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Gary Vaynerchuk Hates Clowns: How Context Is Everything In Content Marketing

A couple of clowns I enjoyed this serious interview between Gary Vaynerchuk and Josh Zelman on Techcrunch.

Interestingly Gary’s highlighted statement that 99.5% of social media experts had thrown a red flag into my face on Friday, and made me recall my earlier criticism of Gary during the promotion of his book. I found it interesting that he formed his new company a few years ago, and has since worked with many large companies, and from that experience learned a lot.

I believe the statement about clowns was really Gary suggesting that many corporate marketers don't know how to implement successful programs in social media, though I don't know if he just meant agency people, or included brand people at Fortune 1000 companies.

I believe what Gary was saying is that to be successful in using social media for business, you have to understand the culture of social media, and its not just about using the medium as a campaign tactic to offer coupons and rack up the most followers. Rather you may have to spend some time on developing relationships that are not just about selling your product. Gary did a great job of demonstrating what social media is all about when he described how he engages with Josh Zelman on topics unrelated to the promotion of his books and services. Gary talks with Josh about wine in social media.

Gary walks the walk of social media, yet I do think his statement about social media clowns is disingenuous. If you are a social media expert, you probably do know something about marketing, and understand that to be successful you have to understand your audience and how to optimize the content for your medium. Otherwise how can you be a social media expert!

I've generally disliked the meme about how most social media experts care more about the froth of social media, than the substance of marketing results. Mainly because I know lots of people who are definitely experts in using and optimizing the use of social media for business, and even the one's who critique other's for being clowns are very good at developing a business strategy for marketing whether that's using social media or a mobile phone.  I think the criticism is a simple device for trying to appear to be the genius in a sea of gurus.

Maybe Gary was really saying the people who are in charge of the budgets are clowns? Also, not a good idea, as it’s liable not to win you any favors or business with clients. Gary, if you are reading, please do clarify on that point.

No, I don't think anyone's a clown when it comes to social media. Rather there are those people who know more about how the process works, and there are people who know less.

I think this whole clown meme is a smoke screen for saying that marketing strategy, not the new medium is what's important. Don't get caught up in using new toys, focus on what works for your business. Why can't we just say that?

Perhaps it’s much more effective to be controversial and tell everyone most social media experts are clowns. The people who say that appear to be partially right, and it gives the reader second thoughts about every other expert except for the person who said it. But the statement doesn’t really reflect the reality of the industry, where people who are making money from social media marketing are doing it because they are helping their clients and businesses to be successful.

Gary’s comments about social media clowns were one comment in a longer interview, and were highlighted in the Techcrunch post by the journalists involved. I thought the majority of the interview was good apart from that one comment. I really liked Gary's thoughts about context and his humility throughout the video podcast (except for the clown comment obviously). He brought up the point about context towards the end of the interview when Josh asked him to cut to the chase and give a 140 character comment. Gary had been explaining how social media works by discussing how Gary engages Josh using social media.

Context was and is a valuable point, it helps explains much of how the process works in social media. With context, i.e. relationship and knowledge, customers are much more likely to listen to a journalist recommend a product or service, and customers are also more likely to take action when hearing recommendations from friends and family members. Gary’s story about his social media relationship with Josh was about context, he has probably achieved the success of appearing on the Techcrunch four times because he does spend the time to develop a relationship with the journalist team there. People at Techcrunch know him, and like him more than the average social media expert because he spends some time building those relationships, and as a result Gary gets free publicity for his businesses and books.

Penultimately, what exactly is wrong with a clown anyway?

Here's a definition from Merriam-Webster:

a : a fool, jester, or comedian in an entertainment (as a play); specifically : a grotesquely dressed comedy performer in a circus.
b : a person who habitually jokes and plays the buffoon.

Who wouldn’t want to listen to someone who makes jokes and isn’t afraid of making fun of themselves. Hey, that’s actually one of the reasons I like Gary Vaynerchuk’s wine.tv style. Gary creates compelling, entertaining yet valuable content and manages to joke and clown around while videotaping. The audience enjoys the entertainment and learns something in the process!


- Techcrunch knows how to write effective headlines based on content.
- Watch what you say in public, as people may take it out of context and criticize you!
- Context marketing is a better way of explaining the value of social media and new media than content marketing.
- The more I hear from Gary Vaynerchuk the more I like what I hear… except that stuff about clowns.