Cafe Witness

Saturday, September 29, 2007

5 Reasons Social Media Makes Me Want to Claw YOUR Eyes Out

Once again, I must qualify this post with a disclaimer: I create social media. At times, what I create is quite good, and I enjoy the process. I also enjoy the community aspect of social media.


There's a LOT of fluff and very little substance to social media (so far), and that extends to the way in which we frame our arguments. So, if at all possible, I'd be extremely pleased if I never had to hear the following statements again:

1. "___ is a rockstar."

Sooner or later, everyone who creates new media and impresses someone ELSE who creates new media is knighted on that other person's blog or Twitter as being "a rockstar."

Do you wonder why the idea of celebrity is dead? It's because a guy with a microphone in his attic is referred to as "a rockstar" by the 7 people who listen to him.

If the Sandwich Artist at your local Subway doesn't know who "___" is, that person is not a rockstar.

2. "Many people around the world are supporting ___ by doing ___ today."

In today's case, Beth Kanter (who does great and noble work, mind you) filled in the blanks with: "Many people around the world are supporting the Monks in Burma by wearing red t-shirts today."

Sorry folks, but supporting "X" means calling your senator, or volunteering with a charity, or taking to the streets in impassioned protest. It's not finding a red t-shirt in your laundry pile and walking to 7-11 for a Sprite.

Can we stop confusing the appearance of activity with activity itself?

3. "Scoble___"or "i___"

As the biggest rockstar of them all, it seems blogger Robert Scoble is capable of having nouns, verbs and adjectives ascribed to him. Robert may (or may not) be a nice guy, deserving of all the fanfare alloted him by his acolytes.

But whether he is or not is actually beside the point, which is (once again): if the person laying pickles on my veggie sub doesn't know who he is, I sincerely doubt they'll know if they've been "Scobleized" or not...

Likewise, every time you arbitrarily add an "i" in front of a common noun or verb, an angel falls screaming from heaven.

4. "The power of community..."

Yes, community is important. Yes, there is power in community. And yes, it's safe to say that very little in life has ever been accomplished without the combined efforts of multiple, dedicated people.

But if we who create social media keep deluding ourselves into believing that this phantom notion of "community" will somehow "save the day," we're sorely mistaken.

Community is fun. Community is free. Community is empowering and rewarding and comforting and enviable and safe. But community alone does not validate the existence of something when contrasted to The Bigger Picture. Community is a by-product or a means toward something successful, not an end unto itself.

Doubt me? Ask your audience to pay your rent this month.

Every month.

5. "I don't need to monetize ___ to justify it."

Yes. Yes you do.

If you're blogging, and thousands of people are reading, but you're not profiting from that, you're wasting your time.

If you're creating a podcast that has a rabid following and zero income, you're wasting your time.

If the creation of your podcast / blog / website / widget / etc. costs you even one penny more than it brings in, you're wasting your time.

I don't want to hear about how the "power of community" is justification enough. I don't want to hear about how "monetizing is missing the point." And I certainly don't want to hear ANYONE say, "I'm just going to tread water a little longer because I KNOW success is right around the corner."

Success doesn't find you; you find it. There are exceptions to that rule, but basing your financial, mental and emotional wellbeing on becoming an exception to a rule is possibly the least intelligent course of action you could take -- especially if the rule you're flouting is "make money to survive."

Until the vast majority of us who create social media, and who comprise the larger "community" associated with it, can get beyond the puppy love stage of attraction to this medium and begin producing content that both matters AND generates revenue, the fishbowl is in no danger of being assimilated.

Nor are we in danger of actually becoming rockstars...

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  • I agree with everything except for #5. Sometimes you do it because you like to do it. Simple as that. It gives you a way to express yourself.

    In fact, I'll say the exact opposite of you and point out that if you are blogging/vlogging/etc. for the sole purpose of making money, then you are wasting your time. Because I don't care how good of a self promoter/marketer you are, for the other four reasons Justin listed above, the likelihood of you actually making a living off of whatever social media you create right now is slim to none.

