There are few people in the world with knowledge of the social media and technology space like Gary Vaynerchuk.
He began video blogging in 2005 and launched Wine Library TV in 2006 to begin his leap into the online, community world years before Twitter and Facebook became ubiquitous. In 2009 he started Vayner Media, a brand consulting agency focused on social media, with his brother A.J.
If you want to know the type of person Gary is, you can tell from his Twitter bio which begins "Family 1st! but after that, Businessman." You can also see from his "All Tweets" feed that he spends quite a bit of time responding to people on Twitter. He's closing in on a million Twitter followers and should hit that mark soon.
So it was an honor to speak with Gary and I thank him for participating in this Q&A for my new social media blog. This is the first of hopefully many Q&A's about social media.
Here's a transcript of our conversation on social media trends, time management, Vayner Media, startups and more. The audio can be found at the bottom of this post.
Q: Can you talk broadly about how the social media space has evolved in the last few years?
A: "I think the biggest thing that's really popped out to me is we've had a little bit of a weeding out, which makes me happy. I think we said on TechCrunch TV that 99.5% of people who say that they're social media experts are clowns, and I believe that. I think people went on a gold rush; I think a lot of people who used to sell homes or info products on the Web, decided they were social media experts, so it was crowded. I think a lot of people started agencies or things of that nature, and a lot of them didn't pan out.
We've had a weeding out, and I think people who actually have business sense and marketing sense are starting to rise, escalate in the space, and others have kind of gone on to the next thing, and I think that's healthy.
The market is now asking more questions about the ROI, because the budgets are getting bigger. I think 3 or 4 years ago people were spending a couple thousand dollars a month, brands, they didn't really care - it was a testing zone. Now people are starting to ask for million dollar contracts and million dollar campaigns within social. These brands and businesses, and small businesses even if they're big enough - their version where they're hiring somebody to do it - they're starting to ask questions on the ROI, which I think is healthy and appropriate. I would say we're starting to become a teenager, you know?"
Q: Can you elaborate on some key trends you're seeing right now in the social media space?
A: "I think what's happening for me, it's fun to see other things besides Facebook and Twitter take hold. The maturity of Tumblr as a real player is exciting. I think Pinterest has proved to be a major player. It's fun to see Instagram become a major player. It's fun to watch things like SnapChat, and Vine, try to vie to be the next thing. So I think we're seeing a pruning out that's just not going to be one or two sites, and I think that to me has been a huge trend.
I think the analytical backend of Facebook has been an amazing trend the last few years. It's got some real power and some real data. I think people are appreciating that and they can understand it more.
The thing that I'm most passionate about, I'm writing a book called "Jab Jab Jab Jab Jab Right Hook," and it really focuses on how to story-tell in a noisy, ADD world. I think people are trying to figure out how to create content for it. You see Vine come out and everybody cry about how do you make a 6-second video, it's no different than what they said about 140 characters in 2007, but we figure it out. Storytelling, figuring out how to tell your story on these platforms - through a picture, through a SnapChat, through an animated GIF on Tumblr, I think it's exciting times."
Q: A different topic entirely - time management - how do people stay active on social media and stay sane?
A: "I think it comes down to the individual or individual business. Some people are spending 10 minutes a day on it, some people are spending 10 hours a day on it.
I think that there's a lot worse things to spend your time on than social. You're engaging with people, you're creating content and you're talking to your end consumer or your B-to-B partner, or somebody you're getting an education from.
I would argue heavily that the time that has been allocated to social used to come from television, and people are benefitting from it. People who are saying, aw, you're spending all your time on Facebook, or all your time on Twitter, I'd like to understand what the person used to do with that time."
Q: Similarly, what do you think of the balance between in-real-life and online? How should that be balanced?
A: "I think they work hand-in-hand. Social scales. Digital scales. Like when I'm on a plane... Or, you know, I just did a one hour Q&A on Twitter. I would have never been able to engage with those people. I was driving from San Francisco to Sonoma to give a talk. How the hell am I going to talk to anybody?
Now, that time might have been spent on the phone with my friends or family, that's something to think about, with mobile devices. But if you take it back 15 years, what was I going to be doing? Was I going to be reading the New York Times? Was I going to be sleeping? Was I going to be listening to my Walkman? I think it scales and it's efficient and you add value. Nobody's recommending sitting in your Mom's basement 24/7, 365, obviously business is very human. The more you can do real engagement and spend real time with somebody, the better it's going to be."
Q: Can you talk a little about Vayner? Why you started it and how it's been going in general?
A: "We started it because of supply and demand, very honestly. I had so many brands asking me to consult... I saw all these dollars and opportunities to learn about corporate America... my brother AJ was graduating and I thought we had an opportunity to build something together. I wanted to build a real business and I wanted to raise money, and I didn't want to just raise money for the sake of raising money. Building up a real business, operating, seemed attractive to me. I had built up a lot of street cred in marketing and social business in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, and so it just seemed like a real opportunity, and that's kind of why I started it.
It's been going extremely well. We went from 35 to 200 employees from 2011 to 2012, so there was big growth for us. We continue to land, launch for clients. We're super lucky to be working with major Fortune 500 companies, and 2013 is looking up. A lot of people are asking for our help, our clients are very happy, and there seems to be a lot of growth opportunity. So, yeah, I'm pretty excited."
Q: Any broad trends you find interesting in the startup space right now?
A: "A broad trend I'm completely obsessed with is mobile commerce. Like completely. I'm completely convinced that everybody's going to be buying from their mobile devices. Whoever can claim that space or be in that space, I'm very interested in.
I'm obsessed with restrictions. It's why I invested in Path, it's why I love Vine...when you require people to be under restrictions, whether it's your friend count, or the length of time that you can make a video.
I also think hardware is a really exciting place. Things like Jawbone, and Nike+ FuelBand, and what Kickstarter has done for the hardware space. Little gadgets, trinkets, hardware, the MakerBot stuff, I'm very, very intrigued by the hardware world."