Personal Branding and Cancellation Culture: The Birth of Vanilla Social

This week, GUAP caught up with Samuel Wood, founder of Vanilla Social, a data powered social media clean up platform geared to help individuals take preventative steps to protect their personal brands.

Realising that there was nothing in the market that allowed social media users to easily manage and review their social posts, Samuel started building Vanilla in his evenings after work.

“Certain public figures, who had already overcome the odds by breaking through racial and gender glass ceilings [were at risk of being] summarised to a silly tweet that they may have posted 9 years ago… many of these individuals represented something much more important and positive.”

As someone who straddles the intersection of ‘culture’ and technology, the birth of Vanilla Social should not come as a surprise to those who have come across Samuel’s work in the past. One project from his portfolio that stood out to me, in particular was a bespoke streaming platform that has kept many of the Channel U bangers that we grew up on alive. Vanilla shares similar sentiments and is due to have similar cultural relevance.

(Source: Twitter @tolly_t)

Initially targeted at public figures, content creators and professionals that rely on their public persona for an income, recent feedback from early adaptors and beta testers of Vanilla Social has urged Samuel to pivot slightly. Expanding its remit to cover the “general social media user” who has been on Twitter for a “number of years”. One could suggest that the value we place on the perceptions and opinions of others is more universal than one may automatically assume. This is not a new concept and, of course, many internet users will admit to relying on the judgement of others in their decision-making processes. When was the last time that you regretted not checking online reviews before spending money at a restaurant, or not scouting for recommendations before starting a new show on Netflix?

In a way, as a ‘public figure’ with social capital and a platform, it may be easier to recover from being ‘cancelled’. One recent example of this was DJ, model, and presenter, Maya Jama, 24, who was forced to apologise after a number of her tweets from 2012 resurfaced online. Since the incident, Maya has gone on to collaborate with clothing brand Pretty Little Thing and to co-host Channel 4 show, The Circle.

Sam acknowledges the inherent risks associated with building such a platform: “I’m at the mercy of the social media platforms. If Twitter make changes to their policy or Facebook make changes to their API, I will have to respond to it, pivot and adapt. That’s the best I can do.”

For now, Vanilla Social is focused solely on Twitter; however, they do have plans to expand their service to Instagram and Facebook in the near future.

“We search your posts in two ways”, Samuel says when speaking of how Vanilla Social actually works. “The first way is by searching by 1000+ keywords for profanity and harmful language; the second is through a more advanced machine learning algorithm that calculates a toxicity score for each of your posts.”

In Samuel’s view, timing is the biggest reason as to why this has not yet been done.

“This is a problem that may not have been as apparent one year ago. Recent events have led to a perfect storm where:

– consumers want to own their data;
– people have been reminded that they will be held accountable in the court of public opinion; and
– there have been constant reminders that what you post online matters and can be costly.”

“I want Vanilla to be used worldwide preventing individuals’ social media posts ruining their careers, businesses and reputations.”

All in all, in the current climate, there certainly seems to be room for a platform like Vanilla Social to exist and continue to pick up traction. “Without giving all my cards away, I can see a whole new industry shaping around what Vanilla solves”, Samuel says.  He continues: “we’re living in a time of hypersensitivity where anyone can dig up what you’ve said online, coupled with no easy way for us to manage and review our own social data.  I want Vanilla to be used worldwide preventing individuals’ social media posts ruining their careers, businesses and reputations.”

In a post GDPR era and following this year’s Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, taking back control of personal data is certainly something of value to the public. This may just be the very beginning for Vanilla Social.

~ @ajiayorinde