    The people who other folks think are "rockstars" and make a little money off of what they create ARE the exceptions to the rule. If you go out to LA to become an actor, I hope you enjoy waiting tables, because it's the EXCEPTION to the rule that becomes Tom Cruise. The same applies to social media until things change drastically.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:53 PM  

  • Great post Justin. I think I smell a meme coming on here! 5 thing you hate about the modern internet culture. Wow, I can't believe I commented on a blog again!!!!

    By Blogger JPersch, at 7:17 PM  

  • in the immortal words of Neo, "Whoa..."

    By Blogger Clintus McGintus, at 7:34 PM  

  • I guess it depends on your definition of rockstar.

    Isn't everything relevant. Is Britney Spears a rockstar? Would I pay her rent? It is all relative to the perspective of the fan. Because while Britney maybe famous I don't think she is a rockstar and I have never given her a dime.

    When Chris Brogan says, "Your a rockstar." It helps to empower people. And then he follows it up with the story about the blogger writing fishing tips and cottage cheese recipes, who has an audience of 5, etc (you know the example). What i'm saying here is that you maybe discrediting those people.

    And isn't it all about building community. I challenge your criticism of the red shirt thing. Maybe that is step one in building a community. As she follows up she can communicate to all those people she influenced once for something greater. I belong to my church for the community of people. I could worship anywhere.

    For some people it is baby steps especially in social media. I guess you need to find a definition for rockstar. I am also wondering what moved you to write this piece?

    By Blogger Norm, at 8:29 AM  

  • Hi Justin:

    I agree with you but I really think you picked a bad example.

    What's happening in Burma is not fluff. In addition to signing petitions or calling your senator, having a visual calls attention and is a conversation starter.

    I heard about the red t-shirt campaign from my Cambodian colleagues. It came from neighboring countries in Southeast Asian to show support of the monks.

    The red t-shirt activity is what the folks in Cambodia did outside the Burma Embassy to protest and show support. Unfortunately, in that particular country -they couldn't necessarily call their "senators" and expect anything to happen. A visual -- like wearing a red t-shirt -- did the trick.

    In the other posts I did on this topic, I included all the various ways that we who are living in democracies can do things like call their senators, sign petitions, or email their presidents - and not get shot or threatened.


    The post also included all the various calls to action.

    I wore my red t-shirt to the gym on Friday and another person was a read t-shirt. I asked them, are you supporting Burma today. they said, "What?" At that point, I started to educate them - along with 6-7 other people standing around. I gave them information about signing petition, etc.

    Having a visual sign to support your advocacy effort - both online or off line - is a conversation starter ... then a call to action.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:20 AM  

  • Here's an example of how wearing a red t-shirt can be effective outside the us

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:31 AM  

  • Peronally I think, its no only the read shirt (so many people wearing red), but its also to make your commitment, like Beth did in the gymn. And: you definatly have to write to your senator or whoever. Its both: Its acting and its showing people that you are part of a movement. No movement, no move.

    By Blogger thomas, at 9:57 AM  

  • On Friday, I was wearing a red shirt. I met one of my ex-student for lunch and she is Burmese. She was pleasantly surprised that I was supporting the event. My wearing red shirt does not change the world but if it helps make one person (who probably spend most of the last couple of days worrying about folks back home in Myamar)happy, I am glad to do it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:18 AM  

  • Matthew: I'm a huge, huge fan of doing something for fun. I believe that's ACTUALLY more important than doing it for money, because it means your motivations are still (mostly) pure.

    But without the capital to grow / expand / improve what you're doing, your options are severely limited, and you're essentially hamstrung into 2 categories: lifelong hobbyist, or "person waiting for charitable break from someone else." Neither of those screams "rockstar" to me.

