The Times They Are a’Changin’. Don’t Complain, Marketers! Embrace it.

Change.

Adapt, change, and adapt again.

Change seems to be the only constant in the life of a marketer.

Technology changes, the communication platforms which have people’s attention change, and consumer behavior changes.

And, yet again and again, we all seem to be so shocked and upset every single time we encounter change.

Everything from the demise of print and radio advertising and the shift to digital to the slightest update in the Facebook algorithm or the Snapchat UI sends marketers into a tizzy.

I get it. Change is hard. But all thehand-wringing, fist waving and feet stamping in the world aren’t going to make a difference.

What has to change is us. The marketers.

Our job is not only to communicate the message. Our job is to constantly stay on top of these changes and adapt accordingly.

Sure, we can commiserate amongst ourselves. It’s nice to vent with someone else who understands and is experiencing the same challenges.

But, don’t stay frustrated or blame “the system.” The only constant we can rely on is change and it’s a marketer’s job to adapt accordingly.

We can cry and complain that marketing isn’t what it used to be. That now, we have to spend a lot more time branding and earning consumer trust before asking for anything in return.

We can kvetch about the increasing ineffectiveness of interruptive advertising.

And to my fellow social media marketers, we can bemoan the fact that we can no longer “crush it” on social media with text & link posts or sharing alone.

Now, social will take a serious investment of time, money, and resources. Organic is dead on some platforms and dying on others.

The future (which is already here) of social media is paid i.e. sponsored posts, video, and influencers.

Social media is a much bigger production than it used to be. For some of us, and certainly for our clients, it will be more of a hassle. And trends indicate that the current state of affairs will only continue.

But it’s all about perspective. How you react to these changing realities makes all the difference.

If you look at them as an opportunity to do better — deliver more value in your content,

find new and creative ways to hack distribution, and realize that the market is ever-changing and your job is to adapt at scale, you will win.

Look at it this way. As social media begins to predominate and becomes the primary place where we spend time and attention,

it will also require an increasing amount of resources and tactics to compete and succeed on social.

This means we can finally have the courage to demand our clients take social more seriously and begin to allocate more of their budget to social,

And less to more costly, relatively less effective things on which they are still blowing most of their budgets.

In every challenge or change, there is room to cry or to find the opportunity and capitalize on it.

Which option will you choose?

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It’s Time for Brands to Wake Up

If you’ve been paying attention to culture and society for the past few years, you know that there is a growing movement — mainly comprised of the young — that is becoming increasingly aware and vocal about important issues having to do with race, culture, gender, and lingering social inequality. Those who consider themselves especially awakened or conscious about these subjects are colloquially known amongst their peers as “woke.”

Social issues and matters of identity politics are most hotly debated — often uncivilly — on social media platforms where an increasing number of people, particularly younger demographics, are getting their news and discussing the subjects of the day.

While many of us are exhausted from all the discussions on social media surrounding politics and political correctness, the #StayWoke movement — love it or hate — shows that people are thinking more critically about everyday, long unquestioned realities and social constructs.

Interestingly, the fuel behind much of this widespread “wokeness” and heated discussion is social media. While some blame social media for the breakdown of civil discourse and democracy, it can’t be denied that social has helped bring awareness to issues that were not previously addressed by the mainstream media. Perhaps, the best example is the recent #MeToo hashtag. Social media discourse has not only led to debates, but to the resignations and firings of prominent figures and revolutions that have toppled repressive regimes.

Perhaps less interesting, but nonetheless important for brands and marketers is the disruption of the communication space and the democratization of media content creation, which is the engine behind societal changes and grassroots movements.

All the way back in 2010, Eric Schmidt said that we create more information every two days than has been created in the entire history of the human race until 2003. The amount of data and content we create on a daily basis is mind boggling. We are living through the greatest shift in communication in history since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. And, we are the first generation whose entire lives will be documented, which means what we say and do on social media will forever be on the record. Your great grandkids will read all of your tweets — even the mean ones you send to Jimmy Kimmel at 4 am.  

There has never been as much content published daily as there is now and the competition is fierce. And, social media has completely changed the game. On these platforms, brands do not simply compete with one another for the attention of consumers.They also compete with viral cat videos, friends’ photos of last weekend, your nephew’s baby pictures, and breaking news.

