We Don’t Need Another Hero – A Rebuttal

This morning, one of my Des Moines social media cohorts wrote a post about the recent onslaught of social media companies, consultants and “Superstars” that have recently dotted our fine city. Troy Rutter hasn’t hidden his distaste for the trend of social media consultants popping up out of nowhere (here, here, and here). But in this morning’s post, he created a correlation to other markets and specifically to the hotbed of social media action that is Boston – calling names like Chris Brogan, CC Chapman and Chris Penn as the benchmark to which all social media “Superstars” would be measured.

While Troy opens his post with a slight “hat tip” to the growth of Des Moines’ social media industry, he quickly jumps into a bit of a “back-handed” compliment:

“What is it about Des Moines that is a breeding ground for so-called Social Media Experts? Is it the corn? Can the city support three social media firms, and countless wannabes who think they have all the answers?

“The Des Moines social media scene is concerned more with being local leaders than global. They fight with/over each other to be the definitive “expert” while simultaneously patting each other on the back to make themselves feel good.”

And in comparison to the Bostonians:

“Maybe that’s the biggest difference. The Bostonians give back to the social media community, not really looking for their own accolades. While Des Moines experts seem bent on making a name for themselves any way they can.”

Okay, Troy, let’s talk this out objectively…

While I can’t comment on the national scene, personally,  I’ve felt nothing but camaraderie and compassion from the other local social media citizens. As a matter of fact, in March of 2006, I wrote my first blog post and was immediately welcomed by Drew McLellan – a national Superstar in his own right. I’d say that was pretty encouraging.

I’m also thrilled with the growth of social media in the Des Moines area. And while I agree that Des Moines is “Saturated” with “Social Media Stars,” to compare Des Moines’ social media community to Boston’s is a bit shortsighted.

The “Stars” in Boston certainly have “street cred.” They’ve built the foundation that others all over the country (and the world) are hoping to stand on. And while people like Penn and Brogan can pull crowds and garner attention better than E.F. Hutton, setting the “Social Media Star” standard by their reputations alone is unfair to the efforts being made here in Des Moines.

A simple marketing lesson I learned years ago states (and I’m paraphrasing):

“The first to the market will define and own that market until,
1) They are knocked out of the top position by a competitor
or (and this is the bigger point),
2) Another “segment” of the market is designed for the competitors to shine.”

Brogan and the rest of the Bostonians established the “Social Media Superstar” market. So, for now, it’s theirs as defined to own and defend. And it’s entirely what they’ve built their personal and business brands on.

I say, “Genius!”

What I see Des Moines social media practitioners doing is taking a loose model of what our East Coast brethren designed and creating a niche segment within the social media marketplace that better fits our community and the Midwestern economy. We (the Midwest) don’t need superstars to swoop in and save the day. On certain levels, I think the conservative nature of our neighbors would reject that model, anyway. The business model Des Moines companies gravitate to do not tolerate “Ego,” whether it’s intentionally inflated self-worth or not. Companies like LavaRow, Catchfire and One Social Media are capitalizing on that fact and creating a new “Relational Social Media” niche to fill that need.

So, to your point, Des Moines DOES deserve recognition for the social media acumen it possesses and encourages. Definitely! Should the social media practitioners strive to be some kind of hero or super star to warrant that credibility? Hell no.

To appease your hunger for national recognition, we could cite the recent feature CNN did on regional social media and the noise being made here. Many of the people you point at in your post were linchpins in many aspects to those events.

It’s just a matter of time before this model of “Relational Social Media” to break through to a bigger, more national level. But for now these companies are providing astounding insight, customer service, education and pride for Des Moines, central Iowa and the Midwest as a whole!

With that, I ask plead with my readers. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Does Des Moines (and the Midwest in general) have the social media chutzpa that will bring us to a national and / or international light? Or do you think that we have too many “wanna-be” practitioners muddying the waters?

Back to you…

Until next time,

Keep Cooking! (’cause social media is yummy for EVERYONE!)
Andrew B. Clark
The Brand Chef

44 Comments
  1. Who the heck decides that we have too many social media companies?

    oy…I have more to say…but gotta run and wanted to spout out this little point and contemplate the “right” wording for my real response.

