Tag Archives: common sense

How Social Media Destroyed Itself

To everyone who’s ever created something and shared it online, I’d like to say one thing:

I’m sorry.

See, those of us who’ve been doing this for awhile now — we’re the ones who invented blogging, and tweeting, and YouTubing, and social networking, and we’ve been preaching about “the digital revolution” for the past 10 or 20 years — we all got it wrong.

We thought the medium would change the media.

We thought the gatekeepers were dead.

We thought meaning mattered.

Nope. We all blew it.

And unfortunately there’s no going back.

How We Misread the Digital Tea Leaves

A funny thing happened around the turn of the millennium.

Those of us who were busy pioneering the digital formats we now all take for granted believed then that our newly “democratized” means of media production would change media as we know it. We presumed that audience tastes would change with the new formats, and that traditional media channels (TV, film, radio, publishing) would need to adapt to our way of life.

Why? Because we were ahead of the curve. We saw the potential of new forms, and we thought we’d be able to harness them faster than the “dinosaur” media conglomerates we derided.

We were right about our own speed, but that’s because most of us were young and childless then, so we had nothing but time to tinker with these new toys. We could afford to spend days and weeks and years perfecting our videoblogs and podcasts and other labors of love because we still felt like the underdogs who had something to prove to the dinosaurs we were outfoxing.

We claimed we wanted to plant our flag in their territory… but we were only being half honest.

Problem is, we also courted those same dinosaurs, because we wanted them to play in our sandbox. We wanted the validation of their attention and their money. We wanted them to acknowledge that we were right, and to reward us with seats at their table. We just thought we’d be the ones who’d be able to set the new rules, just because we were there first.

Boy, were we wrong.

What Happens When You Ask All the Wrong Questions?

I was at the first PodCamp, back in 2006, when “podcasting” was new enough that it was still called “podcasting,” and the people who did it were rare enough that we could pretty much all meet in a single auditorium. And the question we all asked ourselves then was, “When will brands realize this is the new way to communicate?”

Whoops. Be careful what you ask for.

I was at the first Video on the Net conference back in 2006, when such an idea was revolutionary enough to actually be termed “revolutionary.” We were the rebels in cargo shorts getting strange looks from the suits who thought we were a fad. And the question we all asked ourselves then was, “When is old media going to wake up and catch up?”

Whoops again.

Instead of trying to find our own ways to succeed, we were trying to make our new media fit the old paradigm. And when you do that, the old paradigm will gladly eat you alive.

In 2007 or 2008, I was invited to a focus group at Turner Broadcasting. A roomful of us who were social media creators spent a day giving Turner our thoughts on the future of media. We were thrilled; we thought we were being taken seriously.

None of us were self-aware enough to realize we were actually volunteering our own demise.

(I think they paid each of us $3000 for the privilege. I could be wrong; it may have been $1000.)

What we were too inexperienced and deluded to realize was this: as soon as we proved that these new formats could work, the dinosaurs who stood to make actual money with them would co-opt these channels and fill them with the same media (and the same business models) they’ve always followed. They didn’t need us, and we didn’t really need them… but we thought we did. So we started playing their game, hoping we’d win. But we lost.

And as these new systems got rolled into the old processes, what changed wasn’t the processes; it was us.

When In Rome…

Some of us sold our “social” skills to brands as a means to make ourselves seem newly relevant. Big business knew there was money to be made by advertising to hordes of eyeballs, and if we knew how to attract those eyeballs, weren’t we useful?

We figured out pretty early on that we could make money teaching old dogs new tricks. It took us longer to realize that these old dogs would eventually master our tricks and we’d need to find a new way to remain relevant (and employable) to them.

So we started becoming social media marketers… then social marketers… and eventually just marketers. What mattered wasn’t the media, it was the reach. What mattered wasn’t the community, it was the degree to which they could be monetized.

Those of us who used to dream of a new digital future never thought that future would just end up being us using the tools we once loved to convince strangers to buy someone else’s products, for which we’d be rewarded with book deals about the value of trust and influence.

It took us even longer to admit that nobody on YouTube was getting a TV series anytime soon.

