Flanked by fellow Shortys team members and finalists for the 2018 edition, including WHOSAY, a beaming Galant was celebrating the 10th anniversary of an iconic ceremony that, by “honoring the best of social media,” has become an obligatory reference in all things digital.
We sat with Greg in the lead up to the 10th Annual Shorty Awards ceremony, to be held Sunday, April 15 in New York City, to talk about the origins of the awards, the evolution of social media since the Shortys’ inception in 2008, influencers, brands and more.
WHOSAY: Where did the idea for the Shorty Awards come from?
Gregory Galant: In the early days of social media, there was no way to know who you should follow. It was frustrating to me that if you were say, a sports fan, you weren’t able to find someone tweeting about your favorite team. So we came up with the idea that the public could vote with a tweet, on various topics and that way, we could identify the most popular people in each category. Now of course every show lets people vote by sharing on social media, but at the time, it had never been done before.
My co-founder and I figured we could build a website in about two weekends and if enough people shared who they thought was the best, and if we called it an award, then maybe more people would care to share it. Within 24 hours of launch, it went viral and the Shorty Awards became the top trending term on Twitter. That’s how the show was born and now we are in our 10th year.
The Shorty Awards have since expanded to all forms of social and digital media, and the winners are now chosen by a combination of popular vote (there were over 6 million votes this year!) and scoring from the Real-Time Academy (brand winners are chosen only by the Academy).
WS: How has social media evolved since the Shorty’s inception in 2008?
GG: In 2008, Facebook was already popular but you only could communicate with friends at the time. Snapchat and Instagram didn’t exist yet. So Twitter was really the first social network that allowed you to follow someone because they had something interesting to say, rather than because they were your friend.
Now social media is where stars are born. While social media started as a text-only medium (for years on Twitter you needed third-party apps just to post photos) now social media is driven by videos and images. This has unleashed a whole new level of creativity. We’re inspired everyday by the content made by fledging creators.
WS: What’s, in your opinion, the role of influencers in the industry?
GG: Influencers and creators have the ability to form extremely strong bonds with their followers, often by spending hours talking into their phone or webcam about personal issues as well as what their professional projects.
The bond between creators and their audiences is much stronger than the bond many popular film stars once had with their fans. Film stars were only famous for playing a fictional character, their fans never really knew them. Creators are famous for being themselves.
WS: How do you think brands are dealing with influencer marketing?
GG: Influencer marketing is nothing new. Nike mastered it decades ago by working with a basketball influencer, Michael Jordan, and made billions off it.
Influencer marketing is just a fancy term for partnering with a person who’s got the audience you need to reach.
Now there are many more influencers than ever before, and only a few brands have really figured out what to do about it (and they’re winning Shorty Awards for it!). But most are still experimenting.
The challenge of influencer marketing is that influencers are people. People are unpredictable. In fact, the more unpredictable they are, the more interesting they are, and the more we want to follow them. Brands are used to spending their ad dollars predictably. Spend a million dollars buying time to run your ads on TV and you’re in for little surprise. Give a million dollars to influencers and you’re on an adventure.
How does a brand that’s used to standard media buys form partnerships with dozens of unpredictable people to reach their audience? That requires accepting some uncertainty, embracing the creative process and a taking a few risks.
WS: In terms of new technologies, which ones do you think are here to stay and evolve?
GG: There is no technology that’s here to stay. Technology is always evolving. I suspect the social media of today will look to the next generation what silent film looks like to us.
What’s here to stay is people’s need for connection and the power of story. We use Facebook for the same reason we used Friendster and for the same reason people wrote letters for centuries. We want to stay in touch. We watch Instagram stories for the same reason we watch movies. We want to be not only entertained, but to follow a meaningful narrative.
WS: In terms of social media measurement, what are some of the metrics you see brands and marketers adopt?
GG: The metrics should be focused on results relative to your business goal. Unfortunately, many focus simply on the number of followers or likes. While it’s important to pay attention to those metrics too, we see many marketers focus on how their social media marketing actually drives sales and perception.
WS: How do you see the role of social media changing in society given all the fake news and fraudulent activity?
GG: There was something magical and innocent about social media back in the early days. Just being on social media that early made you part of a special community. The stakes were low and few people were trying to game it. Now, just a decade later, social media is woven into the fabric of society and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Social media grew faster than its antibodies. Many bad actors were able to game algorithms for mayhem and profit. Social media companies need to do more to combat misuse of their platforms. The public, too, needs to be mindful of the source of the stories they read.
In the meantime, it’s important to shine a spotlight on those using social media to do good things for society and inspire more people to follow in their footsteps. That’s why we’re so excited about the 10th Annual Shorty Awards.
Gregory Galant is the co-creator and executive producer of The Shorty Awards honoring the best of social media -- past winners include Ricky Gervais, Cory Booker, Conan O'Brien, Sesame Street, Neil Patrick Harris, Mike Bloomberg and NASA. Greg’s also the cofounder and CEO of Muck Rack, a digital PR and journalism platform. TheNextWeb called Muck Rack “one of the most useful tools ever invented for media professionals.”
Previously, Greg was an associate producer at CNN where he analyzed the latest trends in citizens' media. Greg has worked at Newlight Associates, a $120M technology venture capital fund. A lifelong entrepreneur, Greg founded an award-winning web development firm at age 14.
To help fellow entrepreneurs, Greg created Venture Voice, a podcast interview series with the founders of Twitter, LinkedIn, The Vanguard Group, Brooklyn Brewery and more. Greg's a mentor in the TechStars startup accelerator. BusinessWeek named him one of the "Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs".
Greg’s a frequent speaker on social media, marketing, PR, entrepreneurship and journalism. He’s given presentations at SXSW, Le Web, Harvard Business School and The International Journalism Festival. His columns have appeared in Fortune, Forbes and Business Insider.