Recently a humorous in-office chat unfolded on our #cooler Slack channel. It began simply enough. I posted a random photo that I found to be funny due to an optical illusion.
This lead to one of our team posting this humorous reply.
What happened next caused me to remember a post I had meant to write but forgotten about. This is the message which pushed me to write this post.
It seems rather innocuous and unimportant even, but the opposite was in fact true. This was the first follower. Why you might ask? Because this post lead to this.
The leader was the first poster, they had an idea and they shared it. But the first follower, the second poster, they started the movement. They supported the idea and turned it into something more. That's a very practical example now let's look at this concept of first follower in a bit more detail.
What is first follower
The first follower is a phenomenon I learned of first from a TED talk by Derek Sivers. In this talk he discussed a popular viral video which you can watch here if you feel so inclined. Here is the bottom line if you prefer a tl;dr version.
The first follower is the hidden leader of a movement. They support the vocal initial person who began doing something different. The first follower lends credibility, support, and raises awareness. The first follower takes the focus off the person and places the focus on an idea. This is the moment when a movement behinds. Let me rephrase that another way.
"A movement begins when the focus shifts from a person to an idea."
Why be a first follower
Clearly there is an immense amount of power held by the first follower. This person is the true hidden driver behind revolutionary change. Their input might not always visible or even publicly recognized but the power exists. The first follower recognizes they have the ability to support and promote the idea creator. Being the first follower requires bravery. At this point the idea is new, young, and unaccepted. The general audience has not yet accepted the idea being promoted and the creator is a lone voice proclaiming their message. The first follower therefore holds an immense amount of risk in accepting this idea and following the promoter. But the power, the responsibility, the opportunity to make an idea a movement lies in the hands of the first follower.
When to be a first follower
Because of the amount of risk associated with being the first follower there should be some guidelines followed before blindly becoming a first follower. Here are a few general questions to consider before assuming the role of a first follower to an idea.
Do you agree with the idea?
Sounds basic right? But before you follow someone or something you have to determine that you fundamentally agree with what's being shared. The world today is so connected and accessible that anyone can share any random idea or thought. This does not mean every idea is worthwhile or worthy of becoming a movement. Critical thinking is required.
Do you feel passionately about the idea?
It's not enough to simply agree with an idea you need to feel passionate about it. Is this truly something you believe in. Keep in mind is the turning point for the idea and its creator. This holds the potential to turn an idea into a movement. You should feel passionately and willing to truly support and back the idea.
Are you prepared to support the idea?
This question should be an easy one to answer if you have asked the first two questions but it's still important to ask yourself if are ready. Supporting an idea in its infancy may result in rejection from others who don't follow with you. Even more difficult is the acknowledgment and acceptance you may even be ridiculed for your belief and support of the idea.
If you answer these three questions and you're ready to move forward then keep reading.
How to be a first follower
There are many way you can demonstrate your support and approval of an idea some are easy and some require more work. Typically the more difficult the way to demonstrate your following the greater results you'll experience.
Be a silent supporter.
This may seem like passive support but in the early days of an idea (before reaching the critical mass) even the silent support is important to the eventual success of the movement. Silent support might be as simple as a "like", or maybe a public acknowledgement of someone else's verbal comment.
Be a vocal supporter.
The next level of first follower involves vocally supporting the idea. Again slightly more risk involved as you are publicly sharing your agreement with the idea. This might mean re-sharing, retweeting, or verbally affirming what someone else says or does.
Be a secondary creator.
This is the most difficult level of first following. At this point you we no longer merely supporting silently or vocally but you are creating and sharing additional supporting ideas. You are taking your support of someone else's idea and you are owning the idea at this point. This is opens you up to your own level of ridicule as you are now becoming a bit of a public leader yourself. This is creating variants of the idea and sharing them all with the purpose of growing the support for the original idea.
The bottom line is simple: be a first follower. Start a movement. Don't feel like you must create an idea to be successful. Instead as this post and the supporting documentation and research shows - you can be the true force that makes an idea into a movement. Find those ideas you believe in, passionately believe in, and support them, advocate for them, and build on them. Follow them.