Why Gary Vee Should Champion Social Media Evolution, Not Revolution

Gary VaynerchukWildly successful as both an entrepreneur and author, Gary Vaynerchuk (popularly known as“Gary Vee the wine guy”) 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 it’s time to take sides with social media. You’re either an uncaring business that “just wants to sell s*#!” or a happy, smiley-face, joyful company who honestly “gives a f#(@.”

However, I’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 I’ve seen, I’m concerned that it may be another example of more worthless “guru knowledge” in an industry already full of itself, a sharp contrast to what Gary offered previously.

Two Garys

Let me be clear: Gary is not one of those “gurus.”  He’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 we’ll label him a so-called social media guru, and I don’t want that to happen.

But Gary’s latest offering doesn’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 isn’t he sticking to what makes him so amazing by offering practical, actionable knowledge that helps people improve their businesses? There’s a new, aimless form of Gary emerging that asks unanswerable, yet highly quoted questions like, “What’s the ROI of your mother?”

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 didn’t just get lucky with wine. He has a history of offering us steak with the sizzle. He didn’t build his wine business with the attitude that “ROI will be coming” with social media. He built a social media platform to serve his business.

However, Gary’s latest efforts have been a little light on the steak, which wouldn’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, “One of the most powerful, important sites on the Internet is search.twitter.”  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 Gary’s practical and effective early use of Twitter, but he’s so busy entertaining that he’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 truths (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 can’t meet. The truth is that social media is an evolution, not a revolution. It’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 media’s experts. From Facebook to Twitter we’re using the social web to broadcast rather than interact. We’re sending messages to “brand” when we should be discovering and solving customers’ 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 “eyeball shift.” But this recommendation seems to run counter, for example, to Pepsi’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 there’s a revolution going on that he actually says things that seem to contradict his previous positions.

Balancing Selling and Serving

Consumer’s bullshit radar has never been better (Gary still gets that part right). To be successful a brand does need to honestly “give a F@!*.” But Gary’s argument against people “who just want to sell s*#!” (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 that’s not what I’m hearing in his speeches. Instead he’s telling people that it’s black and white, pick a side.

If we’re better served by a government that isn’t so polarized, aren’t marketers better served by approaching social media with a less extreme view? Doesn’t it seem possible that there’s value in the middle-ground? 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 “70,000 fans in 30 seconds” to its Facebook page with the implication that “they now have the data of those 70,000 fans, forever.” Unfortunately they don’t because that’s not how Facebook works. The bigger point that Gary skipped is that having a huge number of fans doesn’t automatically lead to something exciting or useful “by default.”

Paul Adams, Facebook’s Global Brand Experience Manager explained the disconnect this way.

“Many brands run competitions on social media platforms. You have to ‘Like’ or ‘follow’ that business to enter. So the question is whether they are making connections with advocates of their brand, or with people who simply love competitions. If it’s the latter, then they’re filling their social media interactions and data with noise.”

Most digital marketing experts are continuing to lead by selling hype, speculation, and excitement. 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.

“Rather 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,” said Adams.

Using social media to solve customers’ problems is a proven, effective strategy. It leads me to wonder why Gary Vaynerchuk isn’t talking about how caring connects to behavior. As Paul Adams notes, “Thinking about ‘social design’ should be embedded in everything we do, and not thought of in isolation.”

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. It’s my hope that he’ll do so in the future  more often than he’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.  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. 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, “influencing the influencers” 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 Brazil’s energy company, Petrobras. He’s an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded what is today the Google Affiliate Network. He’s adjunct digital marketing professor at Loyola University’s school of business and author of Off the Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You.

Website: JeffMolander.com

Blog: Off the Hook Blog

Answers: AskJeffMolander.com

You can find Jeff on Twitter @jeffreymolander.

