Gary Vaynerchuk has made it big in social media, the news media, and now the cultural media. This week the New Yorker, of all magazines, published a piece about the wine guy in its Talk of the Town. In its inimitable tongue-in-cheek manner, as the magazine is prone to do, it bestowed both praise and thinly veiled criticism on the author of Crush It. Though the writer, Tad Friend, did let Gary’s personality shine through, whether his intentions where to show Gary’s good side or poke fun at him is somewhat questionable.
The New Yorker is my favorite magazine and Gary is one of my favorite social phenomena. So I love the fact that this high-brow cultural periodical profiled him, and that in return he appears totally unintimidated, either by the reporter or the magazine’s readership. Gary Vee stays true to his passionate, opinionated, intense personality. “Take me as I am or don’t take me at all,” he seems to say.
While the New Yorker acknowledges Vaynerchuk’s accomplishments it implies that Vaynerchuk isn’t quite as social as he may claim to be, arguing that if we believe in the theory of Dunbar’s number, no one with 45,000 fans or 850,000 followers can actually engage with but a fraction of them. The article cites Gary’s automated video email reply, which substitutes for a real response when you send him a message, along with the amount of time it takes him to actually respond to his community as evidence that what Gary espouses and what he delivers aren’t quite the same.
A relationship with Gary V means an ironclad guarantee that he’ll reply to your e-mail within four months, with at least a “thnx” or a “mwaa!” First, however, you’ll get a bounce-back message that directs you to a brief video. In the video, Gary V, looking sporty in a maroon rugby shirt, thanks everyone: “I don’t want anybody to not recognize how appreciative I am of the volume of e-mails I get.” He names assistants and handlers who can help with your biz-dev or media-op needs. Then he thanks everyone again, and again, and again, six times in all. His passion and sincerity make his eyebrows pop like upside-down Vs—V for Gary V! Branding! Tad Friend
But I think the New Yorker misses the point a little bit. It’s easy to fault the host of “The Thundershow” for not being able to respond in real time to his thousands of followers. And this is not a new argument. Plenty of people have proffered that we can’t really be social in social media once we reach a certain size following. This is especially true for celebrities (think Oprah, Martha, Ellen) not to mention anyone with hundreds of thousands of fans.
But Gary’s real contribution is something other than his day in and day out engagement. He’s demonstrated it’s possible to build a significant business with social media alone. He’s set a pretty good example in the process. And he’s willingly shared all or much of what he’s learned.
Bypassing traditional media, eschewing paid advertising, he’s proven what one person can achieve by taking things into his own hands. With a video camera, a folding table, and an understanding that by democratizing wine with a straight forward, unpackaged, no BS approach to content generation he’s built a business and a following while pioneering an approach that’s obviously as valid as any of the models documented in marketing text books or ad agency case studies.
You can do business with Gary. The prices at Wine Library and Gourmet Library are pretty darn good. You can engage with him. But I think the real opportunity is to study what he’s done and how he’s done it, then replicate some of those techniques for yourself, your business or your client’s business. In fact I know people who after one night of hanging with Gary — and listening to his enthusiam for the potential of social media — have upped and quit their jobs to start their own business.
P.S. You might be interested in a post I wrote about Gary Vaynerchuk and Lee Clow a little over a year ago. Let me know who you think wins. Might be fun to see if a year has changed anyone’s opinion.
Illustration by Tom Bachtell, used without permission. Hope since I’m linking to the New Yorker page featuring the illustration that he won’t mind.