I know it’s March, and I look like I’ve been procrastinating, but this needed ruminating. (From rumen, the cow’s first of four stomachs where recently chewed cud churns and is spit back out to be further chewed, then swallowed again.)
So 2011. The “year of mobile”. The year I figure out what the hell happened to 2010. And the Year of the Critic.
Anyone in social media/digital/ad/PR must have noticed the amount of KOLs, talking heads, gurus, and PR upstarts (like myself) out there blogging, tweeting, chatting, acting like we know what’s up. Right now, there are several thousand millennials reading hundreds of blogs by influencers tearing, trashing, ripping at the seams of “what we know”.
“Think outside the box!” they screamed at us in the nineties. “Rework” “rethink” “reimagine”, everyone seemed to have an answer to creating the reinventive buzz happening in startups. The answer was: Stop whatever you’re doing right now!
This motivational culture has replaced all other religions by bestowing a sense of self-worth on the baptized. We think by branding ourselves and running around as thought rebels, tearing down the opaque grey cubicles of “corporate thinking” or “Old Media”, our Bennetton-techno colored genius will stand out in the black-suited masses. The result is a web filled with critics.
According to Groundswell in 2006, Critics ranked second on the ladder to Creators, the 1% of the blogging creative world. Now with Yelp, Gripe, Foursquare, Product Review Sites, Twitter (usually at someone), we can complain all the time, and companies give us incentives to do it. In the personal branding world, the more scathing reviews of the latest trend we can give, or the more we can stand against the flow (Old Spice, please, amateur), the more we stand out.
Within the space of 30 minutes on Twitter I found myself defending GenY’s spending habits, Hootsuite’s capes, the value of entertainment in advertising and ripping on QR barcodes. My blog, my Twitter stream, and my Google Reader are filled with rips on web apps, startups, conventional wisdom and media trends. So much content, and so few helpful suggestions.
It seems nine out of ten times when I do find a “Grow Your Brand!” link, it sends me to an opinionated piece rambling on in the key of “Go Team Social!”, without ever much offering anything. Those critics who are out there saying “you’re doing it all wrong”, send you to their blog, and a piece that reminds you eerily of that English writing assignment you wrote in gym class. One poor woman whose post I didn’t agree with screamed out to the Twitterverse “I’m so sick of people telling me what I’m doing wrong!”
Why do the social gurus do this? Because (ha biochem lab teacher, starting a sentence with because!), somewhere along the way someone told them if they pointed out all the flaws in your current strategy, you would believe that they had all the answers. And nothing is a more powerful motivator than fear.
There is one person in the swamp stream of the web who continually stands out to me: Michael Brito. In technocolors. When I first decided to do this social media thing I went to LinkedIn and found all the PR and digital leads and followed them on Twitter. This got amusing when I realized many weren’t on Twitter, or had half-dead accounts filled with links and Foursquare check-ins. (Ten pts me?) Michael however, tweets are filled with smiles, witty remarks, jokes, he RTs great links, he encourages, stays humble, and his comments are positive. Michael is a creator. He creates great work, he writes how-tos on a public forum, he even positively cites competitors on his blog and rarely do I see him criticize.
Are we afraid too? Back to that Dale Carnegie guy: “There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors.” Like that poor woman screaming off to the social media heathens ready to tear her ideas limb from limb, we’re terrified of the criticism which must inevitably be directed at us when we put anything out there. Those KOLs sound so confident, they must have the answers, they must know better.
Maybe it’s laziness: Brian Solis is my favorite blogger, and ubiquitously adored. He offers both criticism and creation, but backed up in almost every post, at every point, and usually with charts, graphs and statistics. He’s been my role model for blogging to which consequently I have seven drafts awaiting publishing without the grinding motivation to do the research I know they require to be up to …my standards. Free from my own criticism.
Maybe we’re simply not good at anything but criticism. My favorite business professor, Bob Sicina, the CFO of Citibank when that was something to admire, taught two classes. Our freshaman year Intro to Business in which started class every class with “Start Me Up”, and put “Good to Great” as a reading assignment, and International Financial Accounting, in which we were given a one month intro to consulting. He told a story of a famous consultant named Harvey. Harvey was the KOL of his industry, he could go into any business, find exactly what the problem was and break it down into key components. He made lots of money for a long time and one day his boss said to him, “Harvey, you’re great at breaking things down, but can you synthesize?
Those words have haunted me for a year, and I suspect will for the rest of my careering days. Tonight a single tweet spurred this post. An @ reply to my comment the future of advertising was entertaining like the Old Spice Campaign, and interactive. The reply was that great content does not equate to purchasing decisions. So what does I asked? Silence. Then “140 characters isn’t long enough”.
“I’m so good at finding what I don’t like the most” laments Kanye. You and me both hothead, we’re so rapped up in what we like, in pleasing ourselves, in being those screaming rebel iconoclasts righting the wrongs and freeing true beauty, we forget for a moment to create ourselves.
So my New Year’s resolution for digital 2011 is to pull a Kanye. To be the creator, the idea supplier. Not to say I won’t be critiquing…reviewing new apps, new ideas, new trends…but the lines, in tearing apart a successful or popular campaign because it doesn’t fit my standard of beauty, no more.
I dare you to rethink that.