In the current media environment, we are drowning in a sea of content. Consumers are no longer a captive audience the way they once were on TV (pre-DVR) and radio. They often miss or deliberately block your advertisements. The only way to break through the noise is to frequently and consistently provide value, create content worth paying attention to, and actively engage with the audience. Paying to boosts posts on social media has also become the norm, especially on Facebook. Today, more than advertising or content, the key to success is interacting with your target audience on the platforms that have their attention.

One-way broadcast communication is increasingly less effective and the importance of facilitating two-way communication with an audience is growing with every passing year. Companies who don’t devote sufficient time and resources to engagement are losing their share of the attention graph as well as the market. Brands that don’t wake up and realize that they are no longer advertisers who sell products, but media companies will soon become irrelevant.

As brands begin to focus more of their energy and budget on social media, many of them are making one crucial mistake that continues to undermine their efforts: They’re treating the new platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn as if they are one-way broadcasts. They’re bringing an old-world traditional media mentality to social media, pushing out their messages without understanding these platforms and their nuances on their own terms. This shows that most businesses don’t fully appreciate the broader shifts that are occurring in social communication.

Social media is NOT an extension of your sales pitch or simply a distribution platform for your content. It’s much more than that. It’s a medium where brands can have meaningful interactions with their customers and build relationships. While many brands have woken up to this new reality, many more are still not getting it.

Many businesses are missing enormous opportunities and leaving money on the table by not doubling down on social media. Others are doing social media all wrong. Comfortable sticking to what they know, many businesses remain hooked on their addiction to spending inordinate amounts of money on billboards that no one sees, because consumers are too busy looking at their phones. They blow the bulk of their marketing budgets on flyers and magazine ads that most people throw out or skip. And, they blow most of their digital marketing spend on banner ads that have an average click-through rate of only 0.05%!

Meanwhile, these same brand managers and advertising executives have the temerity to raise their eyebrows and smugly ask: “So, what’s the ROI of social media?” Too many companies are still not taking this underpriced and effective marketing channel seriously, delegating it to interns or family members who lack sufficient knowledge of or experience with social media marketing. And, they don’t think it’s a good use of their time or money to create content or engage with their target audience on these platforms.

As maddening as it is for all of my fellow social media marketers to watch this, we are powerless to prevent this slow-motion trainwreck from happening. Unfortunately, most brands will not wake up until it’s too late. Even as big brands lose market share and retail stores around the country go out of business, companies are still slow to make changes. The brands who are spending time on social media, learning how to use it, testing and learning, and engaging directly with their audience are winning and in the long run, they will win the day.

Moving beyond content

Content is still king, but more effort must be invested in two-way engagement if companies want to win attention and remain relevant in a 2018 world.

We are oversaturated with content. It’s never been so noisy. And, unless you were a first mover on the new platforms when early adopters took advantage and nabbed nice chunks of real estate, you will now have a tough time getting noticed and creating a presence.

There are simply too many options. Our attention spans are divided by a plethora of devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets, desktop) and platforms (Snapchat, Instagram, blogs, Medium etc.).

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To get people to care about you, it’s important to put out relevant, quality content that touches on current trends and other topics of interest to your audience. However, creating good content is not enough anymore.

The Internet and the social platforms where most of us now live are so crowded that most of the content you share will get lost in the noise no matter how good it is. Not to mention, platforms like Facebook have killed nearly all organic reach. Hacking distribution or taking pains to ensure that the content actually gets seen and interacted with is tricky and more important than ever.

2 ways to hack distribution:

Influencers and collaborations

Influencers, particularly micro-influencers are still tremendous resources of underpriced attention who have a strong impact on what consumers purchase. These influencers have most of the attention and influence on social media platforms where your audience hangs out. By partnering with them, you will be able to siphon their attention and direct it toward your brand. Of course, you should only partner with influencers who make sense for your brand and for whom you can add value as well.

You can achieve this by offering influencers free product and/or monetary compensation in exchange for a mention, a photo or video of them using the product, or a guest blog post. For a relatively small spend (average is about $193 for Instagram micro-influencers), you can gain hundreds of impressions, likes, comments, new followers, and last but not least — leads and sales.

