When Social Media Rewards the Mindless and the Elite

Writer’s Note (11/20): Trackbacks on this post have been turned off.  Links/SEO were not my objective.

Elite social media performer chart from Brian Solis’s Three Cs post.

Let’s be honest. Online media is just a collective mass of live and static expressions representing society as a whole. It should not be surprising to any of us that social media has evolved to reward immediate mindlessness and elitism. In that sense, it is just like our popular culture.

How else can you explain the rises of Ashton Kutcher and Kim Kardashian as top Twitter accounts? Or within the communications sector, the widespread dissemination of “unique” best practices that will get you the largest, most elite position in the social graph possible?

This represents a huge problem for us — excuse me, those of us who want to affect more deep, meaningful outcomes with our online interactions. When Bill Gates — a global luminary of immense stature uses Twitter to disseminate ideas on change — is outfollowed 3-1 by B-rate actors and porn stars, our society’s views are clear. And those views lack depth and thought.

Sex Pistols and New York Dolls Manager Malcolm McClaren stated this very well in his Handheld Learning Keynote last year when he discussed the public education systems’ chief challenges. McClaren’s primary thesis: Pop culture rewards stupidity and immediate desires instead of intelligent or experienced thought. McLaren’s views are spot on (though I do feel that people are not stupid, just mindless and without long-sighted purpose). McClaren calls this desire a demand for instant success. This “karaoke world” flies in the face of real authenticity, the meaningful depth of life that some of us are trying to work within.

Even our corporate and organizational communications are geared towards trying to set up elite structures to propagate this structure. Consider our “thought leaders” online that clearly emulate this ethos.

The above chart from Brian Solis was used in his extremely popular (and painfully long tome) three Cs post on “Consumption, Curation, Creation.” Says Brian in reference to the chart, “Businesses must join the elite and integrate the creation of compelling content into the social marketing mix. Doing so gives consumers reason to share, expanding the role of curator within the 3C’s of Content and earning authority and influence in the process.”

Similarly, top marketing blogger Chris Brogan tweeted a recommendation to read this Harvard Business Review blog post: “How to Become a Thought Leader in Six Steps.” Unfortunately, no where in the article does it teach you to think, or about developing something valuable worth sharing with others. While some of the steps have good promotion advice, the overall exploitative instant success approach to the post is objectionable (see Doug Haslam’s outstanding post).

Thoughts on Thoughtlessness

Smart Has the Brains
A Diesel storefront ad in New York City

Should Brian and Chris be chastised for their individual statements, or their general blogging directions, which generally support this quick road to success ethos? Clearly, it’s what people want. That’s why both bloggers are elite “A-List” marketing bloggers. And they are no different than the other formulaic, drum-beating, top-tier marketing bloggers.


For me, I find the A-List to be a condition of general society’s values. While I understand that this is inevitable, it’s not for me. I prefer the Bill Gates form of notoriety. Substantive, earned relationships and real leadership matter more. I prefer to achieve and reward others with thought leadership because my/their acts are truly worthy of respect, and thus, are remarkable. This is opposed to demanding accolades.

Some A Listers follow formulas, sharing and content mechanisms to achieve their best practices. The Karaoke Show is on all the time. And they are rewarded for it with popularity and, in some cases, financially. Maybe this is exactly what they need. Maybe this makes them happy.


So to each their own. For me, in business I prefer developing core communities of followers, people that truly care about the organization’s business or cause, and feel a part of that organization’s extended enterprise. Zoetica clients are getting direct service from experienced communications professionals, and these clients are achieving acclamations for their work (as opposed to us taking credit for it). As communicators, isn’t this the right path… Achieving/doing something other than creating vapid fame?

Professionally as an individual, when I speak it’s because people want to hear what I have to say. When people comment here, generally it’s because they have something to say, rather than an accolade to deliver. When I fail — and yes, I do fail — I can live with and even better learn from it rather than worry about the Karaoke Show image hit.

I prefer the education, the experience and the thoughtful approach — the longer road to online and real-life success. As McClaren suggested, I prefer to use online technology as a tool and to achieve things, and I don’t use it as a replacement for experience and learning.

Yes, it’s less sexy, it’s a harder journey, and you get less back slaps. Having had a taste of the karaoke lights in the past, I can tell you it’s immensely more rewarding.