Social Media is Amway

multi-level marketing social mediaYes, I’m convinced of it; social media (SM) is Amway. After reading a blog post by Jay Baer (@jaybaer) last week, entitled ‘Blinded by the White,’ I’ve been mentally engrossed in a thought that – not unlike other industries – social media leaders have emerged and surprise, surprise they look alike! While I slightly disagree that social media is a good ol’ boys’ club akin to the NRA in it’s pastiness, I do feel as though there is an elitism and social strata that I’ve yet to figure out.

A good friend, and social media mafia under boss of sorts, David Murray, had a different take on Jay’s post, though. He noted that there is diversity but posed the question of whether or not SM is the new country club. I tend to be more in line with this type of thinking about SM. I don’t see the industry as closed off to minorities and women so much as I see there being an elite group of practitioners receiving the bulk of the benefit of SM – trickle down social-nomics, if you will.

I’ve had this idea for a while, but Jay’s post and Dave’s comments really helped crystallize the thought for me. There are some excellent social media practitioners from every demographic in this space. However, there are only a select few that get the benefit of what I like to call the echo chamber of SM. Given that this medium is naturally set up so that anyone can inexpensively gain scale, why is it so difficult to break through? There are likely two reasons this is true.

  1. Like Amway, the first and biggest suck up all the value and leave their followers fighting over scraps. Unless those followers can create their own sphere of influence, they’ll forever be a victim of being too low in the “down line” to effectively monetize the medium.
  2. The elite have built a network to make sure their revenue streams are interconnected and thusly less susceptible to the publics’ cyclical undulations of relevance and popularity. By them promoting each other we continue to buy all of their books, go to their conferences, pay their speaking fees and read their blogs.

Don’t misunderstand my bluntness here, either. I’m not knocking the hustle, merely pointing it out as a matter of human nature and fact. No matter how great of a post I write, why would a Chris Brogan or Amber Naslund read it, promote it or even have the time to do so?! They’re busy and I don’t offer enough value for them to take that time. I make time/benefit decisions every day in my work, and am sympathetic to the plights of busy people.

The rub, however, is in the rhetoric. It is difficult for me to see posts about engagement, sharing and community, by the leaders of the movement, but little reciprocation. Instead, I feel like I’m 10 years old again, and I can hear my Dad saying, “do as I say, not as I do” while peering authoritatively over the top rim of his glasses. The elite benefit by massive followers sharing their material, therefore building up their social influence and allowing them to capitalize – handsomely – on that influence. However, there are very few times that I have seen or felt the tug up the ladder.

Hey if I was the Steve Van Andel or Doug De Vos of SM, I wouldn’t have time for you peons either. Luckily this is not a goal of mine but I would like to see growth by some of the other smart people in SM I know. So, it would make sense to put down our sycophantic ways and begin to create new networks that support quality individuals that have simply not gotten the traction from the faction.

Who’s with me!? If so, please Tweet this and tell people how awesome I am; I hear it’s great for my social street cred. Not to mention, if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. No, seriously, I’m not big enough to ignore you yet.

About Therran Oliphant

Therran Oliphant is a strong advocate for developing the academic and practical field of Integrated Marketing Communications. Holding an M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) from Eastern Michigan University, Therran has been a staunch advocate for developing the theoretical, practical and applicable concepts of the field, especially as it comes to digital advertising and media. His main passion is helping marketers more accurately interface with the technology community and ask the right questions to help them accomplish the objectives their brand customers have set. A career in data and advertising technology has allowed him to have a unique perspective on the science of utilizing the right methodologies to systematically ask the right questions that lead to delivering the outcomes necessary for success.

  • jaybaer

    Therran thanks for putting this together, and for the link to my post. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Dave a couple times, and hope to get a chance to connect with you IRL too.

    I have to disagree with your country club analogy.

    First, you put way too much stock in the power of the echo chamber. As Mark Schaefer (whose own blog has made huge progress from nowhere in a year) wrote yesterday, tweets and recognition from true A-listers does not build your blog audience:

    Second, being there “first” has very little impact on social success. Two years ago, my blog had 200 daily visitors. I was by no means “first” in the social media game. I built my own sphere of influence, the same way that every other blogger and social media voice has had to do. Chris Brogan started with the same audience I did, and you did. Zero.

    Third, there is no interconnected revenue stream. None. Yes, Amber and I wrote a book together, but those types of deals are very much the exception. If anything, there is a financial disincentive to work together and mutually promote. Guess who I compete with every day for consulting contracts? The rest of those people. When stuff gets promotes, it’s because there is belief in the person and their perspective.

    As a matter of course, Brogan takes the time to highlight several people who are new and emerging in each issue of his email newsletter. He certainly doesn’t need to do that, but he does. I run a guest post once a week (usually) that is almost invariably from new and emerging voices. Jason Falls has moved his blog from a solo author to 10-12 authors. There are lots and lots of other examples.

    The reality is that people with some measure of audience in social media are almost invariably (but there are exceptions) interested in shining the light on other voices. The challenge in doing so is two-fold. Time and filtering.

    As you pointed out, it takes a lot of time to do it, and someone like Brogan gets literally dozens of “please tweet this” requests every day. Breaking through that clutter somehow is what makes you a good marketer.