Stay out of the way

These influencers know their audience best. They got to where they are, because they are good at creating content that will elicit a positive response. Therefore, give them creative control and allow them to create the content. Understand that they will have to be subtle in their mention of your brand, lest they come off as too pushy and lose their credibility. If you connect particularly well to one influencer and their audience, consider a long-term partnership in which the influencer becomes a brand ambassador.

Engage, engage, engage

Although it may sound obvious, you would be surprised by how many brands — even small businesses and startups fail to simply respond to comments on social media. Acknowledge and encourage your fans! Reward their loyalty and positive feedback. Respond to your audience’s questions or complaints. Reach out to people tweeting about your space and offer them help without asking for the sale. Send a direct message or a personalized piece of content to prospects, loyal customers, and influencers. Talk, converse, and be human. In other words, be social!
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Technology has fundamentally altered how we communicate and disrupted the entire way we message and connect with our audiences. If you think your self-serving piece of content i.e. ads, humble brags about about your accomplishments, and mercilessly PR-ing yourself is going to get attention in a world with more options and decreasing attention spans, you’re really not understanding what is happening. You’re not woke. You’re asleep at the wheel and you’re in for a crash.

Notice the shift going on around you. The way you’ve been playing the game until now is not the way you’re going to succeed over the next decade. Don’t simply focus on the culture wars on social media. Look at how it is impacting how we communicate and how we get our news. Pay attention to who and what has the eyes and ears of your target audience. And, work hard to build authentic relationships with them built on trust. Not only will it pay off, but you can’t afford to market any other way.

5 Important Social Media Trends You Must Know to Crush it in 2018

It’s a new year and that means new goals, new opportunities, and new trends you must know about to stay ahead of the curve.

We’re living through the greatest historical shift in communication since the printing press. Major social platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter are where an increasing number of your audience is spending more of their time.

To be successful on social media requires one to be a practitioner who actually uses these digital communications platforms every day, keeping abreast of the constant changes they are making. Social media is an ever-changing landscape, so very little content regarding social media best practices and tactics is evergreen.

Social platforms are always rolling out new features, making algorithm tweaks that affects what kind of content gets seen, and making changes to their user interfaces. User behavior often dictates what changes these platforms make, but the changes made by the platforms also greatly affects user behavior and how people interact with the content you share.

Social media looks very different today from the way it looked in 2008, 2014, or even 2017. What follows is a list of what I believe to be the most important trends and tactics you need to know about to crush it on social media in 2018.  

Ephemeral Content

instagramstories.pngSnapchat was the first platform to introduce the concept of ephemeral social content or videos and images that automatically disappear 24 hours after posting. A piece of ephemeral content or a series of these posts is known as a story. In the summer of 2016, Instagram introduced its stories feature, which is very similar to Snapchat, and last year, Facebook adopted a stories feature as well.

While many brands may not understand it, users are loving stories. Whereas much of social media content is criticized for being heavily filtered, curated, and airbrushed, stories have a very authentic, current, in-the-moment, “right-now” kind of feel. Posts on Facebook or the Instagram grid tend to be high-quality, enhanced by filters and effects. It’s where most people showcase their best selves and agonize to make sure the lighting is just right. However, a story is often where people show a much simpler, less perfected, and more human side of themselves. Stories do not require nearly as much preparation and are usually used to document a typical day, cover an event, or periodically check in with the audience.

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Don’t go all in on the Instagram grid at the expense of stories.

On Instagram, the most popular network with stories, many people and brands are still putting all of their energy into posting on the grid, devoting insufficient time and attention to their daily stories. This is a mistake. Creating an Instagram story, which is a photo or a video under 15 seconds long, is quick to create and upload with one’s smartphone. Stories appear at the top of the Instagram feed. When you have a story published, your page shows up in the stories section at the top, and if you recently published a story that a user has not yet seen, your profile shows up at the top of their feed circled in red. See below:
Instagram Story Feed

Regularly publishing stories keeps you at the top of the feed and at the top of your audience’s mind. When users watch your story on a mobile device, your photo or video takes up their entire mobile screen, leaving them completely immersed in your brand. And, the more often they watch your stories, the more front-and-center your brand will be in their Instagram feed. So, make sure you don’t only post on the grid and neglect stories.

