Each of us have different ideas of what our ultimate dream job would be. If the opportunity ever arose to get into the running for one, we’d pounce on it without a second thought, am I right?
In regular professional industries it would be typical for the most skilled, most tenured candidate to be considered for the position. That’s pure logic.
A surgeon, for example, wouldn’t land a job based solely on how many people give him a thumbs up. He’d be assessed on his scalpel skills, his references, and his ability to save lives.
But in the social media world logic seems to fly out the window. Skill and talent are replaced with popularity. I’ve seen it time and time again online, and have even participated in such rivalry.
I was once part of a Canada-wide competition for my absolute dream job. The experience and opportunity were second to none, but as I found out on the tail end of the race it reeked of popularity bias.
It was a difficult pill to swallow finding out the candidate who landed the position didn’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re. But damn, she looked good in a bikini and had a ton of backing.
I’m not writing this from a place of bitterness — it happened six years ago and it was a small blip on my radar. This is coming from the position of being a writer who is proud of my craft, and as a woman who takes great pride in how I present my work. Especially if I’m being paid.
In 2014, during the peak years of my travel writing career, the island of Tobago launched a competition to find a travel writer to represent the destination. It would be a sixty-day social media and blogging campaign.
The compensation was $30,000 CAD plus all expenses paid while on the island. Mind blown.
The competition was open to Canadians and the offer seemed too good to be true. It felt like the position was created exclusively for me, given my background.
At the time, I had been independently representing another Caribbean island for many years. I knew everything there was to know about highlighting all aspects of tourism on a small island. For this reason, I figured I would have an edge.
The initial criteria in qualifying for the job was to put together a 30-second video outlining why you’d be the best candidate. Competitors were to upload their video to Youtube, fill out the online application, and hope to be shortlisted for the top ten finalists.
The short list would be chosen by a panel of travel industry professionals, including the Tobago tourist board.
On the day they announced the short list I nearly crapped my pants. I was notified by email that I’d been selected as a finalist. It was one of those moments where you body goes numb and rubbery for a minute.
The feeling of being short listed from hundreds of applicants was exhilarating and incredibly validating. After being selected, the top ten then had to wait to hear what the next leg of the race would be. We could only speculate on how we would be told to proceed.
When the day came that judges announced how the winner would be selected, my heart sank to the bottom of my flip-flops. The winner would be based on votes alone.
Not skill, not experience, not longevity in the game — just votes.
The reason I loathed the idea of a voting competition wasn’t because others may have a bigger following than I did. It was because I couldn’t believe a tourist board would wager $30,000 on a method that’s so easy to buy, beg, borrow, and steal.
Let’s face it. In an internet voting contest anyone can purchase voting power. For example, back then any shlep with money could get onto Fiverr.com and find someone to vote thousands of times through different IP addresses.
In no way am I saying that’s what any of the finalists did but the fact that it is possible cheapened the entire experience. I studied my fellow competitors, I knew we were all qualified to some extent.
I began drumming up votes from my travel blog followers and fans, of which there were several thousand. Immediate friends and family voted and shared the shit out of my campaign, all over social media.
People who didn’t even know me voted for me just because my contacts asked them to. People who did know me, drove to several different locations with different IP addresses each day, to cast more votes.
The only legitimately fun part about it was the media coverage I drummed up through my local news channel. I was the only finalist in my city so it was kind of a newsworthy item.
Overall, the entire experience felt fake, fabricated, and fraudulent.
I would have rather been judged on previous work, past writing, industry references, and testimonials. You know? Actual feedback on me as a person rather than my ability to beg.
At the end of it all, I came in fourth out of 163 applicants country-wide, and although I was disappointed I was very proud of how I competed.
We have no idea who actually was the most qualified for the job because we never got the opportunity to find out. Votes don’t speak on experience.
I think I cried the day the winner was announced. It was humiliating having put so much pressure on my circle of voters, only to have it all be for nothing.
My journey with this contest didn’t stop there though. I made a point of following the winner’s travels around Tobago to see what I’d be missing, and to see how she was doing it.
I should have never bothered following her journey because parts of it were cringe-worthy to my soul. She did a fantastic job of everything she was required to do but each time I saw a misused, misspelled, or misplaced word I felt bad that a tourist board was being represented by something less than perfect. Especially for a $30,000 price tag.
I’m not perfect, not even close. But I have a kindred relationship with destination representation. Especially small destinations that rely on tourism for their economy.
The woman who won the competition owned a huge, worldwide travel blog. I felt like this gig was a notch on her belt.
For me, I would have taken it extremely personally, just as I took all my travel writing projects and contracts. I couldn’t have let myself slack to the point of using incorrect spelling and grammar in an experience the world would be watching.
From a tourist board perspective, I understand how they would want to choose a candidate that had the best ability to gather a crowd and secure the most votes. They would see it as farther reach.
I would have liked for them to choose a winner with a stake in the game. Someone who wouldn’t have just walked away from the experience as “just another gig.”
Whether that person would have been me or not, I can’t say. I just know that in the game of social media, popularity is always the clear winner. You don’t have to worry much about brushing up on your skills, especially if you look good in a bikini.
Thanks for reading this entry in my Journal of Firsts
If you enjoyed this story, here’s my non-intrusive way of ushering you toward my newsletter. When you subscribe, I’ll know you’re cool with hearing from me once in a while.