This post has been sitting in my drafts for about a month now, but after reading Gini Dietrich‘s post Be the Leader In your Industry: Blaze the Trail earlier this week, I realized that she hit on some themes that were similar to what I had written. The theme is a bit similar, but runs off in a different direction. So I’ve decided to finally let this one loose.
Quick: Who invented the radio?
Most history books will point to Lee DeForest with a nod to Marconi. But the answer isn’t really that simple. The invention of radio was really a collaborative, yet not cooperative, effort of dozens of people over several decades. But we like to have one name, so we talk about DeForest.
But there’s a difference between inventing something, claiming to invent something, and being given popular credit for inventing something. You see DeForest, while an inventor, was better at taking other peoples working and then perhaps “perfecting” it and getting a patent on it. That’s what happened to Major Edwin Armstrong. He actually invented much of what we know as radio, including FM, but he wanted to perfect his inventions before getting patents. As a result, DeForest and others “co-opted” Armstrong’s inventions and filed patents before he could. Note: This is actually a very tragic tale, which you can read about in the book Empire of the Air by Tom Lewis, or watch the story in the documentary of the same name by Ken Burns. (Disclosure: I was one of the consultants on that film).
And then there’s music. When most people think of Grunge, they think of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Yet they weren’t the creators, they were merely the ones that popularized the genre, so they will forever get credit. Look up any music genre on Wikipedia, and odds are you won’t recognize the names of many of the bands or musicians that are credited with formulating said genres. Instead you’re familiar with the bands that made those forms of music popular to the masses.
The people who come up with ideas rarely get the credit.
What does this all have to do with Social Media?
Please don’t read this as sour grapes, but as an observation, because as far as I know, this has never happened to me.
Time and again I’ve seen some great bloggers and social media types write some incredibly insightful posts. Sometimes they get some traction, sometimes they don’t. But very often I’ll then see one or more of the “superstars” or A-listers of the blogging world write about the same thing, a few days or weeks later, often in the same way. And suddenly there is a flurry of comments, retweets, and utterances of “Isn’t so-and-so brilliant?” as we worship at their feet. I remember some of them singing the praises of Google Buzz and Google Wave, yet no one holds them accountable for their proclamations when they don’t come to pass.
The fact is, there is power that comes from being a big name. I could make some great bold statement and not get any credit, or even be scoffed at, while a Social Media rockstar could make the same claim and be praised for his or her innovation and knowledge and savvy. In fact, it’s troubling that some of these A-Listers can often make all sorts of proclamations and what they say is just accepted blindly by the masses because, well…they are [insert name here]!
I’m not here to pile on the so-called A-listers, but like a lot of people who are smarter than I am, I’m starting to see that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Don’t just take it from me. Check out Olivier Blanchard’s wonderful In Praise of the A-List or Danny Brown’s Why the A-List Conversation Hurts Us. Having a big name might command you huge fees for a time, but eventually people start to catch on.
And I admit, when I first got into this business, I hung on their every word. I wanted to be just like them. I tried hard to talk to them on Twitter, just hoping that perhaps they might reply to me. And it happened! From time to time one of them would respond to me, and it felt good. For about a minute or two. And then I realized I was wasting my efforts. They talked a good game and wrote books about all the cool stuff we believe about Social Media, but many of them were just “preaching” without “doing”. It doesn’t make their words or books any less important, but it sure makes you wonder how they got there.
Thankfully I’ve seen enough and had my fill. I have a lot of friends who are great bloggers and communications professionals, and they are real. I’d rather spend my time with them, rather than kowtowing to the great and wonderful Oz, only to realize that there’s a little man behind the curtain.
Are you with me?
- On Social Media Bullies (waxingunlyrical.com)
- On ROI, Social Media, and Relationships (waxingunlyrical.com)
- Social Media, Emotions, and Empathy (inklingmedia.net)