Last year while searching for a photographer to take my engagement pictures, I decided to place an ad on the popular web site, Craigslist. Within two hours of posting, I had more than 40 proposals and portfolio links sitting in my inbox. After browsing through about half of the proposals, I opened a portfolio link from one of the photographers and was blown away by the uniqueness of his style. I immediately e-mailed him and booked a time and date for us to meet.
I knew very little about the photographer other than his e-mail address, phone number and name. I am normally a person who seeks black-owned businesses when shopping for services but in this case, the ethnicity of the photographer never crossed my mind. When we met two weeks later, I discovered that the young man I had hired was Hispanic.
At the time, I thought nothing about what happened in our transaction as I was simply looking to hire a good photographer at a price that fit my budget. It was not until months later, that I realized what I had done; I had made a colorblind hire. I had done exactly what Thomas Friedman professes to happen in a flat world, I had rewarded someone based on their ability to provide a desired service or product in timely manner and for an affordable price rather than reward someone based on their connections, race or other demographic factors.
This is the point where I had my “aha” moment. I had read Erik Qualman’s book, “Socialnomics” and pondered his theories of how social media was the great economic equalizer but I still had my reservations. I would not have called myself a total non-believer in the equalizing power of technology as I had found many business opportunities online before then; but I hadn’t quite come to understand the concept of a self-regulated, digital marketplace where people bought and sold goods and services with almost minimal bias.
While I am not asserting that the internet or social media has completely leveled the playing field; I am asserting that technology has given black professionals and entrepreneurs tools that our predecessors could only dream about. Socialnomics rewards companies and people for being innovative, flexible and actively engaged with their customers and clientele; something that small companies and individuals are often able to navigate with greater ease than their larger counterparts. If I am a painter selling my original works of art online, my race does not have to be disclosed. Customers who may be uncomfortable visiting a physical store in a black inner-city neighborhood won’t hesitate to visit the online store of a black consignment shop owner. If I am a black plumber bidding on jobs on Craigslist, I am not a black plumber, I am simply a plumber (at least until I show up to do the job).
The equalizing value of socialnomics doesn’t just break down the barriers of race, it has proven that it can permeate barriers of all type.
Former hedge fund manager and media dubbed oracle of the 2008 market crash, Michael Burry, serves a perfect example of the power of socialnomics. Burry’s profile made him as unlikely as anyone to become a major player on Wall Street. Suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome and an artificial eye that routinely leaked, Burry shied away from interpersonal engagement as a kid and young adult. However, Burry had an uncanny interest in investing and spent the wee hours of the morning while in medical school running a financial blog. His blog commanded such a large following that licensed financial advisers began to send him cease and desist letters after their clients began dumping their services and following Burry. Finding himself more and more disenchanted with medical school each day, Burry decided to ditch medical school and pursue his love of investing as a career by launching his own hedge fund, Scion Capital. Burry would find a line of investors whom had long followed his blog, ready to back his new venture and later make headlines by earning over $700 million during the 2008 housing market crash[i].
In a similar vein, the celebrated young businesswoman, Natasha Eubanks, struck gold after realizing that there was a market for her personal blog. Feeling that there was a shortage of media coverage on black celebrity life, Eubanks launched theybf.com in 2005 to fill the void and satisfy her cravings for black celebrity gossip. After noticing a growing readership on her blog, Eubanks quit law school and pursued her web site as a full-time venture. In the end, her decision to follow her instincts was a smart one as theybf.com now generates over a million dollars in revenue a year[ii].
Socialnomics has empowered all of us to control our own personal brands and given us unfiltered access to potential customers. A free video on Youtube that goes viral is a much more effective marketing tool than a billboard in the busiest intersection in America. As the higher education community has recently found out, no market is safe from the phenomenon of socialnomics; no matter how niche it may be. It is my hope that the black community is not primarily relegated to being consumers and customers in the world of socialnomics and continues to push forward as significant players in this new market place.