Why Gary Vee Should Champion Social Media Evolution, Not Revolution
Wildly successful as both an entrepreneur and author, Gary Vaynerchuk (popularly known asâ€œGary Vee the wine guyâ€) is known for creating WineLibrary.tv and writing Crush It: Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion.
Like so many other people, I love him, but with his latest book, The Thank You Economy, Gary asks us to join him on a journey devoid of meaning. He says itâ€™s time to take sides with social media. Youâ€™re either an uncaring business that â€œjust wants to sell s*#!â€ or a happy, smiley-face, joyful company who honestly â€œgives a f#(@.â€
However, Iâ€™m unsure that making this distinction leads to anything productive or insightful. Unlike his past efforts, this book feels like a way to sell Gary, a guy who doesn’t need a gimmick. Based on what Iâ€™ve seen, Iâ€™m concerned thatÂ it may be another example of more worthless â€œguru knowledgeâ€ in an industry already full of itself, a sharp contrast to what Gary offered previously.
Let me be clear:Â Gary is not one of those â€œgurus.â€Â Heâ€™s a legitimate, self-made entrepreneur with real-world experience applying the principles he promotes. He has a history of sharing these real success secrets in an engaging and motivating way. He has always offered useful information that helps people succeed. But despite being a great speaker and entertainer, Gary has gotten caught up in his success, his passion. So much so that the risk exists weâ€™ll label him a so-called social media guru, and I don’t want that to happen.
But Garyâ€™s latest offering doesnâ€™t include the same level of actionable advice. Instead he draws a problematic distinction between uncaring businesses and happy, honest businesses. I argue that a business can sell on social media and be polite, respectable, and appreciated by customers. I’ve literally written a book on it. And Gary did too.
So why does this book and his recent speeches distance himself from his past position? And why isnâ€™t he sticking to what makes him so amazing by offering practical, actionable knowledge that helps people improve their businesses?Â Thereâ€™s a new, aimless form of Gary emerging that asks unanswerable, yet highly quoted questions like, â€œWhat’s the ROI of your mother?â€
Pragmatists, not Enthusiasts
Chris Brogan argues that Gary Vaynerchuk’s function (as a keynote speaker) is to tee up the larger discussion, and his core, net worth is his passion and emotion. I believe Gary can offer us far more.
Gary didnâ€™t just get lucky with wine. He has a history of offering us steak with the sizzle. He didnâ€™t build his wine business with the attitude that â€œROI will be comingâ€ with social media. He built a social media platform to serve his business.
However, Garyâ€™s latest efforts have been a little light on the steak, which wouldnâ€™t matter so much if social media still needed enthusiasts. Instead it needs pragmatists. Businesses large and small need answers that they can use to drive results.
This pragmatism seemed to be missing from a recent address to the L2 Luxury Interactive conference where Gary said, â€œOne of the most powerful, important sites on the Internet is search.twitter.â€Â But he never got around to explaining why. He briefly discussed his early use of search.twitter.com, including how he used it to start WineLibrary.tv. Similar to how Mari Luangrath of Foiled Cupcakes did it, Gary used in-the-trenches best practices to build relationships with his first handful of fans. But the why and how were nowhere to be found in his speech.
It’s critically important for small business owners to hear about Garyâ€™s practical and effective early use of Twitter, but heâ€™s so busy entertaining that heâ€™s veering into the, well, nonsensical and at times dangerously hyperbolic.
Join the Evolution
The digital marketing industry faces a big problem: we’re selling simple lies rather than slightly complicated truthsÂ (e.g., success=engage, converse, and be human). But these are not new ideas or worthwhile investments without a specific purpose.
We’re talking ourselves into situations and setting expectation that we canâ€™t meet. The truth is that social media is an evolution, not a revolution. Itâ€™s made up of best practices that refine how we do business and interact, but that doesn’t sell books or earn keynotes.
Everywhere I look I see the carnage of social mediaâ€™s experts. From Facebook to Twitter we’re using the social web to broadcast rather than interact. We’re sending messages to â€œbrandâ€ when we should be discovering and solving customersâ€™ problems. Those efforts may naturally guide customers to sometimes connecting with our products/services.
I see really smart and accomplished people saying the same thing. There is no social media revolution. There is only evolution. While I’m confident that Gary agrees, we’re not hearing that point as a primary message.
