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Let’s Talk About Gary Vee
Why the most recognized social media marketing professional is bad for the profession of social media.
When I was first starting out in social media, I remember going into a bookstore and buying every book I could find on marketing and social media. One of the books I bought was Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World. Published in 2013, the book is described as a “blueprint to social media marketing strategies that really work.” As a new graduate in my first social media job, I enjoyed the book. He talked about the power of storytelling on social, tailoring your voice and tone to the platform, and making things personal to the consumer. At the time there weren’t a lot of social media resources, and it felt exciting to find an entire book dedicated to social strategy. But now, years later, I would warn any person getting into social media to avoid Vaynerchuk and the content he puts out.
Vaynerchuk, known on the internet as Gary Vee, has 8.9 million Instagram followers, 3 million YouTube subscribers, 2.3 million Twitter followers....the list goes on. He’s built an impressive audience since his Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook days, all eager to watch his videos on everything from social media to entrepreneurship to cryptocurrency. This all sounds harmless enough until you dig a little deeper. Vaynerchuk’s entire personal brand—and the content that supports it—is built on the idea that success comes from working all the time, getting six hours of sleep, and not having a life in your 20s. These are outdated (and harmful) words coming from someone who is by far the most recognized social media marketing professional.
Wait, but is Vaynerchuk even a social media marketing professional anymore? While he does own a social media agency (known for underpaying their staff), what Vaynerchuk has actually done is use his knowledge of social media to build his own personal, advice-driven brand, by any means necessary. A photo telling people to work for free? Sounds viral. A video saying that to be successful you need to create 100 pieces of content per day? Post it. A TikTok telling people to gain perspective by imagining their loved ones are all shot in the face? Sounds goo—oh wait, he deleted that one. (The original footage is still up on YouTube if you want to watch.)
Vaynerchuk has used his deep knowledge of social media to build himself up through growth-hack tactics meant to build an audience rather than deliver genuinely good advice. Sure, he throws in some social media tips here and there—but at this point he’s more motivational speaker than social media professional. And yet, when CNBC wants to write an article on social media, Vaynerchuk is who they go to.
When I originally came up with Link in Bio, I jokingly referred to it as the anti-Gary Vaynerchuk social media resource. I wanted it to highlight lots of different social media managers, and never just be me doling out personal advice week after week. Doing social for a non-profit is very different from doing social at a huge agency. And doing social at a beauty startup is very different from doing social at legacy magazine. I recognize that I don’t know everything there is to know about social media, and unlike Vaynerchuk, I don’t pretend I do.
Through my varied conversations that I have had while building Link in Bio, there has actually been one overwhelming theme: social managers are burnt out. And I can’t help but wonder if the hustle-until-you-drop themes within Vaynerchuk’s videos have trickled down through mandates from the CMOs and marketing directors who continue to follow him. I actually had someone reach out describing this exact sort of scenario—a client who worshipped Vaynerchuk and expected her and the team to be at their beck and call 24/7.
What strikes me as being so backwards is that the exact ethos that Vaynerchuk espouses, not only make people want to leave this profession, but also limit who can be in this industry in the first place. The tips he shouts (very loudly) in videos are frankly unattainable if you are a caregiver, have any sort of debt, the list goes on—and promoting hustle culture as the main path to success is a narrow and alienating perspective.
So let’s call Gary Vaynerchuk what he is: a former social media professional who used his chops to become a growth-hacking motivational speaker. Oh, and CNBC, the next time you need a source for an article on social media, I have a long list of talented social managers to send your way.