Awhile ago, now more that a year, I wrote a post entitled SEO is Dead. What people dont realize is I didnt write the post out of the anger that so many people accused me of, but out of the sadness of seeing an industry that I put so much time and effort, so much of myself in, as we built Current Wisdom, get horribly off track.
Now, I am watching social media catch the same horrible affliction and accelerate towards the same horrible end.
Its easy to blame the marketers. After all, marketers have a tendency to overdo it. Its quick to blame the brands, since companies often jump at the next big thing and put a lot of their resource against it. Its fashionable to blame the “social media expert,” but the internet has always been a dynamic gold rush where people follow the dollar regardless of the quality of their work.
What is killing social media, is that people are forgetting that its SOCIAL media, not social MEDIA. We put on our “personal brands” and head out into the world to make it safe for the brands we represent. We go to conferences where we meet the same people and talk about the same things, and fail to innovate. We put ourselves above the brands that we market and spend our time extending our influence. We worry what other social media professionals think about US rather than what our customers think about the BRANDS we represent.
Social media is dying.
Am I lambasting all social media professionals? Of course not. There are many, many social media professionals that do amazing things within the constructs they are given. They do awesome outreach with limited budgets and limited support. Some continually give back to the community through education and knowledge and most importantly, time.
But the vast majority of us are making it up as we go along, much like we did as SEO was growing. We look to the few that have an “inside track,” and emulate them, as if they are made men and the chosen ones. We forget that social media means making connections and collaborating with our communities and we spend our time being peacocks, and demanding our communities follow us.
Social media is dead.
I dont know if we can fix it. I dont know if social media will become like SEO, where its practiced by many, but perfected by few. Where the companies and agencies that win are the ones that understand that, for example, there is real benefit to making the kitchen a social place to help build the brand of their appliances, or that real communities are built on collaboration through transparency.
If you are a social media professional, I ask that you think about what value you are bringing the industry and the brands that you represent. Are you just outputing the same old crap, or are you finding new and interesting ways to create engagement? Are you sharing your failures and successes with the social media community? Do you collaborate with other professionals?
Im frustrated with the current state of social media. There are too many people not realizing the damage they are causing the industry. There are too many people that have put the immediate dollar ahead of the long-term benefit of our industry. It will end up that a few agencies and people will dominate the landscape and the majority of social media professionals will go off and do whatever the next big thing is. We will look at the social media industry much like the SEO industry is now viewed, as something that has been riddled and defiled by fortune hunters, rather than the marketing/PR revolution is it.
Social media is dead. And that just sucks.
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Ok, I will give you a clip. Its NSFW, but fuck you knew that!
Is that a bad thing? After all, every profession has its “Made Men.”
But social media is different. In social media, we have “ambient intimacy.” We know more (or at least think we know more) about each other than most other professions. Because we are all such friends, we gossip like teenagers, get excited when we see each other, truly wish for success (for some) and failure (for others). We view the world as “insiders vs. outsiders,” and tend to tell the same stories over and over.
Yet in all of that glorious chaos, there are a few Made Men (and they do tend to be Men). They are above the “internet famous.” They are not just bloggers (mommy or otherwise), They are not just marketers (internet or brand), they are the people that everyone attempts to emulate.
The problem with Made Men, is that they tend to react to the world as the world acts upon them. Its not a drinking of their own Kool-aide, shit, we all do that. But its a protection against mistakes. Its protection against critical thinking. Any message from a Made Man is a Good Message.
Its that lack of critical thinking that is stopping innovation in the social media space. We are now waiting for the Made Men to tell us what next. Even worse, we are waiting for the TOOLS to innovate so that we can be the first to react to the innovation.
For many reasons, we need our Made Men to help validate our industry, but we need to rely upon our own intellectual curiosity to drive the innovation necessary to propel our industry.
We need to stop relying on tool manufacturers to provide innovation. Does the carpenter wait for the hammer manufacturer to create a new hammer?
We, as an industry, have lost sight of what the value of our industry is. It is us. collectively. We are the ones that will help businesses and people reach their audiences in new and intelligent ways. We are the ones that will demand of our tools builders to build tools that truly drive us forward.
If you are in charge of social media for yourself, your company or your client, spent 10 minutes tomorrow thinking about a way that they can use social media to engage their communities in a new and innovate way. And most importantly…
Share it with everyone else.
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Last year some time, perhaps around SXSW, I was introduced to a woman I had started to hear a lot about.
