Tag Archives: Gary Vaynerchuk

Don’t “Like” this post

Marvin Hamlisch, one of the most successful and most honored composers of our time, passed away unexpectedly yesterday.  My better half posted a lovely tribute for him in her Facebook status update, acknowledging his decades-long career and some of the amazing songs he had a hand in creating, like “Nobody Does it Better,” arguably the best James Bond theme song ever recorded.  Hamlisch was Barbra Streisand’s go-to music guy and had a reputation as one of the most creative and nicest people in the industry, writing hundreds of tunes that have gotten stuck in your head at one point in your life or another – and I’m eulogizing him by clicking a little thumbs-up icon.  The Facebook Like is one of the most dehumanizing tools in social media:  wildly misleading, grossly inaccurate and ultimately, utterly useless.  The contradiction nags at me; by clicking Like am I saying that I’m happy that Marvin Hamlisch is dead?  When someone posts a status update about some horrible situation unfolding on the other side of the world, is me Liking it announcing I’m positively chuffed silly that people I don’t know are being oppressed and murdered?  Siskel and Ebert pretty well defined for all time the meaning of the thumbs up versus the thumbs down, and I can’t believe that saying I like something is anything less than a full endorsement of it (which is why I tend to be very reserved in doling out my Likes).  I can understand why Facebook doesn’t include a “thumbs down” or a “Dislike” button; such functions would only be opening up avenues to trolls.  But I suspect that the original intention of the Like has been corrupted leagues from its original purpose – to demonstrate acknowledgement and interest.  (Of course, an “I Acknowledge and Express Interest In This” button would be a bit unwieldy.)

Facebook users can get carried away with the idea of Likes.  Status updates are often posted as little more than Like Bait (I’m copyrighting that term if no one else has already), with shameless emotional bromides such as “Like if you wish cancer never existed.”  As someone who lost his mother to cancer I find these more than a bit pedantic and insulting, particularly since my click will do less than nothing to contribute to the cause of ending of cancer as a life-threatening illness – it certainly won’t bring my mother back.  “It’s about awareness,” comes the rejoinder.  First of all, I’m pretty sure that apart from those unfortunate souls so disadvantaged they do not possess the mental faculties required for basic comprehension, most people on the planet know what cancer is and why it is bad.  Rich, poor, cancer doesn’t discriminate.  It’s an evil f***ing disease and because there is more money in giving men erections we have fifteen different varieties of hard-on pills and we’re still decades away from a workable cancer cure.  The only thing clicking on these sad pictures will accomplish is rack up meaningless numbers on a Facebook server and give the person who posted it in the first place a transitory feeling of accomplishment.  People will still die from cancer every day.  Worse in the category of Like Bait© are those pushy status updates which not only play to your sympathies but then brazenly challenge readers to copy and repost them, sneering through the screen with remarks like “I know 90% of you won’t repost this, but I know the ones who aren’t selfish, uncaring, contemptible slime-sucking chunks of weasel vomit will.”  Which makes me wish Facebook had a “Drop Dead You Condescending Prat And Don’t Tell Me What I Should And Shouldn’t Post” button.

What is most ironic about “clicktivism,” as it is called, is that any social media expert worth their weight in pixels will tell you that Likes are meaningless.  Marketers, who as Gary Vaynerchuk reminds us eventually ruin everything, have conspired diabolically to pervert Likes into a bludgeon to try and sell you stuff.  It comes in so innocent a form:  “Like our page to help save kittens!  Once we get 6000 Likes everybody gets a popsicle!”  Your reward for Liking that one ad that made you chuckle last Thursday, of course, is to have your news feed clogged from now until the apocalypse with special offers for every crappy piece of kitsch that company’s marketing guys feel inclined to spam you with.  The majority are no different than the jerks who sold your home phone number from the application you don’t remember filling out to the window & door replacement and duct cleaning services who consider it good business practice to bombard you during dinner, and we know how much we love those folks.  Regardless, believing that a high number of Likes means you’re winning in the social media stream would be like a stand-up comedian thinking that as long as every seat in his audience is filled, he doesn’t actually have to say anything to them.  Likes are a snapshot of a fragment of time when for a moment you captured someone else’s fleeting notice.

Methinks therein lies the rub of the Like.  It is fleeting.  It’s saying “I don’t have time to contribute anything worthwhile to the discussion, but I don’t want to seem rude by not saying anything at all.”  For all the capacity of social networks like Facebook to present increased opportunities for human connection, our lazy first world brains have still found a way to spare it the barest minimum of our attention.  When someone wrote you a letter back in the day, the only way to let them know you’d received it was to write back – imagine the impropriety of returning the letter to sender with “LIKE” scrawled across the envelope.  No doubt the people of that era felt as busy and stressed out as anyone does today (everything is relative after all), but they made the time to respond.  It was the human touch, and a factor that is utterly beyond the capacity of the Like button.  When our friends take the time to upload photos of their family, their latest vacation, their amazing cake creations or a simple piece of wisdom that they want to share, clicking Like is quite literally the least anyone can do in response.  With this amazing tool at our disposal, it seems a colossal waste of resources.