    (BTW we have too many chiropractors)

    GREAT post Andrew…I shall return!
    kk

  2. Wow – thanks for the well though-out rebuttal.

    I guess that is the question isn’t it? Can Des Moines continue to support all of these “Social Media Experts” within its boundaries?

    As you encouraged me to do, I encourage you to do as well, take a step back. While you, myself and others are entrenched in social media, taking a step back you can see that even social media is a niche. If you say social media to 100 people on the street, I would wager 80-90% of them go “what?” And then you mention Facebook and Twitter and they will go “oh… yeah.”

    I can see how the second half of my entry seems to belittle Des Moines. Actually, I think it is my frustration that Des Moines DOES HAVE the chops to become a leader in the space, but doesn’t seem to have anybody wanting to step into the national spotlight.

    Which in itself is contradictory, because on one hand I am berating people for trying to become superstars, and then Im chastising them for NOT becoming leaders. I guess there is a difference between being notoriety and being a leader…

    But its frustrating to me to see the city grow in terms of social media and tech, but we can’t seem to get the city recognized.

    I want Des Moines to be a leader in tech, web, social media, whatever, but I think we are too faceted. When Chris Pirillo was here a couple of years ago, he gave reasons why he moved to Seattle – because that is where things were moving in the space he wanted to be in.

    Des Moines COULD be there. The problem is this. If Person X were to organize a barcamp, or podcamp, or whatevercamp, my first assumption is that they are doing it to improve their personal brand. Not for the tech community. Thats just the way things have gone. Everything people do is suspect.

    Now, as for other social media people in Des Moines, Andy – I didn’t say they were welcoming. I didn’t say they weren’t friendly. I just have gotten the sense over the last few years that there is a definite pecking order… and there are people who will only help others if it benefits themselves.

    So, what was the main “point” of my post? Simple. And I know there was a less confrontational way to get it out there, but hey, people don’t like me anyway –

    Until somebody steps up to be a leader in Des Moines, and who can pull everybody together, instead of everybody being separate facets, Des Moines will not be able to be a leader in the social media or tech space. So Im challenging someone, or a group, to do that – step up. Be a leader. Help channel the energy for the common good instead of a private ego.

    To those who think Im badmouthing Des Moines, you really missed the point. On the contrary, Im merely asking with all of the social media firms and “experts” in our midsts, why AREN’T we a leader in the space?

    • Hey Troy!

      I appreciate you stepping up and letting me swing at you like that. While I “Get” your point, I do see a huge difference in the comparisons you made in your post. The markets nor the individuals can me lumped in the same sentence…

      Des Moines is getting there. Social media and technology is growing and that’s evident by the companies that are talking and/ or choosing to be here. So when will our “Knights in shining armor” show? Who knows? They may already be here and haven’t felt the call, yet.

      I think we have more progress to make. But the work that I’m hearing about and seeing from those that are in the market is nothing to slight.

      Keep your chin high. Keep your gloves up and protect your nose. 🙂

      And, of course…

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef

  3. Who’s trying to be a hero? These Des Moines social media firms identified a need and organized to meet it.

    I don’t see Brogan or Penn meeting with Iowa companies on the reg. Does the existence of Katie Couric eliminate the need for Kevin Cooney? Is Barack Obama doing Culver’s job?

    I’m relatively new to social media, so maybe I’m missing something here, but Des Moines would be a wasteland if we all sat around expecting someone in Boston to resolve our problems.

    • Great correlations, Joe!

      I think Troy’s post and his subsequent comment here is more of a “Call to action” for someone… ANYONE in the area to really step up their game and make some noise.

      Can we keep DSM from just being a platner for those on the coasts? Does it REALLY have to be a fly-over state?

      Maybe it’s YOUR turn to make the noise?

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef

  4. Yea there are too many technology companies too.. We should all just quit trying to build businesses and leave that up to Silicon Valley – they are the real rockstars.

    • LOL, Andy — I think we need at least two or three more Panera shops, too… 🙂

  5. Andrew, thanks for writing this. All I can say from my perspective is that there is more than enough work to go around and we should all be supporting each other and working together. It’s sad and shameful that anyone is actively trying to tear others down.

