It’s hard to believe Malcom Gladwell, the critically acclaimed author of The Tipping Point, could fail to recognize the revolutionary power of social media. In The Tipping Point Gladwell argues that “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do,” yet in his October 2010 New Yorker article, “Small Change: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” he writes that social media “activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice, but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.”
Tell that to the Egyptian revolutionaries. In February 2011, activists revolting against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak utilized Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organize. Not to slight their plight by making it about social media, but many images emerged from Egypt showing protesters holding signs referencing Facebook and graffiti emblazoned with Twitter. Social media serves as a platform that enabled “messages and behaviors to spread like viruses do."
Gladwell’s supposition continues, “Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority.” Yet in December 2010, Richard Stallman wrote, “The Anonymous Web protests over WikiLeaks are the Internet equivalent of a mass demonstration,” which were organized by a few highly influential Twitter accounts. The sacrifice required was quite real; at least five arrests and 40 search warrants were executed following the protest.
With hindsight, it’s easy to say that Gladwell is mistaken about the ability of social media to transform the world. Even so, he is still right about a couple points: Social media is useful for building networks and for motivating people. What can we learn from this to make sure we don’t miss the next revolution in our industry?
Social Media Is a Spotlight – Organizations can leverage compelling Facebook fan pages to generate Facebook likes, which build exposure within increasing social circles. Likewise, dedicated Twitter accounts can be coupled with unique hashtags to drive awareness to a particular topic, which continue to grow as posts are retweeted and responses are posted. One LEWIS Pulse client, McAfee, utilized this approach, combining the handle @McAfeeBusiness with the hashtag #SecChat to engage the community in an open conversation focused on security. As a result, hundreds of security practitioners and influencers have joined the discussion, exposing it to thousands upon thousands of followers.
Social Media Is a Microphone – Egyptian revolutionaries leveraged social networking, not just to organize “weak ties,” as Gladwell would say, but also to rally action from their followers. Organizations that distribute content multiple times a day improve brand loyalty, extend reach into related and competitive markets and reinforce credibility. This can be daunting to organizations that are comfortable with a one-way communication model, but Virgin chairman Richard Branson, Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, all have their own Twitter feeds. You’ll be in good company.
Social Media Is a Barometer – In addition to organizing and motivating groups, social media presents the opportunity to listen to what is being said about you and your industry. There is a saying in construction, “measure twice, cut once,” which is equally applicable to metrics. Competitive analysis can provide insight into how your company compares to competitors and fits into the market, negative sentiment can be identified and re-mediated and positive sentiment can be reinforced.
Social media has been a revolution unto itself; with hundreds of millions of users already on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the revolution is quickly becoming the institution. Social media is enabling open conversations that not even dictators can prevent. The good news is that most of us aren’t working for tyrannical organizations, and as long as we learn how to embrace social media, we can join the revolution too.
Clinton Karr is an account manager at Silicon Valley-based Lewis PULSE PR. He can be reached at Clinton.Karr@lewispulse.com.