stopping to talk to a stranger at the market or friend-of-a-friend at a party, there’s no guarantee or script as to what it may lead to. It’s simply about creating the baseline conditions for connection.
Think of your surface area as a series of runways. And your own name as an airport terminal. An airport terminal without any runways is largely useless.
The greater surface area you have, the more opportunities you’ve given someone to try and land a personal and relevant message your way. A large and varied surface area may have multiple runways. Multiple angles that give texture, color, and dimension to your name so that one knows what and how to talk about the ask, question, or make a bid for friendship. People want to want to have genuine interactions but it makes it awfully tough if you are flying blind.
The greater the surface area within a particular slice of life, the longer and wider the runway. i.e A robust LinkedIn + company bio + blog Q&A interview is a much more robust landing spot than just a sparse LinkedIn. Those three assets move beyond the potential conversation far beyond “here’s where I graduated and here are the titles with date ranges that I’ve held.”
Large, small, or none. How many runways should I have?
It is entirely dependent on personal preference and goals. College grads, ambitious career focused professionals, and thinkers (writers, creators) tend to have larger and more robust footprints. Freelance creatives and consultants also invest in their respective surface area. These groups are looking to meet people, learn, increase serendipity, and potentially find new opportunities (personal → interest, romantic, learning, friendship & professional → job, work, development).
Those with small or non-existent runways are typically those of an older generation who either aren’t comfortable “with that much being out there online” or don’t have pragmatic reasons to do (senior enough in career, no longer looking to stir up stuff up, only trusting of their inner circle).
It’s always interesting to witness those with a individuals prominent careers and name recognition join Twitter and lay down a runway. Now the world theoretically has a two-way connection point to them. It will mostly serve as a one-way outlet for commentary, promotion, and expression but there are certainly highly sought-after people interacting with peers and strangers on a regular basis. Think folks @chrissyteigen, @raydalio, @elonmusk, @aoc, etc
Their inboxes and messages are certainly flooded with opportunity, trusted personal exchanges, and urgent matters. Yet they still find fun and value in having a touchpoint with the outside world more than some everyday millennials do.
What is broadly shaping our likelihood to create and shape our surface area?
- Increasing comfort in building modern friendships
- Never-ending number of broad and niche avenues to express our interests and skills
- A steady convergence of “personal” and “professional” identities
- Increased concerns of personal privacy and ensuring the past doesn’t creep back up
- Limited outlets for personal writing and thoughts
- Slowing dependence on personal websites
Is the sole benefit of surface area about generating inbound? Is about “me”?
Two people connecting don’t necessarily each have to have interesting surface area. When the other individual has no surface area, the key is being able to leverage what you’ve already written, produced, or expressed as the reason or background context for why you are sending said message.
You’ll most likely be using email or FB Messenger as a direct given the lack of runways. Your own surface area becomes a series referenceable assets in outreach. Blue links to posts, time-stamped thoughts with tweets, and account handles (identity url) dramatically increase the ability to conveying:
- “I’m a real person and we may even know the same people”
- “here’s why I’m relevant, special, interesting and worth engaging with”
- “here are easy and convenient ways to explore more”
The seatbelt sign is now on, please prepare for landing.