    • Hey Claire!

      No thanks needed. I may have been a bit aggressive with my response, but I’ve heard more that @trutter say similar things about Des Moines.

      Is it time to step up? Can we step up?

      Here’s my fear… Like Chris Pirillo, what’s stopping our next rock star from starting the momentum here and then bolting for the coast? We have the opportunity (with the activities cited in the CNN article) to really put Des Moines on the map. It’s started, but we need some strong(er) leaders.

      Hope we can find them!

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef

  6. I’m not a social media expert, guru, superstar, consultant, or evangelist. So, if it appears that I know nothing about social media, you’re right, I don’t.

    I’m still learning.

    Des Moines is not freaking Boston. Nor should it be. I’m not looking to pump myself or make a name for myself. How can I when my blog isn’t getting me a job, Troy?

    I write a pithy blog that will never get the large number of readers that Chris Brogan gets.

    To each his own.

    Maybe no one pays attention to it, but those who follow or work social media in Des Moines has little time to big-time each other and make a name for themselves.

    I don’t know what in the hell else I want to say. I’m that miffed.

    • Ah, Yes, Romelle, but you are working your way into quite the savvy social media practitioner. What can you do to foster the community into a more resilient and powerful force to deal with… OUTSIDE THE IOWA BORDER?

      Cook up THAT idea!
      Andrew

  7. I think the original intent of my post has been missed.

    I’m asking why, with so many SM firms and experts, why isn’t anybody bubbling to the top as a leader in the space?

    If we want the Des Moines tech community to really be a force to reckon with (as we always say we do at Highlight Midwest, etc) then there has to be some kind of an organized effort to do that.

    But instead we either a) fight with each other or b) tell each other how great we are – but both really don’t move us forward.

    • “If we want the Des Moines tech community to really be a force to reckon with (as we always say we do at Highlight Midwest, etc) then there has to be some kind of an organized effort to do that.”

      Troy, that goes a long way. Maybe your post simply created that call-to-action!

  8. Quoting Troy:

    “If you say social media to 100 people on the street, I would wager 80-90% of them go “what?” And then you mention Facebook and Twitter and they will go “oh… yeah.” ”

    Everyday people are waking up to a new appreciation to social media and if we’re still just hitting 10-20% of the population (according to you) that in itself fuels the need for social media companies that can lead in their own realm, bring awareness with their own experience and evolve the Des Moines community to reach a greater wealth.

    kk

  9. Ok, I admit I structured my post on my blog in such as way that it was confrontational, and to some ugly. And now I realize it may have inadvertently hurt my relationship with Claire – didn’t mean to go that far.

    I admit the post was designed as a “shocker” post as Darren Rowse might put it. Confrontational for the sake of being confrontational. But also to get people talking.

    What are we DOING here?

    I may make fun at all the social media experts, but it is usually just in jest. But seriously, Des Moines now has 3 prominent firms, and Id wager at least 15-20 individuals “specializing” in social media trying to build their own companies.

    That’s something to be proud of. I want the world to know. I want to shout from the roof tops, look at Des Moines! I want to have a startup weekend every weekend, I want to host a barcamp here, or a podcamp, get in some of the “famous folk” to talk.

    I WANT DES MOINES TO BE A LEADER.

    But to do that, I think we need a leader to pull that together. There is so much infighting among the tech crowd and companies. So and so hates X, X offers connectivity to Y so we dont like X, Z does business with F so we don’t do business with F.

    For one weekend a year the tech community gets together in Des Moines to try and build a business or two or three from scratch. I would like to see that same sort of collaboration year-round. Yes, companies have to make money for themselves. But isn’t there SOME WAY we can work together to build up Des Moines as a SM / tech / web powerhouse?

    You may say we don’t need another hero… but somebody has to help bring people, companies and resources together.

    My original question on my blog was simply: can Des Moines support 3 SM firms? It is such a small niche Im not sure anybody can say Yes or No definitively.

    Im going to get beat up over the post pretty well I can tell. But I have never singled out anybody or any firm, except my “worst SM mistake of the year” last year on my blog. Even then I didn’t single out the agency responsible.