She was described as someone who had started a documentary, sort of on a whim, and had collected a number of really interesting interviews. Most of the equipment she had was donated, and much of the work she had done was amateur. But, the subject matter, “How technology has changed how we live our lives” was riveting and the perspective interesting.
As I got to know Melissa Pierce, I found out that we had many intersections of people, thoughts and ideas, and over the past year, we have become friends.
A couple of days ago, I saw the rough cut of her file, Life in Perpetual Beta, and while it leaned on the side of rough, its compelling, and will be worth the time (and hopefully money) to sit and watch and think.
Today, I was pointed to this video:
Which she talks about why she started the film. Watch it. Its pretty interesting (of course, my favorite part is about 5:30 in, when the camera almost gets dropped). Its pretty interesting in that there was a moment when Melissa realized that doing this film was important to her, and that regardless of the path, she was ready to start down it. A moment.
At Gnomedex this year, I had the immense pleasure to meet Jay Grandin and Leah Nelson of Giant Ant Media. When their presentation began, they talked about how they put together a video, which went viral on YouTube.
They began to explain how this video got them a gig with MySpace, and I quickly shoved my face back into my laptop. “Yay!” I thought to myself, “another viral video. Perhaps I will do a video about testicles (By the way – I didnt start that twitter account. Or this one. Or this one. Or this one. Thank God, they are all dead). Bet I could get 9 million views.”
But as their presentation progressed, they talked about how entering the social media realm. Strike that. This wasnt really social media, even though it was attached to MySpace, it was really the “social connection” realm, because Jay and Leah, then started a project where they went to Europe and asked their MySpace friends if they could crash on their couches. Which they did. And they filmed it.
Now before you jump into the standard American “WTF!?!? Strangers? IN EUROPE?!” Jay and Leah are Canadians living in Vancouver. So, the potential of them getting bitten and turning into werewolves, ala An American Werewolf in London, were pretty slim. (It wasnt called A Canadian Werewolf in London for a reason. They are just too nice to be werewolves.)
But, somewhere on their journey from standard menial jobs to viral videos to MySpace to roaming around Europe they, like Melissa, made a left at Albuquerque.
(Ok, time for a quick aside. My reference of a “left at Albuquerque” is a reference to a famous line uttered by Bugs Bunny whenever he travelled in a cartoon. For some reason, he continually got lost, and would pop out of the burrow he was making and exclaim, “I shoulda made a left at Alburquerque!”)
Jay and Leah began to get involved with a project that was inspired by another member of their team, Danya Fast, had just returned from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and spoke about some kids who lived on the street hustling and performing. They decided to get involved:
Over the course of six weeks in Dar, we facilitated a youth-led project to record a 6-track Bongo-Flava hip hop album. We compensated a group of 20 youth with a cash salary on work days, by setting up housing for one year, and with lots and lots of cigarettes.
Amazing stuff, huh?
I often talk about how there are two types of entrepreneurs in the world, those that pack and plan their parachutes before jumping or those that jump trusting that they will figure it out on the way down.
“The whole entrepreneurial thing is that you kind of jump off a cliff and assemble your airplane on the way down. And financing, by the way, is a thermal draft, right? You’re a little further away, but the ground’s still coming at you if you can’t establish an airplane.”
– Reid Hoffman, as quoted by Jeff Bussgang in his new book, The VC Playbook
(While I would love to say that great minds think alike, Reid did found LinkedIn. C’mon, Reid, LinkedIn?!?! Sheeesh, I have work to do…)
Melissa, Jay and Leah all took the leap. They are trusting that they will figure it out on the way down. And, given what I know of them, they will. (Now, both are looking for help funding their projects. If they move you, give. If they dont move you, find someone it does move, and get them to give. Seriously.)
But, what of this concept of a “Left Turn at Albuquerque”? What compels people to make a major shift in their lives and careers to follow passion projects? My career and life have been pretty linear, with each “next” building off the “previous.” I am not surprised I am where I am today (maybe a bit disappointed in certain things, but certainly not surprised) because of the linear nature of my life and choices.
And, left turns dont have to be into non-profit or “world saving” activities. It just has to be drastic and a major life shift. Remember starting a company is difficult and hard, it could have large monetary awards, but its not a fundamental life shift.
Starting a company is not impressive. Changing your life’s path is awe inspiring.
If given the opportunity to take a Left Turn, dont let it pass you by. Jump. The parachute will figure itself out.