Stories foster a deeper level of engagement.

This is because a story can only be commented on or engaged with through a direct message (DM). A DM is a one-to-one private chat, which is a much more intimate and personal form of communication than a like or a reply to a public comment. Be sure to post interactive content such as questions or polls to stimulate DM responses and deeper engagement with your target audience.

Don’t give up on Snapchat.

When Instagram introduced stories, many brands were quick to dump Snapchat or post there a lot less frequently. However, data shows younger users under 30 are still spending a lot of time on the platform. If your brand targets customers in that demographic, then you need to continue using Snapchat and establishing a robust presence there. And, even if your business does not cater to that age-group, it’s still not a good idea to completely ignore it. Keep posting content on Snapchat, because that demo will get older and might soon become your customers. Also, remember that Snapchat could roll out a new feature tomorrow that wins back a lot of users and gets brands to come crawling back. If you’re unprepared, you will be caught behind the eight-ball.

Influencer Marketing

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In 2014 and 2015 influencer marketing was a promising tactic that more brands were interested in trying out. No longer new, influencer marketing has grown and matured. Now, there is ample proof that it is a worthy investment of time and money.

The good news is that influencer marketing is still in its early years. Brands are seeing fantastic returns with relatively little spend, making it one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing in existence today.

Essentially, influencer marketing is a modern reinvention of PR or the celebrity endorsement. Brands court a social influencer — a person on social media with a large number of engaged followers, and the influencer will mention the brand in exchange for money, free product, or usually a combination of both.

Every social media platform has its own set of influencers. In the current climate, attention has never been so divided and hard to win. By partnering or collaborating with an influencer, you will be able to piggyback on the attention they already have and direct it back to your brand.

Micro-influencers are key.

A micro-influencer is a person on social media with a relatively small, but hyper-engaged following. While the number varies by study and platform, some classify a micro-influencer as someone with as little as 1,200 followers and as many as 40,000 (some go as high as 100,000). Studies show that these smaller influencers tend to have an audience that is disproportionately engaged and interested in the influencer’s posts compared to larger influencers whose audiences tend to be larger, more varied, and less proportionately engaged. Micro-influencers are also much cheaper to work with.

While big brands will still pay big money for the large influencers, such as celebrities or mega-social media influencers with significant returns, a lot of brands are achieving ROI by partnering with micro-influencers. A micro-influencer is often a person who posts about a specific, niche area of interest or hobby, such as nutrition and exercise, camping, video equipment, travel, or clothing. Their following extends beyond family and friends, but is still small enough that most of the followers are following influencer because they are truly interested in the influencer’s content and not because the influencer is popular.

Brands are becoming more savvy about who they work with, now understanding that a large follower-count doesn’t always translate to authentic engagement or return on investment. The cost of doing business with micro-influencers ranges from free product alone to a combination of free product and a relatively small amount of money, making it an extremely cost-effective option compared to spending on advertising or macro-influencers. All of the evidence shows that people increasingly trust the recommendations of friends and influencers over advertisements, making micro-influencers a great way to earn quality reach, impressions, awareness, engagement, and sales. Influencer marketing will continue to grow and become more expensive in coming years so the time to get in on this trend is now.

Tips for working with influencers:

1) Don’t be a control freak.

Another great thing about influencers is that they create the content for you. Avoid trying to wrestle creative control. Your influencer got to where they are because they are good at creating content and engaging with their audience. They have a good understanding of what their audience likes. Leave the content creation up to them and be empathetic to the fact that they cannot appear as a human advertisement. Therefore, the mention of your brand in their content will likely be subtle and smooth rather than overt, direct, and “advertise-y”.

2) Vet your influencers properly.

You don’t want to pick influencers with mostly inorganic or bot followers nor do you want influencers who don’t make sense for your brand. Even if an influencer is popular, they are a bad choice if they do not align with your brand’s values or have nothing to do with your space. The wrong influencer can do harm to your brand. Make sure the collaboration makes sense for your brand and your goals. Carefully evaluate their content, their engagement, and the image they give off. Tools like BuzzSumo and FollowerWonk can help you do it quickly and easily so you can scale your influencer outreach. If they are asking for a substantial amount of your marketing budget, do a little research to see if the influencer has achieved ROI-positive results for others.