For instance, in the L2 speech Gary advocated shifting more dollars to social media to support an â€œeyeball shift.â€ But this recommendation seems to run counter, for example, to Pepsiâ€™s experience after its historic investment in social media, a failing idea by its own admission. At times, he seems so caught up in believing thereâ€™s a revolution going on that he actually says things that seem to contradict his previous positions.
Balancing Selling and Serving
Consumerâ€™s bullshit radar has never been better (Gary still gets that part right). To be successful a brand does need to honestly â€œgive a F@!*.â€ But Garyâ€™s argument against people â€œwho just want to sell s*#!â€ (i.e., mean, rude, bottom-line driven, un-thankful) falls short.
You see, it is possible to balance the urge to sell with caring and saying thank you (the very subject of Gary Vaynerchuk’s new Thank You Economy). Gary’s actions and success actually seem to support this premise, but thatâ€™s not what Iâ€™m hearing in his speeches. Instead heâ€™s telling people that itâ€™s black and white, pick a side.
If weâ€™re better served by a government that isn’t so polarized, arenâ€™t marketers better served by approaching social media with a less extreme view? Doesnâ€™t it seem possible that thereâ€™s value in the middle-ground?Â In other words, we can sell on social media and be polite, respectable, and appreciated.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
At the end of his speech, Gary talks about how Reebock hockey ran a TV commercial and drove â€œ70,000 fans in 30 secondsâ€ to its Facebook page with the implication that â€œthey now have the data of those 70,000 fans, forever.â€Â Unfortunately they donâ€™t because that’s not how Facebook works. The bigger point that Gary skipped is that having a huge number of fans doesnâ€™t automatically lead to something exciting or useful â€œby default.â€
Paul Adams, Facebookâ€™s Global Brand Experience Manager explained the disconnect this way.
â€œMany brands run competitions on social media platforms.Â You have to â€˜Likeâ€™ or â€˜followâ€™ that business to enter.Â So the question is whether they are making connections with advocates of their brand, or with people who simply love competitions. If itâ€™s the latter, then theyâ€™re filling their social media interactions and data with noise.â€
Most digital marketing experts are continuing to lead by selling hype, speculation, and excitement.Â But as Adams cautions, business owners and managers need to base their decisions on how a given technology will help people do things they are struggling to do today.
â€œRather than try and predict which technologies will be dominant, I think the safer bet for businesses is to understand how these technologies will support human behavior and how they will help people do things they are struggling to do today,â€ said Adams.
Using social media to solve customers’ problems is a proven, effective strategy. It leads me to wonder why Gary Vaynerchuk isnâ€™t talking about how caring connects to behavior. As Paul Adams notes, â€œThinking about â€˜social designâ€™ should be embedded in everything we do, and not thought of in isolation.â€
More Signal, Less Noise
From the very brilliant Rachel Happe to Greg Satell and Duncan Watts, we can see that network theory on influence is far more complex than most marketers appreciate. And Gary has an opportunity to make sure we marketers start understanding and acting on this important knowledge. Itâ€™s my hope that heâ€™ll do so in the futureÂ more often than heâ€™s done so in the recent past.
Whether it’s a freshman politician or a wildly successful businessman-turned-social-media-expert like Gary, it can be a challenge to stay focused on our purpose and the opportunity to help others learn from our experiences.Â It can be easy to dilute important and thoughtful messages when we get distracted. Now, Gary is smarter than me (and better looking). I’m just a self-appointed referee blowing a whistle because I know Gary can do better. I’ve seen him do it.
That’s why I’m writing this tome. It’s the evolution not the revolution Gary should be championing.Â The evolution of how the way our society communicates, both socially and in business, is changing because of technology. Practically speaking in terms of business, â€œinfluencing the influencersâ€ and chasing “the social graph” will just be a blip on that timeline. Real business basics will carry through…you know, like word-of-mouth.
Thanks for listening and I look forward to your comments.
About Jeff Molander
Jeff Molander is the authority on making social media sell and corporate trainer to small businesses and global corporations like IBM and Brazilâ€™s energy company, Petrobras. Heâ€™s an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded what is today the Google Affiliate Network. Heâ€™s adjunct digital marketing professor at Loyola Universityâ€™s school of business and author of Off the Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You.
Blog: Off the Hook Blog
You can find Jeff on Twitter @jeffreymolander.