Innovators vs Trendsetters. : Of Radio, Grunge, and Social Media

by Ken Mueller on September 7, 2011 · 25 comments

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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?

 

 Innovators vs Trendsetters. : Of Radio, Grunge, and Social Media
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24 comments
NancyD68
NancyD68

I am going to throw my hat in here. :) I think the "A-listers" have it hard only because they CHOOSE to make things hard. they go and do dumb things like "mass unfollows" which is really annoying me to no end - wait tell us how you really feel Nancy :)

I think the saying is true "There is nothing new under the sun" I blog some cool stuff, but if no one sees it, no one will know. I mean, all of a sudden A-listers are writing more personal posts? Really? I have been doing it since day one. :)

BTW: you missed my party yesterday. I guess Bill forgot to invite you. I had my Giants jersey on.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

The funny thing with any "influential list" is that it's as fluid as the people in it. Once (if) you reach a certain level, you need to fight to stay there. While fighting in the online world may not result in actual fisticuffs, it does mean you need to bring your "A game" every single time.

For me, the early "leaders" are mostly missing this - which is why we have posts like yours, mate, and others like it.

Just because someone reaches a plateau doesn't mean they can stop climbing (unless they want to, obviously). Then again, so many people are living off past glories it's not surprising folks are seeing through them and searching out new blood.

Become lazy, become irrelevant.

Cheers, sir!

Faryna
Faryna

As you suggest, the blogging A-list isn't doing anything that hasn't been done by other A-lists. If they feed off ideas from the B-, C-, and D-list - that's in part what the A-list does. Be it Madonna or Seth. Of course, theoretically, they bring it together with A-list style and command. Likewise, the B-list feeds off the A-, B-, C- list, etc. And so on.

Feeding may be too harsh to describe what happens. Most of the inspiration floating as social media insight is not original- this is obvious to most. That goes for business insight too. Almost all the time, it's a mash up from business school text books, marketing, PR, new age spirituality, and anything else that any of us can get our grubby little hands on. Myself included. And I will never be on an A-, B-, or C- list.

For example, I bring philosophy, theology, and psychology to my contribution and share (if you can call it contribution and share). If you want to run circles around me with "blonde" musings about life, the universe, and everything, I can stop you cold by hitting you with a 500 pound book like Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. But I have to say I brought the Summa Theologica, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and the Complete Works of Freud, Jung, and Shakespeare to boardrooms, the C-suite, and, oh yeah, red light clubs where the pole-dancing was first rate.

Lets pretend that I was arguing that we have an obligation to defend the dignity of a woman even when she doesn't recognize such dignities. [grin]

I like how you illuminate the trend that the A-list will contribute/share/give less value than those fighting to be on the A-list. In fact, the A-list will bring less and less to our moveable feasts the longer they hold the A-list title. That's gotta suck for them. Worse, everything moves so fast in the digital ecosystem. Social media rockstars seem to fall from the heavens like unripe figs.

But I'm confused about what do you want us to join you in doing? Shall we unfollow, unfriend, and shut down the A-list as a collective action? We will be replaced by others seeking recognition and table scraps. More, we will burn with envy when the newcomers are rewarded with undeserved attention from the A-list because the A-list will be more grateful to them than they were to us.

Actually, I don't follow the A-list. [grin] But I felt stupid at times because I wasn't paying attention to how they were doing the things they do. Like you, I'm hanging with people that make me think, touch my heart, and inspire me with their struggle, their hope, and their aspirations.

Stream of conscious comment here. I hope you can forgive me for taking you along for the walk.

Andrew Steeley
Andrew Steeley

This post makes me want to band together with torches in hand, and take on the A-Listers. But seriously, I agree...I've followed fewer "Rock Stars" recently either because they don't actually engage in conversation or because they'll say one thing one week and then the complete opposite the next. I understand that things constantly change in social media, but shouldn't the core values be withstanding the test of time?

I second @BestRoofer -- you're my A-Lister for being authentic, transparent, and genuine with each post.

