The job post is as fishy as a pyramid scheme campaign. It smells of “payment in exposure” all over the place, but it’s enough to mention “social media manager”, the holy trinity of hype job roles, to have us wait in this dodgy room, with peeling walls and uneven floors. Except for the chairs. That’s some fine carpentry, I think, feeling the smooth armrests.
‘Looks like Danish design, 1970s,’ I say to the other eleven candidates, hoping to get noticed by the only girl in the room – a cheerful young woman who introduces herself to the group as Magdalene.
One by one in we go, and even then, there’s something odd. The door seems to open by itself, there’s no one there welcoming us, just a voice in the distance calling our name. And nobody gets out either.
When all the other candidates are gone, they call me in.
‘Hi Simon,’ J says.
We don’t have many followers at first, which is understandable. We have long meetings, all twelve of us, since J has aimed for a big team right from the start. Some of us suggest using shortcuts, buying followers, but J won’t hear of it.
‘I want real people, not fake avatars with a handful of pretend friends. I want people ready to listen. To spread the word.’
He’s all about word of mouth, J is. He won’t invest a cent in ads even though we tell him that content is king, yes, but only to a certain extent – even the best copy needs to be amplified. And let’s not mention re-targeting. He says re-targeting is like stalking someone into loving you. It cannot work. ‘People must come to me, children too. Especially the children.’
To that we blink, and I sign to Magdalene to cut the live-streaming event we had been planning for months now.
You might wonder why we stay, but the thing is, he has this charisma, so that even when he starts with his hippy love-and-peace crap that takes us hours to turn into a proper call to action, we’re all ears. Plus, we all have a crush on Magdalene.
We try Facebook, and it works all right but J says he wants more of a challenge because it’s easy to get the older generations to listen. Instagram works quite okay, because it’s like he was made for selfies, but J says there’s not enough space for his message to come across. With Twitter he needs at least ten threaded tweets for every story that he shares, so it’s hard to measure impact. When we’ve lost hope for any hype, we launch his TikTok. And he goes viral.
If you asked me, even now, I’d tell you there is no way of knowing how, when, and if anything will go viral. Sometimes you need to create all this content that seems to go unnoticed, until… Boom–you’re a trending topic. It’s a question of luck, I guess, though J would look at the sky and smile, or mention his dad like he can move all sorts of strings and I wonder what his dad does for a living and what kind of dad he is, since he seems to be so powerful and kind, according to J., but then he has his son run a social media campaign with no budget.
I guess in the end, the reason behind J’s success is in the message itself, which is simple, no matter how innovative. That’s what they always teach you in school, isn’t it? Take your message and break it into something simple. Better if it’s also catchy. We use the hashtag #LYNAY, or #LoveYourNeighbourAsYourself. People like it. We make tons of money out of merchandise. They say J’s message has given them a sense of purposefulness, peace of mind, and happiness. They tell their friends, and their friends tell their friends – and J says ‘See, Simon? I told you: word of mouth.’
Our followers on TikTok send us videos with positive experiences, making up with a loved one, saying I’m sorry, helping a stranger or someone they know. J is ecstatic. He says that people are getting the message at last. And then one day, we’re on tour and there’s this gig in Jerusalem, NY, coming up, and we’re eating altogether and suddenly, he blabs something about the fact that not even the pandemic had worked so well in making us better people, not even all the wars. Nothing. He mentions something about us (but who is us? we wonder) never learning from history. I say:
‘Well, don’t act like you’re an old wise man, J. You’re only 33.’
And then the following day, the castle starts to collapse. Because when something goes viral, it can become an #epicfail as fast. It starts with J saying he’s become a vegan, because all creatures are the same, and I guess he’s stepped on one toe too many.
Everyone on TikTok starts to say he’s become too political, and what’s his position on vaccines? And presidential elections? And taxes? Some accuse him of being a conspiracy theorist. They make memes ridiculing him, especially one with him dressed up as a lamb, and there’s no way we can explain that we must address his online reputation, we must respond. All he replies to those who say all sorts of things about him is ‘Your words, not mine.’
The last time I see him, he’s about to arrive in Jerusalem, NY. I leave him there, and start looking for another job. I think about it three times, before updating my CV on LinkedIn: should I put him or should I not? In the end I don’t.