    Norm: You're right, the word "rockstar" is ambiguous. To me, it connotes 2 things: public recognizability and the power to get things done.

    Britney Spears, by that definition, is a rockstar. A bass fishing podcaster with five listeners is not. Your POV may vary, but I think referring to anyone who tries -- or anyone you like -- as a "rockstar" is misleading and de-powers the word.

    Beth: We agree completely that Burma is far from fluff, which is why I believe the red t-shirt solidarity movement isn't ENOUGH of a movement when compared to the crisis at hand.

    I totally get that it could be a conversation-starter in the right hands, such as yours. I also get the therapeutic visual value of people recognizing your commitment to the issue. But the apathetic majority will see that meme and think, "Oh, I wore a red shirt; therefore, I did enough."

    Nope, sorry - your Senator can't see that red shirt.

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 12:49 PM  

  • Here's another way to show support for Burma - and also a whole of lot actions you can take ..

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:46 PM  

  • I strongly disagree with #5. I think it's an exceedingly narrow and cynical point of view. Whether or not I'm wasting my time is purely up to me. It's my time, not yours.

    I wrote a blog post a while back about Open Source being a purer meritocracy because it's judged only on the quality and usefulness of its output, not on the power and wealth of its sponsors or its profitability due to non-quality issues (e.g. monopoly).
    In my career in corporate America, which spans nearly 40 years, it's been my experience that the profit motive undermines at least as much quality as it enhances, and worst of all, it prevents talented people and products from ever seeing the light of day.

    By Blogger Joe C, at 9:46 AM  

  • A bit off topic, but before I do go derail anything, I will say I love reading this blog and stumbled across it through twitter.

    Anyways, I'm a self proclaimed css guru, and your comments are spilling over your layout. Your really close to an easy fix though, just nailing down the bug is the hard part.

    See, your layout is contained in, ultimately, div#wrap. That image that tiles along the y-axis must know how long its content is, and because right off the bat, all of div#wrap's contents start by floating left, div#wrap can't see its contents.

    If you'll add this snippet of code to the div#wrap part of your css, you'll be right as rain :D.

    float: left;
    /*Now it sees content*/

    /*This centers fixed width, floated content */
    margin-left: -423px;
    position: relative;
    left: 50%;

    Hope that helps out and keep up the great writing!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:55 AM  

  • I am a rockstar to my kids. That's enough for me. I'm also a my own mind.

    By Blogger David Jacobs, at 12:17 PM  

  • Yeah, I'll take number 5 with an asterisk because I really think it depends on the goals of the individual. I also think it'd be hard not to end up getting something out of the deal if you have a blog or podcast with thousands of followers even if it hasn't been officially "monetized" (do I ever hate that term). It'll pay dividends of one form or another. Job opportunities, etc.

    Also, I think the "rockstar" monicker is just a little harmless cheerleading usually intended to elevate people who might be a little tentative. Do some get carried away with the term and with the whole mutual admiration society thing, in general? Hell yeah.

    The rest of your points were so solid I wanted to cry. But I didn't!

    Oh...wait...there I go.

    By Blogger Jon Glassett, at 12:30 PM  

  • Joe C: I agree, your time is yours. If people want to be hobbyists, by all means, be hobbyists.

    But if you're not amassing resources to grow your work / this medium -- and those resources include actual money -- I need to stop hearing about how revolutionary this medium "could be". I really do.

    Be as innovative, iconoclastic or conservative as you want -- it's your time. But if that doesn't translate to success for you, please don't complain that "all this medium needs to succeed is ___."

    If you're not putting gas in the car, don't ask me why it's not running.

    Ken: Thanks for that code snippet. I knew I'd screwed up my template long ago, but never knew how to fix it. Much appreciated.

    David: You SHOULD be a rockstar to your kids. I'm glad you are. But for the people who are aiming for a wide audience, let's stop jumping the gun and proclaiming people "red hot successes" before they actually earn it.