    So the question is: Do we REALLY want Des Moines to be a SM/Tech/Web powerhouse or are we all talk? Do we have anybody that can pull the community together to move it forward?

    I don’t have the answers, Im just asking the (sometimes hard) questions.

  10. Hi Andrew, thanks for bringing this to my attention. Appreciate it.

    First, let me explain my priorities at Lava Row:
    1.) Do good, honest work for clients.
    2.) Pay my employees.
    3.) Foster a good work environment for them.
    4.) Pay for their health insurance.
    5.) Foster my own (and my family’s) personal happiness doing work that I love.
    6.) Grow the business and create jobs in Des Moines.

    Being a “leader” on a national scale doesn’t register anywhere on my list of priorities. Making a name for Des Moines as a tech hub is a nice by-product of doing good, honest work – but honestly it is not one of my priorities. THAT is the result of efforts from many parties – start-ups, community leaders, established companies, state government, etc.

    If anyone out there is truly worried and wringing their hands about the state of Des Moines’ tech or social media prominence, then I suggest that those individuals go start something on their own and rally the troops to fix the perceived “problem.” Passive-aggressive blog posts and tweets accomplish nothing. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here working.

    Thanks for listening. And if anyone has further ideas about how Lava Row, Catchfire Media or One Social Media can better serve the Des Moines tech community, I’d love to hear your thoughts in person: 515-554-0502 or nathan (at) lavarow (dot) com.

    • Nathan –

      Thanks for commenting! I know that the business of being in business is your priority! That’s reflected by your work ethic and commitment to furthering the social media “cause.” In Des Moines or outside (Omaha, etc)…

      What I see, and tried to illustrate in my post, was that there’s a concerted effort to create “Midwestern Values-Based” social media models around the companies mentioned (Including LavaRow). I predict that we’re so close to a critical mass of social media purveyors in Des Moines that eventuality one (or some) of them will be “breaking through” to a bigger scene… and that will happen within the next year to 18 months…

      I look forward to seeing where we go from here…

      Thanks again for joining the conversation!

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef

  11. These posts have sparked an interesting conversation for all involved parties. We’re definitely enjoying seeing the back-and-forth between some of the smartest social media minds in the area.

    All I can say is sit tight and enjoy the ride if you’re a bystander. I know that all of the companies mentioned in both posts are working hard to get their businesses to the next level, potentially the level that Troy speaks of. Yet, they are working as BUSINESSES to set the tone for Des Moines, not as INDIVIDUALS. But, I guess that goes to the culture of the Midwest and partially to Andrew’s point.

  12. Yeah @nathantwright hit the nail on the head…

    “If anyone out there is truly worried and wringing their hands about the state of Des Moines’ tech or social media prominence, then I suggest that those individuals go start something on their own and rally the troops to fix the perceived “problem.” Passive-aggressive blog posts and tweets accomplish nothing. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here working.”

  13. I appreciate that this discussion is happening. Troy, I think you are contradicting yourself in your point about needing a leader and someone to have influence on a national scale. First off, there have been Des Moines social media practitioners that have spoke at large conferences and have gotten national attention. Besides that fact, you said:

    “The problem is this. If Person X were to organize a barcamp, or podcamp, or whatevercamp, my first assumption is that they are doing it to improve their personal brand. Not for the tech community.”

    People that gain national attention spend quite a bit of time on their personal brand. You don’t gain national attention without pushing your name/company/brand out there.

    I don’t think organized efforts that have occurred like Social Media Club of Des Moines for example, is for the purpose to build up individuals. I haven’t found that to be the case at all. It has been to foster the social media community and help move it forward and bring like-minded individuals together.

    Just read this tweet from Andy Brudtkuhl: “I don’t think anyone is unwilling to become leaders… However it’s an organic process that happens naturally and over time.” That’s a very true statement.

    John Quincy Adams said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” I think there are many in the Des Moines social media community that are doing just that. And I applaud them.

    • GREAT insight, Jill!

      I don’t know where I heard it, but one of my favorite sayings is: “Leadership is not taken or claimed by one individual, but granted by one community.”

      So much opportunity!

  14. Is it overly naive to ask why anyone really cares? Seems to me like the companies doing good work for their clients will rise to the top and the rest will fade away. I also don’t think physical “meccas” of industry matter near as much as they used to precisely because of social media and technology.