Latest blog post: Greater Visibility

thejasonsherman
thejasonsherman

I am brand new to the blogging world and somewhat of a social media infant as well (no facebook? really)... but my take - based on only my first few weeks blogging and following some other blogs - is this: A-listers have consistent "A" content. It's their job to do so. The people further down the list (you fall two below @SethGodin in my blogroll and 3 above @saturateonline for me Ken) don't necessarily make a living at it. They are real, they are authentic, and I enjoy the perspective (and probably take more practical advice from them) but the content isn't perfect just like they aren't perfect. There are benefits to both - I take what works from both sides knowing that I'll get the connection and personal attention from people not on the Ad Age listings, but the "pop" ideas will be near the top of the list.

AbbieF
AbbieF

Had this exact same conversation with @GiniDietrich last night. We had just finished dinner and were enjoying a glass of wine and talking about work, blogging, social media, etc. I have been noticing so many blog posts are referring to someone else's blog post on the same topic. As a subscriber, why do I need to read all those blogs if they are only going to play one off the other? I know not every post can be original content, but it would be nice to at least take a different view on the topic.

LIke you, the many "gurus" of the earlier days of social media were among the first I followed, hoping I'd get a follow back and maybe even an @ reply or two. Have given up that quest. True social media engagement will come from those that get it and want to take part in conversations. I'm ok with that.

Faryna
Faryna

@Danny Brown We keep passing each other in the hall. I'll nod in acknowledgement this time. [grin]

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Faryna I'm talking about creating and engaging in real community with real people who want to engage with us and want to be in community with us. As opposed to those who preach engagement and community, and yet only want it their way without being bothered by us. It's a difference between two-way vs. one-way. I want to share with people regardless of their Klout score. Regardless as to whether they are a newbie or a seasoned vet. I believe that I have found this authenticity within the community of which I speak.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Andrew Steeley@BestRoofer I'm certainly not seeking to be an A-lister, or any kind of lister. I just want to do my thing and hopefully help people do their thing better.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@thejasonsherman@saturateonline I think my point here is that a lot of the A-Listers are no longer authentic and real. They don't practice what they preach to the rest of us (and I can't get into too many specifics without ruffling feathers!). And I think for many, the content becomes rote. You read them long enough and you read others and you realize they are very often recycling the ideas of others.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@AbbieF@ginidietrich Exactly. I very often play off of other people's ideas, but with the goal of providing a different, if not new and fresh, take on the topic. And I'm quite happy with the community of bloggers and others of which I have become a part.

And now I'm jealous of you for having dinner with @ginidietrich !

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@BestRoofer Thanks, Joe. I greatly appreciate that. I, too, have my own A-list, and it's not the "usual" suspects.

NancyD68
NancyD68

@KenMueller Bill guest posted on my blog. I just had my 100th post. Bill was number 101. Go get your Eagles jersey before we run out of beer!

Al Smith
Al Smith

@KenMueller One of the best things I have read. Thanks Ken.

Engaging with community regardless of klout score. Newbie or seasoned vet. It doesn't matter. If you are genuine, a good person and you really do CARE, thats who I want to hang out with. Lust like in the real world. If the CEO is a dick and the janitor is cool, funny and kind, i will hang out with the janitor. people are people, brother. Thanks again. Go BAMA ! Ha !

Al

Faryna
Faryna

@KenMueller Thanks for the concise summary. What you have in mind sounds nice. Where do we sign up?

thejasonsherman
thejasonsherman

@KenMueller@saturateonline I get it - I'm a #noob. The patterns aren't visible to me yet. Either way I appreciate your content and the clear effort that goes into it.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@thejasonsherman@saturateonline well, It's not a matter of being a noob, necessarily. And clearly some of the A-listers have great content. My point is that when bloggers of any list talk about "engagement", well, then they should engage. When they don't, it rings hollow. And that goes across the board with any of the other buzzwords we tend to throw around. I guess the best analogy, since we attend the same church, would be if the pastor preaches things from the pulpit about how we should live our lives, but then never does those things himself. The old phrase "walk the talk" comes to mind.

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