    The more literal metaphor, of calling people "Flashes in the Pan," would be damaging to our fragile social media egos, no?

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 12:31 PM  

  • I was with you until #5 also Justin. I write for enjoyment. It is a hobby. Blogging isn't a full time job for me, and I'm not quitting my day job anytime soon :)

    The rockstar point was great - it is kind of funny, I don't consider any of the bloggers or twitterers rockstars with the exception of maybe Guy Kawasaki or Dave Winer. Scoble is entertaining but in no way do I consider his opinion higher than anyone elses.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 12:41 PM  

  • The most valid point is the one that can be summed up best as "putting verbs into your sentences." I think I've gotten to a point where evangelizing about social media is no longer enough for me- I want to see people doing something useful with it.

    Like raising money for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia with the Rocky Run at Podcamp Philly. Or trying to help keep Alive in Baghdad going, and make sure others know about this, as well as sending financial support myself.

    By Blogger wsh1266, at 12:50 PM  

  • NEWSFLASH...Justin Kownacki jumps out of the fishbowl - people react. Film at 11.

    In the last two years, I've taken more business trips than I ever have - I like the view from 32,000 feet.

    I try to keep that viewpoint even while I am walking around down here.

    Shall I try and make a point here? Sure thing - here it goes...follow along closely.

    Q: What is your Mothers name?

    Good, next...
    Q: What is your Grandmothers name?

    Q: What is your Great-Grandmothers name and 5-generations before her?

    See where that is going? Longevity, even something as simple as knowing the names of your OWN family members, overtime, gets lost.

    Most of us are stuck in the "now" - what can I/we do right now that matters? (I don't care, I think about what can I do NOW that will make a difference 30 years from now...100 years?)

    Instant gratification - it's like crack, and we're all addicted to it.

    Don't believe me? Then you are out of touch with what is really going on...

    Can we change it/our behavior? Yes.

    Success or not? Judge for yourself, who cares what other people think/do/say?

    Success is relative.

    Life is relative.

    If we can eventually create something of value, which changes society for the better( again, relative) then we have actually accomplished something (relative?).

    If, everything you have stated is in fact true, then the popular social networks of today are all on their way out.

    The view from 32,000 feet tells me that people eventually get back to their daily lives, spending their precious time doing things which matter, and sharing links, or building a friends list doesn't matter 5 generations from now...does it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:02 PM  

  • Spoken like someone who knows, Justin. It's hard to feel like a rockstar sitting in a coffee shop in Pittsburgh and wondering about the rent. You're the case study, or you *and* Brian Conley are the case study for "good idea making no money."

    So if I were you, and in ways I am, I'd feel similarly.

    Community has two uses, in this context:

    *I love you type.
    *I pay you type.

    The first is really nice, and we need it, but it doesn't keep you sustained. The second is difficult to work out right now. Big media has huge companies circling the talent. They have lots of angles. They work deals all the time to build it. And yet, you need to figure this out, or there's not a lot of cash value to what you're doing.

    I agree with other commenters. I use "rockstar" as a term of empowerment, not as an analog to "real world" rockstars. It means that I feel someone is moving the needle in some way, even if it's inside the fishbowl.

    So you've ranted on this well. Make me a road ahead. What would you do to make the world better?

    Throw out STBD in your mind, and what would you do tomorrow?

    I'm throwing myself out shortly. I'll let you know what I do.

    By Blogger Chris Brogan, at 1:41 PM  

  • Wow, what a great column, you are such a rockstar ;-)_

    Regarding the people who say that you can enjoy your blogging/social networking to bring value rather than monetizing it, I would ask them to think about what kind of enjoyment we are talking about here.

    What I mean is this: look at the trends in society away from joining actual clubs towards "wearing a red shirt" or joining a social network. The value of a facebook friend is not the same as the value of a friend I meet in church, even though in both cases, I might only exchange niceties/pokes.