    I say, do what you do and do it well. Then, you win. Easy peasy.

  15. I’ll just add two bits to the mix:

    1.) Des Moines is the biggest small town you’ll ever live in.
    2.) SM has become intensely local. Live it, love it, share it, evangelize about it, and grow in this little petri dish we call home.

    I’ll take your response off the air.

  16. Jill,

    Yes I understand the contradiction.

    I guess I just wish we’d have some kind of “rock star” to champion our city and rally behind.

    Its cool – wont hear anything else from me. Point taken, ya’ll win.

  17. why would you want just ONE rockstar Troy? Can’t we ALL be rockstars?

  18. Thanks to Katie for drawing my attention to this.

    I agree with a lot of what has been said, but will add this. My take on social media is about the power of many, not the power of one.

    While I haven’t had the opportunity to meet many of the Des Moines social media practitioners in person, I have drawn on their knowledge from afar. I love that the community is willing to work together for each other and that if I need help I have a vast network of people I can approach. Having one “hero” or “superstar” to approach can be intimidating, but knowing there is a caring community is much more inviting.

    • AH, Brian… Great addition to the conversation!

      There will always be “Superstars” but just because I’m not Michael Jordan doesn’t mean I can’t be good, even coach, basketball at the national level.

      I learn from my mentors as we all do. It’s just a matter of finding and trusting in the right one(s) that will motivate you to exceed even your own expectations!

      Great input!

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef

  19. Andrew, thanks for stirring up a meaningful conversation. This in itself is what the community is all about.

    My concern is that we still are not generating creative business starts and resets here in Des Moines.

    I’ll get excited when I see social media professionals working along side new and innovative businesses.

    Till then, Brian Smith is getting at the real strength of social media; the community.

    2 are better than 1 in a this networked marketplace.

    keep creating…you’re good at it,
    Mike

  20. You hear that everyone?! WE WON! Point for Des Moines social media! MUAHAHAHA!

    • Hey Nick –

      LOL … Not sure if we were trying to “win” anything. Just trying to learn more about our community and how to best serve it…

      Andrew

  21. Hey Andrew-

    Total joke. Was merely mocking Troy’s “white flag”. I think the defiance of all contributors here today, joining together to fight for Des Moines’ social media prowess is a testament to the “community” we were accused of lacking.

    • Exactly! When the community comes together like this it can be pretty powerful… Just ask Troy… porbre, porbre @TRutter …

  22. Ah but when the question comes from -within- the community itself, what has truly been shown?

    So there is still some spark left among us… gives me some hope.

  23. About six months ago…

    Me: Hey Nathan (Lava Row). So what do you think of the new social media firm, Catch Fire Media?

    Nathan: I think having another social media firm in Des Moines gives the medium even more credibility. (Paraphrased)

    Me: I totally agree with you.

    Present day…

    There’s plenty of work to go around, and every firm has a different approach. Ask them, they’ll tell you.

    If you’re on the client side of social media, consider yourself lucky that Des Moines has so much social media leadership that you actually get a choice on who you work with.

    Hi Ho, Hi Ho…

  24. Josh,

    I can agree with that. Nicely put.

    Troy

  25. Katie is right. I’ve been talking to companies and individuals about social media for years. Now that there are case studies showing its effectiveness, everyone is ready to get on board. There are literally thousands of entities that need help. I doubt the rockstars in Boston would have time to help all the companies in Des Moines who need help.

  26. Andrew,

    Thanks for the heads up/DM regarding this post. The Tina Turner video was a nice touch, I had it booming through the speakers while reading all these great comments.

    (From Troy’s post) “What is it about Des Moines that is a breeding ground for so-called Social Media Experts? Is it the corn?

    For me, it could be the corn. I’m an Iowan. I grew up in SE Iowa, went to college here, and now raising my family here. We eat a lot of corn.

    My partners, who I worked with prior to One Social Media on different national marketing consulting projects, happen to be located on the East coast. Because of our experience and contacts nationally, we’ve been fortunate to help clients in several very different markets.

    There is plenty of business for everyone in this great city, and the SMB’s need help.

