An entreaty to those who work in social media

Hey, people who work in social media? I have a bone to pick with you.

We all know that Twitter and Facebook are Important Marketing Tools. Like it or not, social media and interactive marketing (and advertising) is effective and on the rise. For this, I’m grateful: my job security is all but a foregone conclusion. Hell, when the Israeli Defense Force has its own verified Twitter account you kind of know that as a person who makes a living in community and social media you have a pretty flexible future work-wise.

All that being said, it’s still really, really, really difficult to use the verb “tweet” multiple times in an executive meeting without wanting to stab yourself in the eye or at least acknowledge to everyone else around the conference table that you, too, are sniggering on the inside. As a marketer, I’ve faced the uphill battle with consumers throughout my career: people don’t like us. And while consumers do like marketing, they only like the kind of marketing that benefits and/or amuses them (and seamlessly integrates into their lives without screaming “HEY DUDE I AM MARKETING TO YOU RIGHT NOW.”) A good marketer will never be praised for his or her work by the consumer because overwhelmingly the consumer will like the work and thusly attribute it to a person who is not inherently evil (you know, like all marketers are.)

So where am I going with this?

To Wieden + Kennedy.

Yeah, you guys: W+K. Stop being a cliché. You are fucking it up for the rest of us.

To explain my anger with an agency I formerly worshipped, I have to take you back in time to the abso-fucking-lutely brilliant social media campaign W+K pulled off in July of 2010. You probably remember it: it began with the Old Spice guy in hilariously over the top commercials that were a sensation on YouTube and then became a several day long campaign where fans would tweet, email, and Facebook comments and the Old Spice YouTube channel would spit out a charming and witty vignette response with veritably superhuman turnaround times. This campaign not only won over hearts and minds of fans everywhere (and attracted people far and wide who previously didn’t care at all about Old Spice – I mean, who really follows dude deodorant that closely?) but the campaign doubled sales and made marketers like me incredibly jealous by setting all kinds of new standards for what is Good Social Media.

Fast forward to November 1, 2012. I’m marketing it up, reading my blogs, and I happen upon a new article about W+K and their Old Spice account. Except this time when I clicked I wasn’t greeted with a savvy and fresh campaign that would tug at my social media heart strings: instead, W+K took a big internet poo on my desk and then ran out of my office laughing with its pants still around its ankles.

W+K is looking for a new social strategist for their Old Spice account. They want someone who thinks outside the box and (understandably) they want their ad to stand out from the pack. Unfortunately their assessment in how to make themselves stand out is to create the most incredibly insulting and asinine job listing that any self-respecting marketer who fancies themselves a social media strategist should feel the need to take a shower after reading it.

At face value, what W+K wants from this new whippersnapper makes sense: someone who knows the new platforms and how to use them not only to craft new campaigns but also to relate to people in a way they expect. You can’t cram a single strategy into YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and reddit. But while challenging a job applicant to create a new Twitter account by only using the nouns “BLUEFUDGE”, “HAMMERPANTS”, and “GREEK YOGURT” might sound like a zany idea to people who are high, sleep deprived, or in kindergarten, in reality all this does is make the firm look like an asshole and further perpetuate the already widely-held belief that people who “do” social media for a living are idiots and douchebags. (And this doesn’t even get in to the fact that a lot of the challenges include skills and needs that require teams and/or expertise beyond the social strategist. Successful campaigns are not made with a single person.)

Honestly, reading through the job application again makes me think that W+K decided to haze applicants more than interview them. And I get it, I do: you guys are EDGY. You are HIP.

Except actually? You’re not.

You guys tapped into something wonderful in 2010 by bringing together a ton of very powerful and vocal internet subcultures and not only getting them all to like what you were doing and talk about you, but you did it in a way that brought mainstream folks into the party in a peaceful way. You may have struck gold by pure accident, but I doubt that. Unfortunately, it appears your success went entirely to your head and you became the cool kid whose jokes were always side splitters until he realized he was funny (and then he tried to hard and failed utterly and completely.)

Stop trying to be unique and just be unique. Get down to business by hiring people who are neck deep in the worlds and groups of consumers you want to talk to and pick their brains. These people have to be able to write, they have to know strategy, they have to live and breathe these social media platforms but they have to live and breathe it and not merely create gimmicky spectacles. Moreover, these people have to have humility. Us marketers have egos the size of small cruise ships but the successful ones know how to temper (or simply hide) that hubris and harness the belief of our own badassery to create something that actually is badass.

I’m really excited for the future of social media. I’m very proud to have been working in it since before the term was coined and I hope that I’m helping shape it in a way that betters companies and consumers. I hope that in ten years I’m still doing this (and by “this” I mean “hopefully something completely different because I believe the only way this kind of community/social/interactive marketing works is if it is constantly evolving.) And I hope that we grow up enough that we can all stop trying so hard to be awesome that we actually consistently are awesome. It’s the only way we’re ever going to legitimize our work and gain the trust we need from consumers at large. And that’s what this is all about, guys: dialogue with consumers who trust us. Because we’re social by nature and that means our work is a two way street run by actual, real humans. That’s why successful work is so powerful. Don’t lose sight of that.

And please, Wieden + Kennedy? Punch the guy that thought #mypits was a genius hashtag to use. You owe me that much at the very least.

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