I was listening to a podcast recently with Joe Rogan and entrepreneur and social media superstar Gary Vaynerchuk, something that fans of both had been pushing for, for a long time. ‘Gary Vee’, as he calls himself, is a hyper-competitive, never-sleep type who has built an empire from nothing and genuinely believes you can too. Rogan, meanwhile, is the effortless alpha in the room who seems perpetually laid back but well-informed.
It’s an interesting discussion for a bunch of reasons, but most notably because these are two guys at the very top of their respective fields who also happen to be extremely different in their approaches to business and life.
One thing that Vaynerchuk touched upon was really fascinating. As the guys are discussing old school social media sites like Friendster and Myspace, Vaynerchuk talks about how nostalgia sells and – if the price was low enough – he’d purchase a company like Tumblr because he could sell t-shirts to people in 10 years time with the logo printed on it. That chat then leads to how social has taken over our lives to a certain degree, with many celebrities now finding a following and fame purely via Snapchat or Instagram.
For someone my age, it still feels a little odd to see a person using their phone as a platform to broadcast themselves, an opinion, or sometimes even a talent. But he made a superb point; if you research the explosion of television in America in the 50s, at the time it was considered intellectual lesser than radio. As a matter of fact, there were very few radio people who made the transition to tv because they looked down on it. On a broader scale, the same argument has been made about the internet; circa 1994 or so very few people thought that shit would catch on. In terms of publications some push click bait to the absolute fucking limit – but is this any different to a kid screaming, “READ ALL ABOUT IT”, on a street corner way back when, coupled with a likely provocative headline that, at the very least, drew your attention?
Alas, I digress too much. The point about how regular people can become social superstars and genuine celebrities with millions of followers fascinates me – mainly because it’s a world I clearly don’t understand. A bit like yer da listening to Calvin Harris and saying: “THAT’S JUST NOISE.”
The influencer thing has been in the news lately because of regulations around tax. Granted, I don’t fully understand it myself, but there seems to be confusion around what exactly they should be paying tax on. As the editor (and former editor) of a couple of major publications, I would regularly be sent stuff in exchange for a tweet or post. The vast majority of it is food, and all of it is topical in some way or another – usually it’s something that’s just been launched. Now, my online presence is fairly typical of a 34-year-old bloke who’s into sports, training, and movies. Most of my posts revolve my dog, who is frankly sick of me sticking my phone in her face. She needs to remember who pays the fucking rent around here…
More and more though, I’ve noticed how genuinely talented some of these people are without even realising I was watching a ‘YouTuber’ or following an Instagram page I found motivating. It just feels odd to be entertained by someone sitting in their bedroom talking to a webcam or inspired by a short training video.
I think the negative reaction when it comes to influencers is down to an underlying feeling in Ireland that we don’t like when people are too sure of themselves, never mind a 20-something making serious bank from Instagram followers. Look at the reaction to, say, the O’Donavan Brothers compared to Conor McGregor; the two brothers went viral for seeming genuinely indifferent to winning a silver medal at the Olympics. Now, that’s obviously just their personalities, which are incredibly endearing, but make no mistake, those lads put the graft in from sunrise to sunset to earn their place on that podium. Throw McGregor’s name out there, and you’ll likely get a pretty divisive reaction. Roy Keane in his prime would provoke a similarly strong hot take from most. You can make any excuse you want for disliking a person you’ve never met, but there really is a ‘who do they think they are’ element to it. If they back the talk up, who cares really?
People who would never have found fame a decade ago are now building empires by themselves, and are consequently aware of their worth as a brand. It started with reality tv, and now it’s people with their phones garnering a following. Naturally, that means there will be a lot more nonsense to be consumed, but that doesn’t mean the next David Letterman or Tina Fey isn’t currently tearing it up on Snapchat.
The bottom line is that things evolve. Joe Rogan gets close to 100 million podcast downloads a month. A few years back, he would likely have earned a salary for a similar listenership on satellite radio without the luxury of working whenever he felt like it – or would never been given the chance at all. Podcasts are a natural progression of talk radio in a society that needs their entertainment to work around their increasingly hectic schedules. The same goes for sketch comedy, or news, or music.
I have a friend who played professional football at the highest level for many years. He always said that there were much better players than him kicking a ball around in Sunday League somewhere that just didn’t get the chance to prove their worth. Now everyone with a hint of ability and the confidence to show it has an opportunity to not just have their talent consumed by the masses, but to earn a living from it too. There will always be those whose hustle outweighs the talent, and others who stretch ethics to the limit. But the beauty of talent is that – when given the platform – it always shines through.