Nothing to See Here, Move Along…

Now we live in a world where Facebook and Twitter have gone IPO, which means they exist to please shareholders and advertisers, not users.

Now we live in an age when Yahoo! makes headlines for announcing they’re getting into the TV business… by seeking series deals from established TV professionals, not Internet creators.

Now we live in a reality where some of us are apologizing to brands for misleading them into a social economy, because once we opened those gates, the brands and the social networkers both suffered from a pollution of white noise and an atrophying ability to care.

And now I feel it’s worth apologizing to everyone else who isn’t a corporation. I feel it’s worth acknowledging that our old dream of self-created digital media “rock stars” who would change the way the world works was, at best, naive and, at worst, dangerous.

Because while we early adopters were patting ourselves on the back for “getting it,” we were unwittingly painting a target on the back of the whole digital revolution.

And I, for one, would like to start making up for it.

Image by hryckowian via Flickr

8 Things You Can Stop Doing Right Now

This post might be hard for some of you to read, but I’m writing it for your own good. And mine.

Please stop telling the world how much you’re “crushing it.”

Yes, I’m talking to you. If you’re tweeting and Facebooking and Instagramming power quotes and humblebrags about how relentless you are, or how grateful you are that your life is so incredible, or how much you hope everyone else will someday be as awesome as you are, you’re not fooling anyone. Well, maybe except yourself.

See, most self-help blogging — and, by extension, most social media — is just people yelling at themselves to get out of their own way. What others see as “inspiring,” I see as “terrified people convincing themselves it’s all going to be okay if they just keep pretending.”

Look, I’m glad you feel motivated to improve your life. And if you enjoy inspiring others, rock on. But every time you tell me how much you won’t back down, I suspect it’s because you’ve realized your life is empty and you’re stapling public meaning on top of it as a parlor game to distract you from your own night terrors.

I’d like to suggest a different tactic: admit you’re unhappy, or frustrated, or afraid of being exposed as a know-nothing or a slacker or a deviant or a failure. Admit it to yourself, at least. And then take action to fix it. Not the public action you can build a personal brand from, but the private action that leads to successful habits and self-confidence in small doses. The kind that erodes your worry until you can at least leave the house, literally and metaphorically speaking, and do the actual work that inspires people, rather than the documenting of a process that confuses activity for accomplishment.

And while we’re being honest about how we see ourselves, I’ll be honest about something else:

I’ve been thinking about taking some risks for awhile, but I keep talking myself out of them. Not changing is easy. Telling myself the odds will be better later is very tempting. And while I’m waiting, I’m comfortable in my familiar habits. Well, maybe “comfortable” isn’t the right word for it… maybe “safe,” or “not inconvenienced,” or “acquiescent.”

Truth is, I’m lying to myself.

If I’m not happy, or if I feel unfulfilled, no one else is going to fix it for me. It’s not their job; they’re trying to make themselves happy and fulfilled, not me.

I get why we all publicly proclaim that we’re on the path to something amazing. It’s the same reason I tell myself I’m “writing” when I’m usually just “surfing the Internet and thinking about writing”: because I’m afraid of admitting to myself (much less to others) just how hard I’m not working at succeeding.

So, in the spirit of yelling at myself to get out of my own way, I offer myself this advice. Feel free to yell at yourself with this same advice, if it helps you.


Stop waiting for “the right time” to do something.

Unless you’re a hostage negotiator or a paratrooper, timing isn’t everything. Sure, some times are easier or harder than others are for accomplishing whatever it is you want to do. But there’s no such thing as a “right” (or “wrong”) time to get married, start a business, have a baby, switch careers, break up, move, quit, or take a vacation. People have succeeded and failed at those adventures for centuries, regardless of when they started or what odds were against them or in their favor. What matters is how you go about it in terms of resolve and tenacity, not whether or not the stars are properly aligned to make your job easier.

Stop waiting until you have “enough money.”

