Ken Grant works for a local lab supply manufacturer and has worked in Delaware media and politics. He is a force behind the Delaware Social Media Initiative that encourages individuals, businesses, nonprofits and governments to support each other through social media.
DT: How would you describe yourself and what you’re doing with social media?
KG: Somehow I got the moniker “the Godfather of social media in Delaware” thrown on me and it’s kind of neat. I’ve got some amazing friends in Delaware who seem to enjoy Photoshopping my face onto different things. So they made up a whole Godfather movie poster with my face thrown over Marlon Brando’s. They’ve done the same thing with me and the Grinch, an elf outfit—all that crazy stuff. The day job is where I first saw the possibilities of social media. We’re selling Thin Layer Chromatography Plates, which is such a niche within a niche within a niche market. So it just doesn’t make sense for us to buy a lot of full-page ads or do a Super Bowl commercial. You’re trying to reach very specific targeted individuals. That’s when I first experimenting with social media, to see how effective that might be and within the first few weeks of doing that, we were making connections I never would have imaged would have been possible, locally, nationally and internationally. After a year of social media, of connecting with the Chicago Sun Times and NPR’s Scott Simon and all kinds of other amazing things happening, I thought, Wow, all of this stuff happened without intentionality or planning or effort. It just happened. What if we in Delaware actually put some intentionality and effort behind this thing and see what happens. And that’s when we started the whole idea of a social media initiative. It was embraced quickly by many great people and has expanded and now we have this community throughout Delaware who is ready to jump in and help each other out, promote great causes. I feel all I am is kind of the cheerleader of the group. I feel fortunate to be in that position.
Just this week there’s all this stuff going on with the MS Society in Delaware and even though I’m in Florida right now for a trade show, I have the ability to keep up with what’s going on, see the pictures, encourage people to get out there. That’s stuff that we did not have the tools to do a few years ago.
DT: Well, I’ve seen your emails, blogs, tweets and so on. It certainly it requires a good amount of multi-tasking, to say the least.
KG: Peter Shankman, of course, was the one who came up with this new diagnosis of ADOS—Attention Deficit—Oh, Shiny! That’s kind of where a lot of the social media people feel comfortable. Quickly switching between platforms, going from one message to the next, one organization to the next. So far, in spite of whatever studies are out there, I don’t think I’m suffering irreparable brain damage, but you never know.
DT: So back to the workplace. I was thinking, Well Ken is just on the job fooling around. But they have to know what he’s up to. Are they happy that he’s spending time at work on all these other causes?
KG: Part of living in social media is having a little bit of transparency that I guess never really existed before. So I tell everybody, if you’re going to put it out there, make sure it’s something OK with your spouse knowing, your children knowing, your boss, your clergy, your neighbors…everybody. At work, management quickly realized that there’s a benefit to having somebody on staff who is kind of well-known and works well with others in the community. Our manager has embraced this idea, he’s now on the board of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce. So people see the benefit along the way. They also see when I’m tweeting over the weekends on business accounts and added events at night. It’s not the typical 9 to 5 approach to work.
DT: Do you wake up at 3 a.m. and tweet and send e-newsletters?
KG: In spite of what everybody believes, I do set aside personal time every day. I make sure that from 1:30 to 2 a.m., no matter what, I just do not get on social media at that time. (Pause) You’re supposed to laugh at that. This is the thing. A year ago, I probably would have downplayed the whole thing and said, You know, yeah, gosh it’s not that big a deal. It doesn’t take that much time, or whatever. But lately I’ve come to an epiphany. We are talking about tools that can be used to destroy dictatorships and create community. We are talking about tools, in my opinion, this is bigger than Gutenberg’s printing press and the impact that it has on society. You don’t take something like that say, can we fit it into our time management, 20 minutes a day or something. We’re talking about being able to communicate with the entire world. This is something previous generations would have given anything to be able to do. As Chris Brogan pointed out, it is a little frustrating when every company out there comes up with a goofier and goofier name to call things. Why can’t these companies begin giving serious names to some of their products? It gets dismissed by so many people who see it as nothing but…the typical thing is, I don’t care what somebody had for breakfast. Well, you know, I don’t think anybody really posts what they had for breakfast. But I think it’s interesting to know who you’re having breakfast with. Or what’s going on. I get comments all the time about how great it is to know what’s happening in the community in real time when there’s that chamber of commerce morning breakfast briefing with the governor and one of our senators, to be able to see what they’re talking about, what they’re responding to. To me that’s kind of a big deal.
DT: Do you take it personally if someone unsubscribes from your mailing list or blocks you on Facebook?
KG: I try not to. If I’m not offering something of value to that person, then they probably shouldn’t be paying attention to me. The other thing with this social media realm and this new society that we’re moving into is people being able to self-identify, what’s important to them, what they want to pay attention to. I would rather have somebody ignore whatever they don’t want to deal with and move on. If somebody who wants to trash me, well, OK. That’s their business. If they want to actually have a discussion with me about whatever, I’m happy to have that discussion.
