Recently on Chris Clarke’s blog he stirred up a bit of controversy by posting questions and thoughts on the recent shakeups at new marketing company crayon, led by Joe Jaffe. I’ve been catching up on my feeds from the last couple of months and am a bit late to the party, but I mentioned to Chris I had some thoughts on the brouhaha and subsequent public chastisements. This post may meander a bit as I have many tangential thoughts that relate to this latest situation… apologies in advance. I should also state up front that all those to be named I have deep respect for and in some cases consider close friends… nothing personal, it’s just blogging.
Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Chris in the past and respect his contributions and perspective on the social media space and tools. I’ve also posted a thought or two about Jaffe on this site in the past (I enjoy his work for the most part and respect his expertise and risk-taking). And both Chris and Joe are my FaceBook friends. ;)
From my vantage point Chris’ post, outside the headline (although the “Death Watch: Yahoo!” series on iMedia Connection comes close), was not outside the norms established so far (I could go on about what defines norms and in what narrow niche, but suffice it to say I am speaking of the norms in the PR social media space for these purposes). Some of the follow up posts chose to focus on Chris’ age and experience while Mitch focused on the longtail of your personal brand’s reputation online (which I agree with on the whole). But the main theme appears to be (and that was the take-away by some of Chris’ peers): Chris is young and inexperienced, his tone was out of bounds and he and should not have challenged Jaffe on crayon as he doesn’t have the business experience to do so. The additional question appears to be how young professionals should interact in the blogosphere – should they be able to challenge the more senior professionals in the industry?
While I was catching up on this subject, I happened to run across an interesting post entitled: Does Lack of Gen-Y in Upper-Management Positions Hurt Youth Oriented Brands? And a comment by Ryan Holiday contradicting the notion that being young and controversial is a bad thing for your career. For the most part I find the Gen-Y post above a tad naive in its details, but valuable in its perspective.
The discussion also reminds me of the cringing feeling us old hats in the interactive space get sometimes about the newbies to social media who seem to think that Google and WYSIWYG’s are the sum total of the web and attempt to establish ‘norms’ for communications in Web 2.0 without the understanding that Web 2.0 tools and apps (Web 2.0 is in essence layman terms an add-on layer vs. a rebuild of the structure of the Internet) fulfills the promise of the “Write” in the original premise of the web as a Read + Write medium.
It also brings up how the pr and marketing communities view social media – do we “own” it, or are we learning and using it along with the rest of the world? How can we expect to communicate with our client’s or brand’s customers via this new and shifting channel if we immediately shut down a learning opportunity from a key demographic (Chris ~ Gen-Y), and a part of the same demographic who is currently helping to shape, beta test and build Web 2.0 applications and tools en masse? The early adopters if you will. What they have to say, and how they say it, is, in my opinion, important. Does that mean they are above critism themselves? Of course not, they are as much fair game as the rest of us in the wide wooly web. Anyone who has spent time on political blogs, entertainment or tech discussion boards knows the territory is fraught with flame wars and unpleasant conversations. It’s part of the landscape and if we hope to advise our clients and senior managers of the power and need for participating in the space we should take every opportunity to probe deeper and expand our knowledge. One of my favourite aspects of the Internet is how everyone participating is on relatively equal footing when it comes to our identities. If I choose to be gender or race neutral I can be so. The same applies to age. We are defined by what we contribute and communities online take many shapes and sizes.
Which also leads into practicing what we preach and setting a good example for the juniors amongst us to follow if we decide there must be guidelines within this particular niche online. I find it difficult to fault Chris for his post when those directly in his circle have set the example for ‘calling outs’. I’ve done it. So has Joe (with follow ups and a Facebook group), David (including some echo chamber in the comments), Doug (another Jaffe sighting), and Michael (who lived to tell the tale) to name a few of the more recent ones. Do I think any of those posts were out of bounds? Perhaps and if I felt strongly one way or the other I may have participated in the ensuing lively discussions… the foundation for expressing and communicating online. Do I feel differently about any of the people because of what they wrote? No, because even if I didn’t know each of them in real life and judge them by the sum of their contributions both online and off, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and means of expressing it as long as it isn’t abusive. However, I do think that each of the above examples are in line (in different ways) with what Chris posted in his piece.
Chris asked some provocative and challenging questions based on his take on the original premise of crayon, which included the merging of marketing, advertising and pr. PR is where Chris makes his living and with the departure of that crew he felt the company as launched was finished. Agree or disagree it is a valid take-away based on what the founders said when they started the company. It would also make for some great discussions surrounding integrated communications if we got past the initial dustup. Joe Jaffe responded to Chris, as was his right, and some crayon employees did as well (which really does prove they are active participants in the space btw). They took offense and told Chris so and his follow up post was great and further elaborates and expands on his rationale for posting. All in all a lot of great depth and insight all around. I’m glad Chris is thinking. We can all learn and grow, but I don’t think the questions he asked were out of bounds, at least not because he’s only been in the pr world for 2 years.
And this finally leads to the blatant truth about the ‘Net since the days before portals: Controversy drives traffic and links and traffic and links are the currency of the web. Chris was rewarded quite handsomely for his risk in the end.
But that’s just my opinion of course – you can always find a different one in Google. :)
[photo credit: chaztoo via Flickr]