You’ll never have enough money. If you get more, you’ll spend it. If you save some, an opportunity or an emergency will come along and then you’ll be back to zero. Money is a resource. Don’t expect to reach a point where you’ll have “enough” money to accomplish X. Find ways to multiply your revenue streams en route to accomplishing X regardless of how much money you started with. What matters is accomplishing X, not reaching a magic dollar amount that will let you believe it’s “okay” to get started.

Stop waiting for permission.

Nobody else is paying attention. And if they are, and they tell you “no,” do it anyway, because you’re not going to be satisfied unless you experience your accomplishment. And if it costs you someone else’s good graces, it’ll gain you something more important: the knowledge that comes with success or failure, rather than the caged feeling having been allowed to act. If your path to success includes a step where someone else can stop you in your tracks, reroute your path. (Unless you’re the kind of person for whom permission is more important than accomplishment — in which case, acquiring the permission IS your accomplishment. And if that’s who you are, then the rest of this won’t make any sense.)

Stop thinking you’re the one who has to get it right the first time.

Failure teaches us what not to do. Sometimes we need to fail more than once at something in order to understand why we’re not getting it done right. Over the past 20 years I created a comic book, a freelance business, and two different web series that achieved varying levels of success, but they all ultimately ended before I wanted them to. And yet, what do I lay awake at night dreaming of doing? Making TV shows and movies and web series and novels and stage plays and comic books and video games. “But I already failed at them more than once,” I tell myself. And then I remind myself, “no; you started them more than once. Maybe it’ll take ten starts, or twenty, to find one idea — and one process — that sustains itself.” What matters isn’t being a prodigy who never makes mistakes; it’s continually surviving your mistakes until you either succeed or you find something else to pursue.

Stop thinking other people are succeeding because they’re special, or because the world is out to get you.

Networking helps. Talent helps. Perseverance helps. Luck helps, but no one is perpetually lucky or unlucky. You’re not failing because “this person doesn’t like me,” or because “everybody just promotes their friends,” or because “I’m just not good enough,” or any of the other excuses you’ve invented for not working hard and habitually enough to earn your own toehold on success. And yes, some people may continually get breaks because of who they know. That’s how life works: people prefer to work with other people they’ll get along with, and knowing someone is the first step to peacefully coexisting with them. But even if a person is well-connected, s/he still has to be likable and competent. So maybe start there?

Stop making the same mistakes the exact same way.

If you try something once and it doesn’t work, try again, but change something in the process. You may have the right idea but the wrong execution, or the wrong framing, or the wrong support, or the wrong price. Don’t change everything all at once, but do change at least one variable. If your idea is sound and you keep hammering at it from different angles, it’ll push through eventually. And if it never does, then either the idea isn’t useful enough to people you’re not being honest with yourself about why it isn’t working.

Stop expecting tomorrows.

You’re going to wake up again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after, until one day you don’t. And you never know when that day is going to be. So if you’re waiting for the stars to align, or until you have enough money, or until the marketplace catches up with your obvious genius, how ironic will it be if the day that happens is the day you didn’t wake up? Not that you’ll appreciate that irony, because you’ll be dust. And while you may have a pleasant eulogy, it’ll be shorter and less dynamic than it would have been if you’d started that next thing today.

“Insomnia” image by Carlos Martz on Flickr.

11 Things I Forget About Myself Every Day

Justin Kownacki in Affogato

Despite knowing that each of these things is true, I seem to forget them every day.

1. I feel better when I eat well.

2. I feel better when I don’t sleep in.

3. I feel better after accomplishing something physical.

4. I get more done when I’m already busy than I do when I have free time.

5. Giving myself “just five more minutes” to surf the Internet will kill a full hour.

6. Relaxing for a whole day is bliss; relaxing for two days straight drives me insane.

7. I won’t have time to do it in the morning, so I should do it now.

8. I’ll never have “enough” money because there’s no such thing.

9. Almost everything I’m worried about is inconsequential.

10. I don’t want to lay awake thinking about “next time.”

11. One of these todays won’t have a tomorrow.

Thanks to Andy Swan for the inspiration with his 36 Truth Friday.

Photo by Rob de la Cretaz.

A Business Lesson from Hertz

On May 30, 2013, Hertz settled a class action lawsuit for $11 million, stemming from claims that they’d been charging customers exorbitant fees for the PlatePass toll bypass service.