    When I say it is fun to spend an hour poking/nudging online, that hour of fun needs to be compared to the fun I could potentially be having playing ultimate frisbee or hanging at the pub.

    This is correlated to your idea of monetizing. If I could be making $x/hour in real world, I need to compare the $/hour I am making online to determine whether it is a waste of time.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 3:30 PM  

  • Interesting points.

    1. "___ is a rockstar."

    I agree that it dilutes any situation to overuse a term, such as "rockstar" or "awesome". If you use the "good" terms for ANYONE doing ANYTHING of note, you run out of terms for those who really excel and are stellar at what they do. I agree with Chris' point that it's cheerleading as opposed to appoinment to a status. I suppose the question is whether diluting the top echelon is less important than uplifting those that could really use a pat on the back from someone they admire or respect.

    2. "Many people around the world are supporting ___ by doing ___ today."

    I agree with your red shirt example, assuming the person with the shirt stops THERE at their showing of solidarity. If you're going to wear a red shirt in support, WHY NOT call politicians while you're at it? WHY NOT be involved in many other ways, such as walking up to other people with red shirts and talking to them about the situation? People wearing red shirts in Idaho aren't likely to get shot for their beliefs. Some people accidentally wear green on St. Patrick's day. Some people wear green as a showing of solidarity. As a *sign* of support, unmarked shirts are great.... If the committment ends at the wearing of the shirt... How do they say?... "That and $1.50 gets you a cup of coffee".

    3. "Scoble___"or "i___"

    It's interesting that you bring up... let's call them, "community rockstars" in the same post where you talk about everyone being called a rockstar. *SOMEBODY* has to be a rockstar! :D Even if that's a local rockstar or their clout & prestige only extends to the people that are interested in a very niche segment of what's already niche, online social media. Maybe they should be called something different, like frontrunners in their respective fields or maybe 'just' popular bloggers? Dunno. Either way, I can't think of a single situation where everyone's on the same level in something. Even if you're "best of the worst", you still have props in that particular group and should be assigned whatever title is befitting of the leader(s) of the pack.

    4. "The power of community..."

    I'll have to go with Chris' statement here, in general. There's a "love" community and a "paying" community. It's not up to the community to carry a show. It's up to the content creator to know WHICH community he/she's looking at when they check their stats. It's up to the creator to make a BUSINESS plan..... IF they're intending for their show to be a business. If it's just a hobby, then you do it when you can do it, and when you can't you can't. EOL. There's TONS of value in the "love" community. Does that love translate into money? No. Different community. :)

    5. "I don't need to monetize ___ to justify it."

    Again, if you're into video as a hobby... Something you love to do, and would do whether you get paid for it or not... Or even YOU'RE paying to do your own show, you don't need to monetize your show at all in order to justify it to yourself. It's the same thing as going out drinking or chasing chicks. There's a cost associated with your hobby... It's a money-losing situation.

    If you're calling your show a business, then, yes... Like anything else, your goal in having a business is to GET money, not give it away. This is where your business plan and your accurate assessment of which community you have following you comes into play. Monetizing a show is based on demonstrable ROI. What are you offering to someone in order for them to give you money either to advertise on your show or just to support you as a sponsor?

    The questions then are (a) CAN this be done inside the fishbowl at all, and (b) Like Kathryn says... "if not now, when?"

    By Blogger Bill Cammack, at 6:26 PM  

  • Justin,

    Interesting points you bring up. I agree with the the "rock star" argument you make. In a lot of ways internet 'celebrity' is the most superficial of them all.

    I wouldn't necessarily agree with about 'wasting your time' comment you made in point #5.. I've been blogging on a regular basis for half a year now and I haven't made any money doing it. But in several ways it has been beneficial even though it hasn't profited me monetarily.