3) Find brand ambassadors.

Brands are increasingly establishing long-term partnerships with influencers rather than one-off, spontaneous collaborations on just one post or campaign. Fomenting a long-term relationship with a credible influencer who aligns with your brand and acts as a brand ambassador can produce beneficial results for both parties.

Engagement & Direct Messaging

Brands are increasingly making use of direct messages, such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram DM, and LinkedIn DM as a way to communicate more directly with their audiences. DMs foster an intimate and personal form of communication and they are receiving positive responses from users. With so much content competing for people’s attention in feeds, a private message is a great way to grab a user’s attention. Private messages are even preferred rather than seen as an intrusion by some users who are tired of having all their social media activity publicly scrutinized.

Unlike email, this is one form of direct communication marketers have not yet killed and it’s expected to grow in 2018. As time goes on and users begin to receive more DMs from brands, the effectiveness of this tactic will probably diminish and receive less attention, so capitalize on it while you still can.  

Video

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Video has never been easier and cheaper to produce at scale. All of the major social media platforms now make it easy to create and upload videos and their algorithms heavily favor video content. They particularly favor video created or posted natively, with LinkedIn introducing native video just this past year. The rise of video began a few years ago, but we witnessed an explosion of video content in 2016 and 2017. This trend shows no sign of slowing down and it is expected to rise significantly. Video is predicted to account for over 80 percent of total online consumer Internet traffic by 2020.

People process video much more quickly than they do written text or even static images and more and more people are consuming content in video format. So, if most of your content is still blog posts and articles, it’s time to start churning out videos — long and short-form. If you don’t have a fancy video camera or equipment, no problem. Grab your phone and get to work. Video is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, but a must-have for any business who wants to compete in 2018 and beyond.

Audio

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Last year saw a tremendous increase in audio content. Although not strictly a part of social media, it’s a digital trend worth noting. Podcasts have become a popular way to consume media and information on the go. In fact, monthly podcast listeners increased 24% in 2017. Unlike video, a podcast can be played in the background so a user can benefit from the content while multitasking. Listeners can be driving, doing work, or cleaning the house as they catch up on their favorite podcast content. As the audio space begins to grow in importance, an increasing number of brands are launching their own podcasts and creating Alexa Skills and channels for Google home. Marketers are using social media to get the word out about their podcasts the same way they used to spread the word about their blogs and vlogs.

The democratization of content and media brought about by modern technology has put the power to create, publish, and spread messages directly into the hands of the people. While this makes it increasingly harder to get noticed in a noisy world, it also presents enormous opportunities for brands to connect with their audiences more cheaply and directly than ever before. The companies that are going to win in 2018 and beyond are the ones who take advantage of these new mediums of communication and use them to their advantage.

The Dangerous Consequence of Dismantling Net Neutrality

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or without Internet access, by now you have already heard that the FCC voted 3-2 to overturn a piece of Obama-era legislation known as Net Neutrality.

Since then, much has been written about it and a quick Google search will help you find what others have already said. Defenders of dismantling Net Neutrality, such as FCC chairman, Ajit Pai have championed this move as a victory for business and the free market, alleging that Net Neutrality overregulated the telecommunications sector. Others mistakenly believe Net Neutrality represented government censorship of the Internet. Critics of this recent decision by the FCC say this move may spell the Internet as we know it and prevent us from the free and open access to information and content we previously enjoyed.

Following this debate, one thing has become abundantly clear. There seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what this issue is all about. Of course, that doesn’t stop some people from weighing in with their opinions. And, the rest of America, not really understanding the nuances of the debate surrounding this issue, doesn’t really care or want to get involved. Sadly, they may only start to care once it’s too late and the equal opportunity the Internet provided us is gone.

First, a tiny bit of background to break things down for those of you who don’t wish to spend an hour wading through articles about the Net Neutrality debate. I apologize if much of the following is obvious to you. Feel free to scroll ahead. However, based on what I’ve been hearing and reading, a lot of this information is not obvious to many people.