On August 8, 2013, I received a letter from Hertz informing me that, as a Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® member:

“… in light of rising costs, we find it necessary to implement our first reward redemption point increase since 2008. Beginning October 1, 2013, point redemption levels for Rewards will increase a modest 10-15% in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and U.S.V.I. This will allow us to continue providing both the quality and quantity of reward options our members have come to value and appreciate.”

I may be wrong, but something tells me the money they’ll save by granting Gold Plus member rewards less frequently will offset the $11 million they’re about to pay out in their settlement.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s actually smart business, especially from a publicly owned company that needs to avoid losses in order to return a profit to its investors. In fact, Hertz stock just had one of its best fiscal quarters ever. From their last earnings call on July 29, 2013 — just 11 days prior to announcing that “rising costs” were forcing them to scale back their Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® redemptions — we learned that:

Hertz once again delivered record quarterly results across the board. As you can see on Slide 5, consolidated adjusted pretax income and margin were the highest of any second quarter in our history, increasing 35% and 110 basis points year-over-year, respectively, on a 22% revenue gain.

The lesson here?

Don’t pay out a lawsuit settlement from your record profits when you can simply offset that loss by paying out rewards to your loyalty program members less frequently. That way, you and the plaintiffs each get to keep your money, and the only people who are inconvenienced in the end are your most loyal customers.

Career Tips for the Delusional

I pissed some people off when I said this on Twitter yesterday, but I’m sticking by it:

“You are what you get paid to do.”

People disagree because they refuse to be limited or labeled. Notice that I didn’t say you’re just what you get paid to do. And yet, when you identify someone by their profession, they object.

“This is Karl. He’s a busboy.”

Oh. So that’s all Karl is?

No, Karl is probably also a son, a brother, a lover, a friend, a pet owner, a volunteer, a student, an aspiring playwright, and a noteworthy violinist.

It’s just that the only one of those pastimes that actually pays Karl’s bills is “busboy.” Thus, Karl is, for the purposes of declaring his worth to the world, a busboy.

“But what if Karl is the best playwright I’ve ever met?” you ask. “Or what if he’s the best violinist in the city?”

Well, that’s cool too. He can be those things in certain contexts. When he’s sitting in a coffee shop writing a play, sure, he’s an aspiring playwright. When he’s rehearsing the violin in his attic, then he’s a violinist.

But at both of those times, he’s also a busboy. Because that’s what it says on his taxes.

The day he gets paid to play the violin, he can say he’s a violinist.

The day he gets paid for the licensing of one of his plays, he can say he’s a playwright.

And the day he gets paid more — and more regularly — to write plays or play the violin than he does to bus tables, by all means, he should say he’s a violinist or a playwright.

Because that’s what it’ll say on his taxes.

I think the problem people have with labels is that they want to be known for their skills and passions, rather than for their ability to earn a living. Getting paid is so transactional, and there are so many more cash jobs than sex jobs, that we yearn to be recognized for our other, rarer, “better” skills.

But there’s a difference between being a writer — a person who suffers for weeks and months on end (or not) to produce a written work that others will pay her for — and, say, being the intern who adds titles and tags to her agency client’s YouTube videos. One of those people is a writer; the other is an SEO apprentice. Both of those people may be ashamed of their jobs (as writers often love to hate themselves), but only one of them is being honest about it.

We might be better off if people were willing to identify themselves as “aspiring” writers, or directors “in training,” or some other qualifier that denotes a person’s pursuit of a passion in which they have not yet achieved a status of transactional relevance. But the Internet is immediate, and we all want to succeed today. Why denigrate your aspirations by declaring them as works in progress when you can call yourself a success before you’ve even begun?

The truth is, if you’re so frustrated by your day job that you prefer to self-identify as something other than what you get paid to do, you should either change careers — preferably into the field you keep telling people you’re already working in — or pursue what you love to the extent that you actually achieve a level of skill that convinces others to pay you for it. Otherwise, you’re fighting a battle of diminishing returns in both directions.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m not a real sociologist; I just play one on the Internet.