    By Blogger Teresa, at 7:43 PM  

  • You really nailed point two. I realize that people FEEL like they are being supportive when they wear a red t-shirt, etc. but the Burmese monks aren't going to have a better day if I don a red shirt here in Utah. They won't even know about it because they don't have internet access currently. The same with plastering our cars with ribbon stickers of various colors. Not only do most people not know what cause each ribbon is supposed to support, but sticking a pink ribbon on my car bumper isn't going to help my wife or daughters not develop breast cancer.

    These colorful displays of support are mere fluff unless we follow them up with actual action. Even writing a Senator can be a waste of time when they just vote how they want to anyway. However, if we band together with red shirts, letter writing campaigns, boycotts, and marches THEN we see the power of community in action. That's when change has a real chance of happening. Otherwise, you might as well just suck a lollipop for the Burmese, or whatever is your cause this week, for all the good you are doing them.

    The Splintered Mind - Overcoming Neurological Disabilities With Lots Of Humor And Attitude

    By Blogger D.R. Cootey, at 8:11 PM  

  • Michael: I'm not sure if social media will matter in 5 years or not. By then, whatever we consider "new" about it will probably have been absorbed into the mainstream, and the innovators will be forging new paths elsewhere.

    However, in broad terms, yes, changing something now that improves life down the road, relative or not, is still worthwhile. Whether or not your name is remembered comes in second to whether you feel you died having lived a life you can be content with.

    Chris: Throw out STBD and what would I do? I ask myself that question every day. 50/50 odds on either "something else involved in storytelling" and "something else entirely."

    I'll lay out a path for the future when I get the ideas together. Then the debates can evolve.

    Everyone: The conversations raised here are great, and I really am glad you all feel so strongly about your opinions (and mine) that you've taken the time to comment.

    I'm aware that there's no such thing as an ironclad rule or a "black and white" solution to any of the issues I've raised. Different things work for different people, based upon differing desires and levels of contentment.

    All I ask is: don't be satisfied MERELY with the small successes; we're all capable of a lot more than we're achieving (yet), and I don't want to see a potentially seismic shift in communications, lifestyle, culture, etc., simply flame out because any of us (or the majority of us) thinks we've done "enough."

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 11:29 PM  

  • Very interesting 'first post' that's introduced you to me, Justin (I came across your blog from a link on Chris').

    I'm NOT surprised at the controversy over #5, as I caught a lot of that flack when I first released an ebook called 'Blog Profits' which shared 33 ways to make money blogging - in 2003.

    That was when 'making money' was considered anathema to 'real bloggers' - strange how much changed in 4 years ;)

    I also enjoyed your style of writing very much, Justin, and will browse your blog and be back as often as I can.

    All success

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:53 AM  

  • I mostly agree with you, except "you must monetize, or you waste your time blogging".

    I make music for my own enjoyment. I distribute it free. I don't do it to make money.

    Same with blogging.

    Self expression, feedback from positive and negative comments, are reward enough. But I have gotten a job and some clients via blogging. Icing on the cake.

    The sheer joy of doing something can be sufficient.

    Not everyone is a mammonist psycho-capitalist.

    The best things are free, especially free music mp3s and free online content in blogs & Twitter.

    You are a favorite debate opponent, BTW.

    P.S. I loathe the term "Twitter rock star" or even "rock star" referring to musicians.

    Hate it almost as much as "pimp" used for "promote". How demeaning and sexist, eh?

    By Blogger steven edward streight, at 11:14 AM  

  • I am blogging about Burma monks, posting photos of them, and using red or monk avatars.

    All measure help. Raising awareness is activism.

    Writing congressman? Those pervs? Why? Politicians are liars and perverts, every single one of them. Bah!!!

    Free Burma.

    By Blogger steven edward streight, at 11:16 AM  

  • The thing about being famous is, it's weird. The only people who get how weird it is are other celebrities. People are interested in celebrities for many reasons.

    By Anonymous best fictional queens, at 4:01 AM  

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