One of our criticisms (self-administered — no sensible person has bad things to say about NMR) is that we don’t focus on the grassroots social media campaigns. You know, the little guys just out there beating the bushes, hoping to use social media to make the world a better place. Well, we are gonna take a grassroots activist stance and change that … for just one article.
One of these influencers is Chris Strub, a former ad man from New York who quit his big city lifestyle to reconnect with the bigger picture. Strub is currently enmeshed in a campaign to visit all fifty states as part of a campaign to bring more awareness to the importance of youth organizations by volunteering at each one! Actively using his Snapchat and Meerkat platforms (along with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) to communicate with supporters as well as the youth organizations he is visiting, Strub is returning social media to its more humble, less profitable roots. In short, he’s making social media about communication and not $$$ again.
His journey started in South Carolina and looping around the U.S., will end in North Carolina. Right now he should be heading to Las Cruces, NM. We thought we would ask him about his social media activities along the way and maybe rediscover something about us as well.
You’re on a cross country tour — how did that idea originate and what are you pitching to people?
Chris: Last summer, I quit my job at an upstate New York advertising agency to visit 48 states in 90 days. My goal was simply to visit each state — there was no true overarching, philanthropic vision. After that trip ended, I spent every day thinking about how I could go around again — but this time, make a positive difference in each community I visited.
I was definitely influenced by Binghamton University’s Global Day of Service, which took place on April 15. Seeing firsthand the difference that an individual volunteer could make largely inspired me to think of how broad an impression could be made by one individual visiting all 50 states.
How does social media play into your specific adventure?
Social media allows anyone interested a variety of windows into the day-to-day activities along the journey, both at each site visit and on the road. I focus primarily on SnapChat — the ease of snapping a picture or video, quickly editing on screen, and uploading to my story makes it advantageous over, say, updating Facebook or even live Tweeting.
Of course, any successful social strategy should be multi-platform, and being active on a variety of channels allows people to “consume” the day’s activities in whatever way(s) they prefer. Social media also allows people to participate in the journey — in hopes of total transparency, I make certain to answer any and all questions along the way.
I’ve also embraced a newer platform this summer: Meerkat. I use this live-video app two ways: primarily from my hotel room, to chat with followers and answer their questions; but also from interesting spots on the journey, be it a minor-league baseball stadium (I conducted a live walking tour of a ballpark in suburban Mississippi) or even at the youth organization itself (I live-streamed orientation at the first day of summer camp in Austin, Texas).
What do you see as the future of social media for grassroots initiatives? Is social media going away any time soon?
It’s hard to imagine a future without social media, because of the ever-increasing simplicity of broadcasting. Broadly speaking, the truest role of media has always been to tell the stories of people, and cell phones allow anyone and everyone to be a part of what used to be an exclusive clique. One hundred years ago, if a house caught fire, you’d have to wait until the newspaper the next morning to hear all about it. Twenty years ago, if a house caught fire, you’d have to wait until the 11 o’clock news to hear about it. Now, if a house catches fire, assuming reasonable cell phone service, there’s an excellent chance a citizen journalist will be the first “news source” on the scene — and can use her cellular device to not only stream video from the scene, but interact directly with the audience that is tuned in.
To answer your question, I think the phrase “social media” could die a slow but steady death — because all media is becoming social. More and more television stations rely on user-submitted material, and we are quickly reaching a point where an unaffiliated individual can establish an audience that eclipses the traditional media.
And that’s the exciting aspect of the #TeamStrub journey: as wonderful as it is to receive coverage from traditional news media — TV, radio, newspapers, etc. — through my own social networks, anyone can tune in, any time, for free, and subscribe to my version of journalism. This past weekend, more than 3,600 people from as far away as Chile, England, Germany and Istanbul tuned in to watch my live video … from a hotel room in San Antonio. For six commercial-free, uninterrupted hours, I was able to talk about all the different youth organizations I’ve visited — while simultaneously interacting directly with the audience.
That interactivity element, and the ability to cross-pollinate various social channels, encapsulates the enormous potential of not just my journey, but any grassroots initiative that successfully leverages social media.
What would you consider to be the detriments of social media in terms of campaigns such as yours?
The first thing that comes to mind is the general unreliability of WiFi and/or cellular coverage in remote (and even non-remote) areas. When your job depends on uploading video content, WiFi is just as valuable a commodity as food and water; without it, your audience is left hanging.
It can also be tough to have to explain the way each social medium works to individuals who have no experience with it. The more broadly accepted the medium, the easier it is to get organizations to buy into participating. For example, everyone understands if you say, “Let me post this on my Facebook page,” but very few would understand “I’d like to use Meerkat to live-stream this interview.”
What’s been your craziest adventure on the road so far?
As I mentioned, this is my second-cross country journey. In the summer of 2014, I did not do volunteer work, which obviously left much more free time for stereotypical millennial shenanigans. My favorite story to tell is from Chicago; meeting a few girls during Happy Hour in Wrigleyville, and one asking off the cuff if I’d like to join them on their friend’s boat the next day (almost certainly assuming I’d have prior plans already set). I, of course, took them up on their offer and ended up cruising the next afternoon on Lake Michigan with about 12 girls. (Yes, there are pictures on my Instagram: @ChrisStrub.)
This year, however, my journey has been much, much more low-key; I spend almost every night editing and uploading video, and replying to emails like this one. My aging body certainly doesn’t miss the craziness, and the happiness and excitement I’ve helped to bring to each of the organizations I’ve visited this summer has been immensely more fulfilling.
If you didn’t notice, we interspersed one of those immersive songs about travelling and seeing the great outdoors that will really drive this interview home. We suggest you play it as you read the interview again.
Feel free to follow Chris on his travels starting here.