Wednesday, October 28, 2009

People Can Only Handle One Level Above Crap...That's Why We Run Marathons


Yesterday I attended a professional speaking engagement that featured social media guru Peter Shankman.

But don't call him a rock star. He hates that. He thinks it insults Bruce Springstein and Bon Jovi. After hearing that, I think we all owe these guys a huge apology. But what do I know?

I know that Peter old boy dropped the f bomb within five minutes of taking the stage. That's my kind of man.
He captivated the audience by his colorful anecdotes and astounding depth of factoids, factual references and statements of well, fact. But he did more than that. He told (sold) stories.

"When Carrie Googled her boyfriends, that's when we jumped the shark," said Shankman describing how ubiquitous social media has become. Who can't relate to that simple statement? Everyone knows who Carrie is. And if they don't, they certainly know Fonzie. Either way, this man was spot on in delivering a message everyone could pick up. He threw it down. We picked it up.

Quoting The Simpsons, Better Off Dead and more than his own fair share of best-selling authors, this man was able to scratch everyone's itch. (Seriously, is there a more memorable line in celluloid history than, "I want my two dollars!")

How can this ordinary little man appear so worldly and energetic on so many levels that appeal to so many people? His answer is simple. Mediocracy is king. We live in a time where we have 100% accepted pure mediocracy...embraced it as a way of life. But the problem is that once you do that, you lose the right to bitch that no one cares. So the flip side of that is when someone does something nice. Say, give you a free soda or offer you a coupon to save money while you stand in line at the grocery store. When that happens, it's like "HOLY SHIT! LIFE IS WONDERFUL!" (If you really wanna experience a wonderful life, hit up Morton's The Steakhouse...I'm not much of a meat eater, but the Champagne and Chocolates is something to brag about. I say this because I think the Shankman presentation was somehow hosted by Morton's...nice pr tactic!)

So this little ordinary fellow slips in a story or two about his passion for running. He does this as a way of illustrating that mediocracy has a place in our lives, or at least in our society.We have to have winners and losers and all the finishers in between to make the race worthwhile. His attempt at spitting in the face of mediocracy failed when he admitted that while he ran, he was not nearly as fast as others. He was not nearly as "good" at running as say, his friend who runs circles around him in Central Park. But he is okay with mediocracy in this avenue. He wasn't complaining. He was sharing. And while this techno-savvy, non-rock star, self-proclaimed geek can hold his own in this world of ever-evolving telecommunications, he illustrated the power of personal stories and personal connection by learning a few names, talking about himself - both his flaws and his talents - and giving reasons to make sure folks remember that at the end of the day, we put our heads on our pillows and think about the people that made us smile, not the technology that delivered the message. It's not the mobile phone that lulls us to sleep. Or the Facebook page or the blog sitemeter counter or even the email service that allows us to fondly reflect back on what makes life worth living. It's those human connections that thrill and offer a shiny glimpse of a promise that we could be thrilled again soon.

And if it's not the positive images and instances that gently sway us into sweet, sweet slumber land, you know what it is, right? It's the f'ing jackall who ruined our day and mishandled our emotions and crapped in our cornflakes that we remember when we begrudgingly hit the hay and endure a night of indigestion and fitful sleep. And you can bet your sweet ass that all your friends will hear about it later when you tweet your little heart out. Or you could do up a t-shirt and don it like celebrities do. Shankman knows a thing or two about the t-shirt business....or so he says...

But really, what was Shankman trying to tell us?  We exist in a world of 370 million micro-journalists. All competing for a chunk or a sliver of our attention. Of our day. Of our wallets. Of our lives. There is a valient battle going on out there. And there are rules of engagement for that war.

Rules For Using Social Media. (At home, in the office, on the train or while jumping out of moving vehicles.)
1. Transparency. Tell the truth. Chicks dig it. Men can do it (if they try REALLY hard.) Everyone likes it.
2. Relevance. Be what you are to those who need it. Always ask yourself, "Why would I care?"
3. Brevity. The average person can stay tuned for 2.7 seconds, or 140 characters.
4. Top of mind. How do you get someone's attention? How do you become an important component in the daily lives of those people you are trying to reach? Stay at the top of their list. Make that your priority.
5. Concept of one network. It's more about aligning your assets with others who are seeking your assets (or assets similar to the ones you offer.) It's also about interconnectivity. Think in terms of how your cell phone, your Linkedin profile, your Google groups, your MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, email and more...can aggregate content and contacts and someday - if not today - gain intellectual momentum via interconnectivity.

All in all, Mr. Shankman, thank you. Thank you for getting so excited about the second Diet Coke. I enjoyed that. But also, thank you for ignoring the cute little anchor-reporter who wanted to take over the conference and get everyone to sign a petition saying she deserved not only to take over the world, but also needed a pay raise, more vacation time and a guarantee that she would retire comfortably. Someone should have brought that poor kitty a Diet Coke. Or in the very least a trip to Disney, like the Times reporter who just got back from delivering a speech about social media to Mickey Mouse. I bet he thinks life is wonderful.