    I find that the new voices that get promoted are typically people that produce truly killer content, and people that you’ve had a chance to interact with IRL. That’s why conferences (despite the sometimes lack of diversity, as mentioned in my original post) are so important. In this absolute sea of sameness, where everyone has a blog and is talking about basically the same stuff, putting a name and a beer to a face is priceless.

    You probably don’t believe any of what I’ve said, and that’s fine. All I can tell you is that two years ago I knew NOBODY in social media. And know I do. The code is imminently crackable. Nobody is holding you back, least of all the “country club”.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comments, Jay. I’d like to meet you, also. I place a lot of value on face-to-face interaction.

    Mark makes some nice points. The echo chamber I speak of isn’t just the elite sending something out, though. The echo chamber happens when the masses coalesce around certain people and there becomes a reverberation of sharing as if what’s being said is law and you could get arrested for not reading it.

    I tend to agree more than you think with it not being impossible to break through without being first. However, it is much more difficult to get those relationships. Though not my personal goal in life, I and others have been shunned and discluded from having those opportunities to put a name and a beer to a face based on perceived clout. Plus, I’ve seen many people used to volunteer for events and getting nothing but this stupid t-shirt. I feel your personal story is a rare occurence – the obligatory “these results are not typical” at the end of the diet pill ad. Good for you; you’re a rockstar. (And I’m not being condescending there)

    I completely disagree about the interconnected revenue stream bit. While there may not be actual “deals” in place there does seem to be a level of cooperation by the SM elite. No matter how well intentioned, the people seen speaking, engaged in panels, getting a lot of buzz, etc will tend to work with/for each other. This happens in my business all the time. I just walked out of a meeting where we were looking to partner with a company and narrowed our choices down based on size and connections to other organizations we thoght were in line with us. When you are your business, the lines of personal interaction and business partnership are blurred.

    Totally agree with the killer content bit, too. Great content is relative, though. I’ve seen some with what I thought was great content, never break through. I’ve seen others with decent content become superstars. I won’t name names but I would be careful about extolling how meritocritous the medium is. I think it’s much like any other business, it’s not always what you know…

    Two years ago, like you, I knew noone in social media. I haven’t made it my mission to become a social media superstar so on some things I’m willing to defer to your expertise as someone who’s engaged everyday. However, I think there is a lot of energy and personal equity by the non-elite to promote and support the elite with very little benefit. The real problem, is with the non-elite quite frankly. This is why I ended the post by saying that people needed to quit their sycophantic ways and start supporting each other. I’m not dependant on Gary V, Guy Kawasaki or Brogan…but I will depend on my peers to support my efforts. This is where there’s a real disconnect.

  • jaybaer

    Bingo. You said it all. The trick is for people to create their own “success network” with other new or emerging voices. Then, as that group starts to “make it” everyone wins. Rising tide lifts all boats.

  • Harrison Painter

    I agree with some of these comments to a point, like nothing beats face to face while working hard to build your own audience. However, many of these folks your are referring to are people that are looked up to, and when a person preaches engagement, by default they must engage, no excuses. When I got my start, two people took time for me, and I credit both of them as the seeds to my current success, Bob Burg and Gary Vaynerchuk. Both very busy guys, but they still took the time to speak with me and I learned a lot from both of them. When people look up to you, telling folks you are too busy is just an easy way out of the criticism. Once you hit role model status, accept it, embrace it, and never make an excuse for not having the time to reach out and touch the ones that put you there.

  • HubertGAM

    First off Therran, brilliant post. The irony is, you’re playing the game like the big boys here. It is only a matter of time before eyebrows get raised, along with hands, in your presence.

    As someone that prides himself on being first, I can admit I have benefitted in our hyper-local silo. That said, I know that I deliver a certain level of quality in my output. As I am in a highly-competitive space with many people I consider friends, I realize I need to approach the situation in my unique way. It is a lonely road, but it gets me the looks I need. Sure, I could post blogs for heads of SMBs and mid-level execs of major brands to read and hope that they’ll ask me for an RFP. (Un)Fortunately, I know that I have a passion for a space that is far more satisfying.

    I say all this to say, you got to want it bad enough to truly get the results you want. The persistent and consistent are the ones that seem to gain the most. As much as I hate to say it, the big dogs are who they are based on the quality of their material, not how early they got in the game. The Brogans, Gary Vs and Naslunds are on because they produced some brilliant messaging that resonated at the right time and with proper follow-through, they have seen dramatic results [not typical for average people].

  • Therran

    Wow, great comments Harrison. I’m glad you could get that access. Maybe you can explain to some of the frustrated and uninitiated how you gained access to such heavyweights. And I love your comments about accepting your station in life. It must be handled with grace. Too often, elite folks don’t do this. I think in SM there are actual great examples of this happening. I also resonate with your comments about reaching out to “who put you there” too. I was going to mention that fact and didn’t; thanks for brining it up!

  • Therran

    Thanks, Hub-ster! Hey, if you’re showing love then I know I’m doing something right. You’re not a ‘gasser.’

    Gotta say, you put it down, but by the very nature of what you do I couldn’t include you in the list of folks not promoting the ‘little guy.’ In fact, I would say that you help create a echo chamber of b & c-listers with #tweetea. That is how people come up, and has been a big part of my development. Props, respect, tabernacle and chuuch to you my friend.