11 Responses to Why Gary Vee Should Champion Social Media Evolution, Not Revolution

  1. Thanks for putting into words Jeff what a lot of us are thinking. The hype is great to a point. But our customers, the ones writing the checks to get the amazing success that he is so great at sharing, walk away believing that all of this is magic. 

    What are you thoughts on this: I’ve always believed that SM just gives us a way to extend tried and true customer services practices in the real work. Technology has not changed the basics. When I explain how SM can better help your business to someone who is 50 and knows what customer service is he instantly ‘gets it’. But for some reason there is a group of people (possibly that have been to watch GV speak) that believe customer services is something magic and new. 


    •  “Technology has not changed the basics.”

      Well said Patrick…well said.

      From the article…I especially like the part about “forcing the like” to enter a contest.  Is that brand engagement?  I don’t think so.  People interact with other people, not a like button.

      Site visitor + Like button = “Yeah that’s cool.”

      Site visitor + real engagement from a person = Engaged


    • Thanks for your feedback and question, Patrick.  Yes, precisely.  Here’s the formula:

      Declarative statement.  Observational insight.  Unfounded edict or exhortation.

      Conversation (about brands, by customers) = not new but “new” now.  Oh my gosh… it’s so new and businesses are powerless against it.  It’s revolutionary.

      ROI = a complete mystery and/or measured as dozens of nonsensical ideas.  My personal favorite is “social currency.”  Notice, though, that these gurus don’t take that when it comes to their own compensation!   

      Branding is not branding.  It’s now engagement.  Or occupying customers’ time.  That’s a new idea… not.  It’s just “branding” (reach and frequency marketing) which, conveniently, has no clear definition.  It’s a guru’s wet dream.  Simply tie correlation to causation.  Bingo, instant ROI.

      In the end, Patrick, I’m sympathetic to the masses.  We have always preferred simple lies over slightly complicated truths.  And we always will.  So lately I’m trying to bring light to the fact that many of us are:

      1) expecting too little of social media
      2) looking to the wrong experts (when we should be looking inward, at what we already know works)
      3) asking the wrong questions (ie. “what is the average Facebook fan worth” rather than “how can I create leads/sales with Facebook?”)

      … and most of all, as you say, buying into a revolution that does not exist — beyond being a means to con otherwise smart people into investing in a “new world” that does not exist.

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  4. Matt Hixson says:

     The conversation between the let’s all hug and let me sell you something seems to be very popular these days.  That is probably because the only thing marketers have been trained to do over the past 60 years to pimp their stuff to get you to buy it.  There is no doubt that the point of capitalism is to make money which requires us to sell stuff.  For me the rub is that because the game has changed and individuals are having two way conversations the balance of power is different which requires a different way of thinking.  I agree with all of the buzz works like we have to have engagement but we have to sell stuff also.  The real issue is that there are very few activities in social media today that are one click away from a lead or a purchase.  There are companies out there that are being successful with this being a core part of their business.  I agree with you that there is a balance there.  I think that Gary can just be very extreme sometimes because sitting in the middle doesn’t get you noticed and it doesn’t sell much. 🙂

    •  “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”
      – Cicero

      “Marketers live in a buzzword economy in stead of the real world”
      Nils Andres, former CEO McDonalds

      Buzzwords… A colleague recently said this too: “Please don’t use the word ‘engagement’ when what you really mean is prolonged attention. Engagement creates an impetus for action.”

      Matt, if you’ve not yet seen this check it out.  It’s stunning from beginning to end… in the context of history and where we find ourselves today w/ social media.

  5. Tim says:

    Thanks, you nailed it! just read The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuck, and I felt exactly the same way. A
    lot of sizzle, a little steak. My guess is he’s using it as a
    lead generation tool for vaynermedia to get corporate clients. After finishing
    the final chapter, i was left thinking: “ok… and what can I DO now?”
    Very little actionable information inside there. 

    I bought his book because I wanted to know HOW to use social media for my business – not to learn more about WHY I should.

  6. “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”
    – Cicero