There’s only two things I hate in this world: people who are intolerant of other people’s sub-cultures, and Hipsters.
When Instagram came out several years ago and Twitter became flooded with amateur photos meant to look like bad 70s Polaroids, I said, “Why on Earth would anyone brag about photos that intentionally throw away three decades of technological improvements?” I thought it was an affectation, a way for people to think they were somehow “artistic” because their pictures suddenly looked like they’d pulled them out of a box they hadn’t opened since the sixth grade. I wrote it all of to “arrogant hipsters” who tout their non-conformity by dressing up in easily identifiable uniforms (lensless frames, ironic facial hair and thrift-store sweaters, anyone?).
Note: I hadn’t actually tried Instagram myself, I’d just sat back and mocked those who did. Sometimes, I can be a judgmental ass.
Flash-forward to now.
I just finished reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s social-media book Jab-Jab-Jab Right Hook. The book is excellent; I recommend it for creatives who want a better, more-natural presence online.
I’ve met Gary a few times. The first was back in 2006 (I think, maybe 2007) when he was rolling with Wine Library TV, the webcast that got him on several national shows where he made famous hosts lick rocks and taste socks in order to educate about different flavors in wine (I’m not a wine guy, so most of it was lost on me). He did a social media launch in San Francisco, and I was able to bend his ear for a little bit on how he was growing his ‘cast. I also met Gary years later on one of his book tours. He is an absolutely tireless worker, he’s beyond energetic, and he’s all about bringing value to his readers, customers, followers and anyone who will listen to his hyperbole soaked rants. Basically, he’s wired a lot like ARealGirl and I, which means I like him.
In short: I see Gary as a voice of authority when it comes to generating an audience, maintaining it, and keeping that audience happy by providing great content.
Back in the ’07 to ’09 era, I was a student of social media. I wanted to learn everything I could and find a way to stick it to the man (“the man,” in this case, being the publishing industry that ignored me because I didn’t kick out the same carbon-copy books that were landing other people print deals). I got pretty good at finding effective ways to use social media to deliver content and build an audience. I used that knowledge to generate a butt-ton of fans and land a publishing deal.
Then from, say, ’10 to ’12, I stopped paying attention to social media changes. Hell, I knew everything, right? I was on Twitter and Facebook! Why should I listen to the “social media douchebags” spouting off about this startup and that startup when I had it all figured out?
Why? Because that crap changes faster than Lady Gaga at the VMAs, that’s why. If you’re not paying attention, or at least following the people who do, you’re probably missing out on new ways to communicate with your audience. In other words, if you’re not watching the industry, you’re still trying to update that pesky MySpace page.
I never even planned on reading Gary’s latest book. I only bought JJJ:RH to help him out. He tweeted that he was gunning for the best-seller charts, and asked his followers if they could buy multiple copies and send him the receipt. It was his way of getting early estimates on pre-order sales numbers. Those numbers matter when your book comes out, because you can leverage hard data into getting your publisher to step up and do more marketing — because everyone likes to bet on a sure thing. I’d already gotten a ton of value out of Gary’s content over the years, so I bought ten copies to help the cause. Then the books came in: well-designed, colorful, with tons of near-real-time examples on how companies were using social media well, and how they were screwing it up. I read the first page and was hooked. There is a lot of information in there about how to better utilize Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and — yes — Instagram.
And Gary says that Instagram rocks. Well, there I was, caught between my own prejudice against fuzzy pictures and believing one of my trusted sources of knowledge. I opted for the latter and started up an account.
I will say that now I feel like an idiot. Yes, many Instagram photos look like they came from that photo album your mom uses to prop up the broken couch in the basement. Yes, it’s just an endless stream of pictures. Yes, most of the people I’m following on Instagram I am following on Facebook, and vice versa.
But you know what I missed out on? Instagram is fun. I’m sure the shine will wear off eventually like it does for all apps, but I’m checking several times a day just to see what people found interesting enough to share. And, the app is excellent: use your phone, point, shoot, throw on a filter and border if you like, a caption, and boom: it’s prettified and out there for the people who are interested in what you do. So simple in concept, so brain-dead simple, but there is something about it that reinforces relationships, even the kind where I’ve never actually talked to or met the person I’m following.
I’ve been on Instagram a week now. It’s a blast. Follow me if you like. It’s taught me that part of keeping my business running is paying attention to ways that people communicate and share information. Am I going to spend hundreds of hours becoming an Instagram super-user? No, my job is to write books. But when “the next big thing” comes out in social media, will I be a stuck-up snob who doesn’t have to pay attention because he already has it all figured out?
Nope, I’ve learned my lesson. And hey, you know what else? Maybe that Snidely Whiplash ‘stache and that argyle sweater aren’t so bad after all …