Sorry, Gary Vaynerchuk. This Time You’re Wrong.

Screen Shot 2012-05-23 at May 23, 2012 01.47.13 PMGary Vaynerchuk is a really smart dude. He calls himself a "self-trained wine and social media expert," and he might be. Gary built a name for himself as the energetic host of Wine Library TV, a massively successful online video blog. He finally shut down production in March 2011 after the 1000th episode! Many of you, I'm sure, have also read his bestselling book, Crush It! If you haven't, I do recommend it.

I say all this to stress that I like Gary and I have respect for his opinions. However, even really smart people are wrong sometimes, and this time Gary's wrong.

I refer to a blogpost yesterday on Smartblog On Social Media. Brooke Howell reported on Gary's recent speech to small business owners attending America's Small Business Summit in Washington DC. Unfortunately, if Ms. Howell's reporting is accurate, Gary gave some harsh, in-your-face advice that is simply off base. 

Gary's main point was (no surprise here) that small businesses should be actively involved in social media. He rightly pointed out that it isn’t helpful to disparage social media when you haven’t even tried it out. Howell quotes: “I love it when people have a whole lot to say about Facebook and Twitter and they don’t even have an account. Shut your mouth!”

But he then goes into bad advice territory. First, Gary claims all business owners are just in one business: the attention business. Well, no, they're not, Gary. Businesses are in the business of creating customers (I didn't say that, BTW, Peter Drucker did). I can get all kinds of attention through all kinds of media, including social media, and be out of business very quickly. Attention is a tool, not a purpose, nor a strategy. Anybody who's taken a Marketing 101 course knows this from the age-old acronym A.I.D.A. – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

Vaynerchuk also said companies had it easy when they could take a broad-sweeping approach with billboards, newspaper ads and television commercials. (Say what? Since when have small businesses relied on billboards and TV? What audience did he think he was talking to?) He went on to say word-of-mouth is on steroids, but it's not being done face-to-face so much now as it is on social media. (I mostly agree with this.)

Here's the danger with Gary's perspective. It's really narrow. He puts down traditional media and touts social media as the be-all, end-all answer, which is simply not true. There are many positives for using traditional media these days. And apparently big guns, like Google and Facebook, agree since they're now using direct mail to reach prospects.

Gary's most egregious error comes in his "four simple tips for using social media:"

  • Don’t worry about what you’re going to say; just get started and build from there.
  • Don’t focus on trying to win new customers, but instead on treating your existing customers well so you can keep them and inspire them to endorse your business.
  • Don’t obsess about ROI. There’s a certain amount of serendipity in word-of-mouth marketing, and the numbers don’t always tell the full story.
  • Don’t ignore what people are saying on Twitter. It’s a great source of information about what consumers like, think and do.

With the exception of the last one, these aren't simple, they're both cavalier and, pardon my bluntness, dumb. 

Don't focus on winning new customers? Don't obsess with ROI? What kind of business advice is that? If I gave that advice to my clients and in my speeches, I would have been out of business a long time ago. And I would have deserved it. Listening to this type of advice and perspective is a lot like watching Fox News. Fair and balanced? Uh, that would be NO.

For those of you still reading, I am not drinking the social media kool-ade and I don't think you should, either. I started taking the "I'm not 100% sold on social media" stance in a recent post titled, If You Aren't Aggressively Using Social Media, You're An Idiot. Or Not. Quite unexpectedly, this was my highest-read blog post ever. At recent speeches, I've voiced my own concerns and have had a lot of people agree with me and even thank me for speaking out.

Here's the thing. These people aren't naive, nor are they uneducated regarding social media. Most people I've spoken with have tried really hard to understand it and use it. It's just not as simple as so many social media "experts" would have you think. Social media takes a tremendous amount of time and cannot be ignored for any stretch of days. It's a crying baby screaming for attention.

I will say it again. Social media is a tool. That's it. No more, no less. It can and does work great for some companies. It sucks for others. Billboards work great for some companies. Newspaper ads work great for some companies. And, yes, even TV commercials work great for some companies. There are many roads to the top of the mountain.

As I said, Gary Vaynerchuk is a very smart dude. But there are still a myriad of other marketing tools that work really well and social media doesn't work for everybody.

What do you think? Why don't we get a real conversation started about how social media works or doesn't work for you. How have you tried to use it? How have you created new business? And don't give me some generic pablum like, "You should first have a clear strategy." Talk to me in meaningful specifics, not vague generalities.