Sunday, April 20, 2014
Prior to his current role with EQME, Ian was the deputy director of communications & director of digital for Mainers United for Marriage (Maine's 2012 "Yes on One" campaign). Ian also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as a public relations strategist for TEDxDirigo.
Xanga, Elizabeth Warren, and on being a Luddite
As with most of my interviews, what you'll read here is a greatly condensed version of our conversation.
What was your first experience with social media?
"Well, I think, so the very first thing would be AOL Instant Messenger. That was sort of the first way that I used a computer to connect with other people and do something social. The next better, and more networked, iteration of that was Xanga. Xanga was similar to LiveJournal. It was my first experience with posting things and having other people react to them which is exactly what Facebook is now, except for Xanga was plain text on a black background with a single picture that you could upload. I think there were 12 people paying attention to me and they were all my friends. It was a pretty small network. I know that Xanga's infrastructure, at least, is still out there. So, my Xanga posts still live in some deep dark corner of the Internet."
"When I was using Xanga I was 16. I don't know if there is anything more self-involved than a 16 year-old boy. I was whining about everything. You know, my parents and school and everything else in my life that I didn't like at the time. I think I really wanted to broadcast those things to everyone. but it also didn't seem like it was a place where there were any consequences either. Unlike what you'd find with Facebook or Twitter today."
"Facebook came while I was in my senior year of high school. It really exploded, but you had to have a college email address to get in. So, we all had MySpace pages, in fact, I remember posting on Xanga about my MySpace page. All of my friends and I were really excited when we got accepted to college because we got email addresses and could then get Facebook accounts. At that point Facebook was just open to colleges. I remember my brother having a Facebook account before I got mine and being really jealous."
"One prediction that I made that I was totally wrong about was when Facebook announced they were going to have an internal email system, I thought they were going to take over the world. I remember saying that this was all anyone was going to use. Similar to having your own Facebook URL. I remember telling my friends, 'Get your Facebook URL for your name right now. Because you're going to want it.' I remember thinking that people might even list them on their business cards with phone numbers. It's been almost four years since that happened and I was obviously totally wrong."
"I didn't tweet for a long time. I was a late adopter there too. I'm really kind of a Luddite especially considering I've made a career in technology. I think it helps to not be a crazy technical nerd person when I'm building programs and campaigns that will hopefully have mass-appeal and effect. It's served me well because I'm somewhat of a normal person when it comes to adopting technology. As are most of the American public. Most people are normal. That's what that word means. Good luck getting a quote out of that. "
What do you like about social media?
"I love that social media has built a system for folks to easily care about other people and issues. A very concrete example, a couple of weeks ago at my alma mater, Emerson College, a couple of kids launched a fundraising campaign to help a transgender friend of theirs pay for his transition surgery. They were able to raise 2000% of their goal, and they will use that excess to help other transgender people fund some of their transitions. Strangers donated to the campaign, people who did not know this young man or his friends. So, I see social media as this place where people can be empathetic and learn about people they would not otherwise have been able to learn about. That's incredible."
"More than transparency, social media has forced awareness. People may not be able to see everything, but what you're able to see is much more easily shared and conveyed. So, you know, when Elizabeth Warren tears bankers to shreds in a pretty obscure committee meeting on Capitol Hill, it's on Facebook five minutes later and on Twitter five minutes later, or 30 seconds later, or in real-time. And, folks can share that and repost that and it blows up and goes viral. That same information would have been accessible before social media because it's all in a congressional record somewhere, but I don't think folks would have read it or seen it to the same extent. So, that's really exciting. On the other hand, everyone has these tools, so the folks that are trying to obscure a reality can do the same thing. For instance, 'good food' activists can be on the Internet talking about Monsanto and the chemicals that go into the plants that make up the food we eat. But, Monsanto has just as large of a Facebook following and they can say, "Gosh, aren't these Chicken Nibblers delicious?" And that will get 'liked' and shared a bajillion times as well. It cuts both ways. But, I think the good definitely outweighs the bad."
What do you dislike about social media?
"I think, from a professional standpoint, one thing that can be really frustrating is that a lot of the engagement that folks have through social media can serve to replace more meaningful action. It's great to repost the video of Elizabeth Warren, but it would be way better to contact your congressional representatives to let them know that you support meaningful financial and financial regulatory reform. I feel like it lets people off the hook a lot of the time. That having been said, taking action online is an incredible gateway to taking action offline. We saw that hugely in the last election cycle. People who take action online are way more likely to donate, way more likely to volunteer, etc. It's not the end of the road for a lot of those people. That's really exciting."
"I think that social media is a great venue for smallness and pettiness and it makes it easier for us to lose sight of things that are really important. I'll use myself as an example. I posted to social media last week complaining about a bad latte I drank, which is a completely meaningless and inconsequential thing to talk about. Ever. Period. I mean, I'm clothed, fed, happy, employed and I have great friends and family and I took the time and energy out of my day to complain about a bad latte. Instead, I could have done any number of things. I think that social media is a really great place to vent things that before we might have just shut up about. And, that probably would have been better."
What would it be like for you to disconnect from social media for six months?
"So, since I have been connected, the longest time that I've been disconnected for is six days. It was awesome. I was hiking the Appalachian Trail so, due to connectivity restraints, I didn't have a choice. I was totally shut off and it was great. But, I do think I would pretty quickly start to miss it, and miss people. I would genuinely miss connecting to people on Facebook and Twitter. I would really miss that and I would start to miss it quickly. So, I wouldn't want that. It sounds bad. It would be a challenge."
Is there a person or brand that you think uses social media effectively?
@upworthy - Their tagline is "content worth sharing." I really value their stuff.
@freedomtomarry - They've done such a good job of putting faces on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples. It's really impressive and they're really good at it.
@jacobwolk - He makes me actually laugh out loud on a regular basis. He also worked on the marriage campaign with me here in Maine.
@NatTowsen - I did improvisational comedy with Nat in college, and following his tweets makes me miss working with him. He's a funny, funny man.
I want to thank Ian for taking the time to talk with me about his opinions on, and experience with, social media.
You can find Ian on Twitter at: @iancgrady
You can find Ian on Instagram at: @iancgrady
Social media has changed the way that many of us learn, purchase, interact and explore the world around us. And, things are just getting started. Social, Social is a place to discuss social media with people from all walks of life. No experts allowed.
Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002).
Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg
His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).