    Our focus is on helping clients set and reach their goals by leveraging the social media tools that may be right for them in an effort to grow (or just sustain) their business.

    While we may have a slightly different business model and philosophy than Lava Row and Catchfire Media, I believe we’ll all do better and we’ll help more businesses because of each other.

    I really liked Josh’s reframe – “If you’re on the client side of social media, consider yourself lucky that Des Moines has so much social media leadership that you actually get a choice on who you work with.”

    No matter what the need in this market, there is a company positioned to fill that need.

    And I think that’s pretty cool.

  27. Claire, I never said the people from Boston should be helping the people in Des Moines.

    I was asking why someone in Des Moines isn’t emerging as a leader, or a national figure as the people of Boston have done. The closest anybody has accomplished on their scale would be Drew McLellan with his Age of Conversation efforts.

    Is it necessary to have a shiny beacon for the world to see here? Not if we keep things status quo. And as Nathan has said, maybe everybody is just working hard to do good things for their clients and families. And that’s ok too.

    I was just asking the question, albeit in a smart-ass and somewhat hurtful way: Why doesn’t Des Moines have the kind of “global” social media leadership Boston has, considering the amount of social media “experts” it houses?

    I guess the best answer I have heard is “because we are too busy locally” or “we simply don’t have a need to be renown.” Both of those are good answers. Unfortunately, if we are to move the city forward in terms of tech/web there has to be *some* kind of recognition or voice that is heard nationally to bring us that attention.

    At least that’s my opinion.

    Andy B. and others have told me to “get my feet dirty then.” I have. But people don’t notice. Every time I am on the Daily Source Code or No Agenda with Adam Curry I try and mention Des Moines. Every time I do a podcast, I use “Iowa Podcast Network” which nobody seems to want to join. I do more schmoozing nationally than locally because, well, they seem to listen to what I have to say, and it gives me a national platform to plug Des Moines.

    And when I asked the Des Moines social media community for one re-tweet for a charity event I was organizing I got nothing… not even a reply.

    You can read my post many ways, but the bottom line is I *AM* proud of what the city has accomplished, but we are no better off than we were when we “started” 3-4 years ago. To move forward we need leaders to call attention to our efforts. I tried once and failed, now I’m an outcast and no matter what good I do is going to be seen with cynical eyes.

    And the sad part is I meant to get people riled up to bring some energy back into things, but instead I feel like Ive alienated the very people I was trying to rally to the cause.

    And subconsciously, I may have been trying to get YOU to help me kill my blog. (see http://www.troyrutter.com ‘s latest blog entry)

    No matter how you feel about me, keep doing good things.

  28. PS To be clear, not looking for “sympathy” – just understanding.

  29. Jill pointed this out earlier but this is a _huge_ issue:

    “The problem is this. If Person X were to organize a barcamp, or podcamp, or whatevercamp, my first assumption is that they are doing it to improve their personal brand. Not for the tech community. Thats just the way things have gone. Everything people do is suspect.”

    I admit I have had it before and felt its impact before. Its not fun and hurts at a very personal level. Regardless of everything that has been posted its this issue at an individual level should be addressed.

  30. Great post, Andrew. Being a Midwesterner currently living a few hours outside Boston, I definitely feel ya with the contours of the emerging social media landscape.

    My feeling about whether someone is doing an activity for personal gain or for the general good is “who cares?” Really.

    If you create something awesome for other people (which will only truly be awesome if you have others in mind first), and your secondary motivation is to raise your own profile, that’s great! I don’t know anyone who is actually selfless enough to create something of value for their colleagues and/or prospects and just stumble upon the realization that being a really cool, helpful, fun, thoughtful, caring person might also be good for business, too. 🙂

    So I say, as long as the effort is sincere, and the event, activity, or content well-done, then I’m all for increased brand recognition as a potent side-effect as a result.

  31. Thanks, Steve!

    You hit the nail right on the head. Selflessness and leadership should (SHOULD) go hand-in-hand. I see that a lot in the non-profit work we do. But taking the lead and earning it are two completely different things!

    So glad you stopped by the kitchen. I hope our paths cross IRL soon!

    Keep Cooking!
    Andrew B. Clark
    The Brand Chef