DT: If you are, indeed, the Godfather of Delaware’s social media, have you ever made someone an offer they couldn’t refuse?
KG: (laughs) It’s really funny. Rodney Jordan, who I would argue is one of the really good guys out there who is embraced this so much and is willing to go out and try so many different things. He started a hash tag a couple weeks ago, which was all of the things Ken Grant makes me do because it seems like I’m all the time calling him up and saying, Hey, can you do this? And next thing you know he’s in a video or producing something for us, doing something crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever really made anybody an offer they couldn’t refuse, but there are a lot of people who say somehow I get them to do stuff that they might not otherwise do. So two years ago when our company was putting together this fun little, Monty Python-esque video, to get 50 people volunteering to come out and spend a day in a hot costume, shooting a movie and you get then-U.S. Congressman Mike Castle, the auditor Tom Wagner, you’ve got the president of World Trade Center of Delaware, people from the Delaware Bioscience Association. That’s a pretty amazing thing. It’s another reason why I just love what Delaware is and the great community we have here.
DT: How does the state’s small size affect how you’re using social media?
KG: I think that’s part of why it works in Delaware. I don’t think that other states could necessarily do this. I think that’s why Facebook has shown an interest in working with Delaware at a statewide level, where they haven’t really done that kind of thing before. It’s because in Delaware, how many times have you been at an event with the governor or one of the U.S. Senators or Congressman. This is stuff that in other states, it just doesn’t happen on a regular basis. Or you go wandering around Wilmington and the next thing you’re at an event with a couple celebrities. Last week, thanks to Danny “Ace” Valentine at Dimensions by Ace, he brings in Andy and Bobby Hilfiger, Joe Bouchard from Blue Oyster Cult. And we’re having a good time hanging out with them. Then my wife and I go to hang out at the Nomad and we run into Will Smith’s father. This is how things tend to be in Delaware. This is why the social media initiative was such an easy thing to try to put together. Take that kind of community and just put it online. I don’t think we’re creating anything new. We’re simply tapping into what already exists. But at the same time opening up opportunities for people to connect in new ways. There are a few situations right now with people going through truly horrific medical conditions. Some of these are individuals we know, some of these are family members that we know. This community is coming together and showing support at times when people can be in their absolute darkest, loneliest places—there’s this community here that, yes, it’s virtual, but it means something to be able to post at 1 o’clock in the morning on Facebook, “this has been a really rough day,” and all of a sudden have 10 people chime in and say, We’re here for you, or, Do you want to talk about it? That is just amazing.
DT: I don’t tweet or text and I don’t have a Facebook page. I don’t know a hash tag from a hole in the ground. What’s wrong with me?
KG: (laughs) Absolutely, positively nothing is wrong with you. This is not something that is mandatory for people to do. It’s simply an opportunity that people have to connect. The fact is everybody is as connected as they wish to be. Now if you were to follow that up by saying, I don’t think there’s anything to do around Delaware, then I would say, Oh, you’ve got to get connected with some of this stuff so that you have a better understanding of all of the incredible possibilities that are out there. Or if you were to say, I don’t feel like I have any friends or I’m doing enough in the world or whatever, then I would say, OK, let’s try engaging in some of this stuff, let’s see what happens. But if you’re saying, I don’t do any of this stuff and I’m perfectly happy with the friends and the family I have, and I feel like my life is pretty complete—good. That’s great. You should not feel any pressure to engage in any of this stuff. My main frustration is hearing from businesses and nonprofit organizations and others who claim that they want to reach a broader audience, or connect with people or be able to share about their product or service, and when you try to explain to them how to get involved, they quickly go, Oh no, we don’t want to do that. It begs the question, what do you want? You ought to be engaged in this area.
DT: How do you recommend someone get started with social media?
KG: I am dealing with so many people who feel like they have to get it all figured out and know exactly what they’re doing before they engage. And I keep telling people, just jump in and engage. Here’s the thing: Social media is an amplifier. It is not the substance. So, if the business, nonprofit, publication or whatever isn’t worth anything, adding social media to the mix is not going to help it and it could hurt it. You have to start off with that quality product, service or offering and then use social media as simply a great tool and a great channel to engage more people with. We’re entering into a whole new phase in civilization in general with this. The world is becoming much smaller. And here’s the really cool part—in Delaware, where there has been this upstate-downstate split for centuries—we can go back to the 1700s and see writings where they talk about the industrial north and the agricultural southern counties and how the two just don’t mix. And yet today, upstate and downstate in social media are working with each other, getting together whenever possible. Life is good. We’ve seen people who just a few years ago, on total opposite ends of the political spectrum, who would never think to actually have a real conversation. Now they’re giving each other rides to events and hanging out with each other and discovering that they have much more in common than whatever political differences they may have. It gets to the point where, if you are using the net DE hash tag, there’s just no division there. It’s its own entity. We’re all Delawareans and we’re all here to support each other and try to make some good things happen.