In short, we can break down the entire Internet into two different kinds of companies — the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the content providers or Internet businesses. ISPs are utility companies, or telcos, such as Optimum, Verizon, and Comcast that provide you with access to the Internet through the use broadband fiber optic cables which are physically installed in cities and towns.

Content providers are digital entities that exist online. They are Internet companies, such as Google, Twitter, and Netflix. These companies are websites, which you can only access if you have functioning Internet.

Since the Internet started, we have always taken for granted that we can access any website we want freely and easily as long as we have an Internet connection. Our Internet providers charge us for Internet usage, but they don’t charge us based on what websites or content we visit once we’re online. Nonetheless, there has always been a lingering fear that ISPs could eventually start to do so. Essentially, Net Neutrality was a preventative measure that legally protected consumers from this possibility.

Sadly, that has all been reversed with a 3-2 vote of the FCC despite a great deal of backlash from the public. Trump appointee Ajit Pai himself was a Verizon lawyer before he was made the chairman of the FCC. If that’s not a conflict of interest, then I don’t know what is!

If ISPs have the power to dictate to Internet companies and potentially block access to online content, that’s not true free market capitalism. Rather, telco conglomerates and large, powerful Internet corporations — the major players like Amazon and Google will have a monopoly. In fact, over 50 million American homes have access to only one Internet Service Provider.  My neighborhood in Brooklyn only had one ISP — Optimum until a few years ago and now we can only choose between Optimum and Verizon (both shitty).

There has been much speculation about what the fallout will be after the FCC’s decision. Some don’t think ISPs will impose any additional restrictions, or at least not immediately. They argue that we had the Internet for a long time before 2015 when the Obama administration enacted Net Neutrality and we didn’t have any problems. Others fear that ISPs will eventually impose tiered pricing that charges you based on what you access and hides content behind paywalls, much like how you interact with television. Your Internet access will then be limited to “channels” and you’ll have to pay more to access things you previously could have accessed for free.

Still, others believe that whatever changes ISPs may eventually make are not likely to affect consumers directly. In other words, you’ll still be able to access Twitter, YouTube, online shopping, and your favorite free porn sites, but Internet companies that use up a lot of bandwidth, such as video streaming sites like Netflix may have to pay ISPs more for the privilege. However, this could mean that smaller, newer, or up-and-coming technology startups who don’t have the budget and connections to get behind whatever paywalls and hurdles the ISPs might impose will have a much harder time gaining access to the market.

When new startups and tech solutions lose the easy and direct access to consumers that the Internet currently provides, it will enable corporations to censor and monopolize our Internet experience, spelling the end of innovation, competition, and entrepreneurial pursuits.

The Internet is now the Middleman. It has been killing the Gatekeepers of old, such as mainstream media companies and large corporations by democratizing information and content distribution. Having a free and open Internet is crucial for society’s growth, education, and social mobility. The Internet is why today, a poor kid from Iowa with no connections can become a YouTube star with lucrative endorsement deals. The Internet is what can transform a single mother into a massive Instagram influencer or blogger with a wide following that translates into a successful business or side-hustle. Internet access exposes us to new ideas, alternative perspectives, and educational resources.

The Internet gives the power to the people. It is a tool that can start revolutions, raise money for a cause, provide a platform for voices to be heard, and help someone with little or no opportunities become known so that they will be able to compete in the marketplace. The Internet is the great equalizer of opportunity. Even with all its flaws — fake news, trolls, cyberbullying, and people spending more time on it than in the “real world,” a free and open Internet is preferable to the alternative.

And therein lies the crux of the issue. Ending Net Neutrality not only means the possibility of losing access to a free and open Internet. The real and dangerous consequence of dismantling Net Neutrality is that it could lead to the death of the American Dream.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, it’s absolutely insane to me that we call ourselves a democracy when a vote of 3-2 bureaucrats could completely screw all of us. Currently, some states and others are already filing to sue the FCC in an attempt to get this decision repealed. While I think this is a good first step, the only way to restore Net Neutrality and make sure it remains is to have Congress vote it into law. I urge you to contact your Congressperson today and urge them to overturn the FCC’s vote.