I know 90% of you won’t agree with me, but… forget it, I’m not going down that road.  Like, don’t like, it’s entirely up to you.  Just pause to think about what you are actually saying when you click that little thumb – and wonder if there’s a way you could say it better.

The importance of being human: Social Mix 2012

Canadian Internet media company Jugnoo (Sanskrit for “firefly,” or light from within) hosted Social Mix at Toronto’s Royal York hotel yesterday, gathering social media notables such as Amber Mac and Gary Vaynerchuk to impart their observations on how things are evolving in cyberspace circa end of July 2012.  One of the best-received speakers was someone who at first glance wouldn’t appear to be a go-to social media guru:  Sgt. Tim Burrows of the Toronto Police Service.  While the talks of the other speakers and panellists focused largely on how to approach social media from the perspective of private business establishing a digital image for itself, Burrows’ challenge was somewhat unique – using social media to attempt to manage the image of an institution that from day one has been defined almost exclusively by others.  In the West, our perceptions of the police have evolved, as Burrows’ presentation illustrated, from the idyllic image of Officer Friendly sharing a soda with a wide-eyed kid at the malt shop, through the steroid, napalm and inexhaustible ammunition-fueled antics of Dirty Harry and his cinematic descendants, to what was singled out as the worst offender in terms of creating unrealistic expectations, TV “reality” shows like Cops and procedurals like CSI.  In his role with TPS, Burrows confronts attitudes forged by hyped-up media reports, Public Enemy songs and overactive imaginations and tries to reassure the community that behind the often contradictory mythology that has grown up around the blue is a group of human beings trying to do their jobs – human beings as prone to failure as the rest of us but expected at all times to be unflappable paragons of virtue – and looking to change the conversation to that level.  It’s an important lesson for any public body looking to take the plunge into the digital space, particularly as the cost of ignoring that space means that it will be filled with exactly what you don’t want out there influencing people’s opinions of you.

Simon Sinek talks about how companies like Apple, even in the era that preceded the digital media wave we are riding now, crafted their brand loyalty not through the selling of a product, but the sharing of ideas and values that could be identified with by the consumer regardless of what product was being offered – why they do what they do.  In his keynote, Gary Vaynerchuk expanded on this to boil success in social media down to a single concept – storytelling.  In one of his many insightful anecdotes, Vaynerchuk described how every first-time customer of his wine business always received a personal follow-up thank you call.  Frequently, he observed, the customer on the other end of the phone would wait awkwardly for the other shoe to drop – for an expected additional sales pitch, which never came.  It was a money-loser and literally nothing more than a personal touch, with no sneaky attempt to generate revenue or leads or any other marketing shenanigans (as an aside, Vaynerchuk remarks with resignation that ultimately marketers ruin everything, as they will eventually ruin social media).  For Vaynerchuk, the idea was to hearken back to the story of the old country general store where the clerk knew your name and could fill your order before you walked in – in essence, crafting a more human experience.  It’s remarkable, although not totally surprising, that as the volume of information flow expands exponentially with each nanosecond and our attention span becomes more and more fractured, we crave that connection even more.  Why else do we post pictures of our children on Facebook and share details of where we go and what we’re doing at every opportunity?  Because it makes us feel human.  And there is nothing so uniquely human as the story.  Nothing else can move, engage or inspire us in quite the same way.  In an era where almost everything is available by download, people still go out to the movies to share the experience of the story in the company of their peers.  Sgt. Burrows is attempting to craft a story for the Toronto Police that establishes them as partners in peace, rather than jack-booted, fear-inducing authority figures; in other words, humanizing them.

What then, is the lesson for public entities looking to create a strong digital profile?  The irony for organizations such as governments is that in a democracy people tend to treat their government like they do their appendix – ignore it unless it’s acting up.  Using social media simply as an additional channel for press releases and official statements is certainly doomed to failure.  The key question is how to create a story – and as any professional storyteller will advise, a great story starts with great characters, that is, the human beings at its heart.  Public servants, like the police, have long been the collective whipping boy for everything that is wrong with government – the archetype of Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister, striving constantly to maintain the status quo and do as little as possible while reaping tax-funded pensions and keeping the people they ostensibly serve baffled by the process.  (The news of former prime ministerial advisor Bruce Carson’s arrest for influence peddling today doesn’t help.)  There is still, however, plenty of opportunity to try to start rewriting that narrative, emphasizing the responsibility and indeed the nobility of service.  Government is uniquely positioned beyond any brand to be able to use social media to help craft a sense of community; for all the ballyhoo that private corporations do everything better, one is hard-pressed to find examples of corporations uniting neighbourhoods and instilling a sense of civic pride in the people who walk those streets. If government can become more personable, if it is able to let its humanity shine through, then the compelling story will write itself.  People will become engaged in their government as everyday partners, not once-in-a-blue-moon voters, because they will care about where the story is going – and want to write themselves in as part of it.  The ROI isn’t clicks and shares, but something far more precious:  a healthier democracy and ultimately a more human place to live.