I have a confession to make: I used to work in advertising.
Not local Pennysaver ads – I’m talking big agency, New York City, Fortune 500 brands, Clio, One Show, shoots in exotic places, the works.
I worked for coke-head creative directors, worked with idea-stealing co-workers and fellow creatives who, instead of laughing at your jokes would just say “You know what would be funnier?”.
They say in LA, they stab you in the back. In New York, they stab you in the front.
I miss those days.
Because despite the delusions of grandeur (no industry has more award shows than advertising), the stolen ideas, the late night meltdowns, the ups and downs of account wins and losses, there was still a sense of humbleness at the end of the day that doesn’t exist at the “upper echelons” of the social media world.
My first mentor was a skater punk who went on to win the Grand Prix at Cannes. He hasn’t written a book. He has no Twitter following. My second mentor won hundreds of major advertising awards. You’ll not find him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. He doesn’t care to tell you what he’s doing.
The advertising heroes us creatives looked up to and wanted to be when we grew up? Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby, Jay Chiat. A long list of recent advertising greats. They don’t have books. Or websites. Or incessant Twitter feeds.
That’s because smart, brilliant, talented people don’t need the validation that the so-called Social Media Illuminati seek. These creative professionals top out at million or two per year in salary. To them, a Tweet is a headline they haven’t sold to a client yet. They also don’t have that much time on their hands.
Real Leaders Don’t Force Others to Be Led
Back in the day I really wanted to be a Dan Wieden or Jeff Goodby. I wanted to win hundreds of awards like the creative directors who gave me the high standards I bring to my work to this day.
But after winning a few awards, I realized something pretty profound: nothing changed. Food did not taste different. People at work didn’t treat me any differently. I did not suddenly have better luck with women or get better seats in restaurants.
After winning multiple awards, there still was no change. Winning one or winning one hundred made little difference. When you haven’t won an award you look up to people who have. When you win one you say “hey, I won!” People who already won go “Yeah? So did I.” People who haven’t yet now hate you.
With that, I realized I had accomplished all I could as an advertising creative.
Sure, I can write more funny headlines. But the novelty was wearing off quick. I had seen work I’d created on the Super Bowl. A spot I designed the storyboards for as a junior was the first in history to win an Emmy. I had achieved a lot at a young age, skipping college and being an art director at a major agency at the age of 20. I needed something different.
To be honest, I hated the Internet from the point of view of being a creative. A hybrid art director/copywriter, it was hard enough to get a job because recruiters have some of the lowest IQs I’ve come across in business. “Why don’t you just pick one or the other? I don’t know how to sell you,” they’d complain.
Programming? Hell no. I’d get calls all the time “I need a Flash Art Directuh with Action Script” as if they needed GI Joe and his Kung Fu Grip.
So despite my early venture into new media (CD ROMs anyone?,) I stuck with print. In 2002, my heart really not in advertising anymore, I had made a desperate move to the Berkshires to work for what turned out to be an ass-backwards god-forsaken agency in Lenox headed by a creative director who had never heard of the thumbnails/roughs/comps/final process of generating ideas.
“Just give me one final ad and go home.” he asked. After seven months, I was told “It’s not working out,” and was asked to leave.
I filed for unemployment and, with Winstanley Associates being the only agency in the region, the unemployment office explained to me that they would not be following up with me because they didn’t expect me to find another job.
“What do people do up here?” I asked. “Well, we have a lot of hospitals, some old folks homes and some prisons. So I guess you can say we medicate, we rehabilitate and we incarcerate.”
Rehabilitating After Bullshit
When you work in an agency, sometimes your coworkers are your only friends. You work long hours. People who work in advertising love to talk about their job. So there’s always something to talk about. When I was let go, I had no friends in the Berkshires. I just had an unemployment check, a computer, and an Internet connection.
The first thing I did was join a fledgling social network called Ryze.com. And that’s where I got my start in social media – in 2003.
A few of the “gurus” of social media started there, like Scott Stratten who was pushing his “Unmarketing” concept even back then. I immersed myself in the concept of social media and immediately began to see the implications it would have on business. Unfortunately, Ryze devolved into a festering pit of spammers, life coaches, millionaire mindset lemmings, and life coaches for life coaches.
But by the time that happened I had moved on – I built my own social network called Adholes and used a lot of the mistakes I learned from Ryze in creating a more cultivate and sustained community. Ironically, perfect for a person blogging on Punk Views on Social Media, I also started a punk community called Punknet.com.
Adholes is a story for another time. The point is, I’ve been hands on in social media for a long time as a publisher, community builder and tech entrepreneur. And I don’t have 150,000 Twitter followers, nor do I care to.
The most frustrating part of working in social media for me is simple:
While I’ve quietly been pioneering one of the first social platforms, working with brands from the moment they woke up and said, “Hey, what’s MySpace?” and otherwise championing the idealistic concept of business as a two-way conversation between brands and consumers, there are people who seem to specialize in social media only for building their own social media status.
These people have hijacked the conversation from the real leaders – which is why I agreed to participate in this blog, because I believe the group we have is an excellent cross section of the people who know what’s up, without being a self-proclaimed rock star.
Frustrating, because the only difference I can find between people like them and people like us is that, quite frankly, we’re just too busy. Whenever I talk to one of my colleagues, we wonder, “Who has that much time to write all these blogs and tweet and deal with that big of an audience?”.
Unfortunately, the only way to build that big of a following without being a celebrity in the first place is to either use some sort of spammy trickery or otherwise be manipulating in some way or shape.
I won’t deny that some social media gurus don’t have something interesting to say. But often, reading one of their informative diatribes is so filled with a blend of hype and narcissism that it’s difficult to get through. A huge heaping of hype is put in the headline with the idea that their flock is lazy and will pass along links that look good without even reading them.
Social media doesn’t need a strategy. It just needs a point of view – release early, release often, adjust on the fly, apologize if you screw up and fail gracefully. There’s no social media “experts” because the field changes too quickly. I’ve never said I’m an expert, but rather, a social media learner. When people hire me I want them to rely on me for my ability to figure out what’s next and what to do about it.
Which brings me to my point: debunking the social media “leaders” who have hijacked the conversation.
Social Media Guru or Sociopath?
When you’re considering hiring a social media professional, consider the following: According to the film The Corporation, the psychiatric diagnosis for a company is a sociopath. Some words from the meaning:
Manipulative and Conning
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.
If you know the type of social media “personality” I’m talking about, and read through the list, it’s pretty shocking to find similarities between a sociopath and a social media rock star. The very traits of these behaviors not only translate well to social media, but make them perfect partners to the corporations whose behaviors they seek to emulate.
Social media gurus all operate on the same model.
First, there’s a book. Some of my knowledgeable and busy friends write books about social media – but they had to work double time to get it done. I would have to. Professional social media gurus write their book as a break between tweets. Or even, just publish their tweets. Now that they have a book, they funnel all their social media assets to it. And then, every speaking engagement is pushing people to the book.
And the book is popular. And so are they. And corporations pay them too much money to “consult” so they can come in and say things like “engaging” and “co-creation” and then go back to writing their new book and tweeting about it.
They build up a massive audience essentially through a series of superficial relationships that emulate real ones but are kind of self-serving and fake. You may be friends with these people on some social media platform. I doubt you could stand to hang out with most of them in real life for an extended period of time.
In the mean time, corporations for the most part are still terrible at social media because they are sociopathic entities hiring successful sociopaths to tell them how they can translate their anti-social behavior into social media. Brilliant.
So I ask: will the real social media leaders please stand up?
Because, seriously, we need a revolution.