Social Media: The Elephant in the Bored Room

Pardon the idiom, and yes, the misspelling was deliberate.  You may want to grab a sandwich, this is a long read.

For the longest time it has occurred to me that most companies find themselves in a state of what I like to label Permanent Whitewater. As they careen through the rapids, it is anybody’s guess as to whether they will capsize.  And the philistines they have appointed as commissioners would be more appropriately described as Ommissioners, as they have omitted themselves from understanding the world and leading their charges.

Now, what does that have to do with anything?  Thanks for asking.

For those of you who can find Vietnam on the map, you will recall the great turnip boycott of the nineteen seventies—I know they boycotted grapes, but I like grapes and do not like turnip, so I choose to have my own protest.  Anyway, this boycott worked, and as a result, the working conditions for migrant workers improved albeit only modestly.

And here is the kicker.  An entire industry was brought to its knees.  That is not the surprising part.  The surprising part is that all of this change was brought about at a time when there were three television channels and when people actually subscribed to newspapers.

From where I sit, social media can be divided into two camps, those who have not slept since the launch of Google+, and the far larger camp of those who have not lost a minute of sleep.  Businesses, for the most part are well entrenched in the latter group.

Part of the reason why businesses are slow to adopt social media can be attributed to their lack of belief that social media matters or can impact their business one way or the other.  And frankly, I think that has a lot to do with why our economy continues to rejoice in its malaise.

So, how to those of us in the first camp get those in the second camp to see the world our way, how do we get them to jump head-first into social media.  The answer is simple.  We need to create our own turnip debacle.

They say it cannot be done, so let us show them.  The one thing that would get companies to embrace quickly and unashamedly social media would be if there was one less company.

Companies, big ones, fat ones, firms that climb on rocks—feel free to finish the tune without my help have the following issues, they think they:

–       control their market

–       own their customers

–       are managing their customers

Companies are wrong about those three assumptions and the use of social media can and will prove this.  I would ask for a volunteer, but that would take too long.

If ABC, CBS, and NBC were able through their coverage of the grape boycott, bring about change to an entire industry, imagine with me what impact a committed bunch of savvy social media users could do to a single firm.

Here is what I propose.  Let us pick one firm.  The characteristics of this firm should be that it is well known and not well liked—this way we can argue that we acted on behalf of a greater good.  It should also be a firm associated with technology, a firm that ought to at least be able to spell social media.  If I were asked which firm I would choose I would pick a firm in some aspect of telecommunications, say a firm like Comcast or Verizon.

Now, the idea of our little social project will be to provide a heads-up to all of the other companies about the start date of our little social media experiment.  Let’s tentatively agree on the first of November unless there is a game on television I want to watch.

The goal of the project is to demonstrate that the bourgeois, the working class, with its harmless set of social media tools, can create affect enough of a disruption to an organization to make it sit up and take notice, or to disappear.

I am sure you remember the YouTube video of the Comcast technician that fell asleep on a customer’s couch.  It went viral, but Comcast did not, and that was simply a single posting by a single customer.  What would happen if the social media mavens decided to use the tools at their disposal and concentrate their efforts at or against a single firm?

Crowdsourcing 101.

I think the end result of such an effort would have a significant impact.  The impact could easily bring about more fundamental change as to how firms view and use social media than was brought about by the grape boycott.

Sometimes something has to be sacrificed on behalf of the greater good.  Although a rising tide lifts all boats, but it can ruin your day if your firm is the one chained to the pier.

What are your ideas?

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3 thoughts on “Social Media: The Elephant in the Bored Room

  1. Intriguing concept… I think it would take a bit longer to identify a company that could be used as a test case.

    Another experiment would be to use your “boycott” example, and see what a negative campaign does to a company that is solidly entrenched in social media. Are they able to weather the storm?

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  2. If for example you chose a brand with a negative image then added a rumor /lie and had 50 people share it could bring them to change, but would that be ethical? no. Would it be useful? probably not. I would rather see an experiment where you choose a very granular product and do something positive to prop it up. It is easy to rally a rant or a fight for a brief moment but difficult to wage a generous campaign. What do you think new friend? Caroline Gerardo

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    • Great comment, and no, I am not suggesting anyone compromise their ethics–you only get one set. The post was meant to be tongue-and-cheeky. However, I think many firms are way to quick to believe both that social media cannot help them and that it cannot hurt them. Clearly, they are wrong on both accounts. I think most firms would be amazed with their findings were they to Google themselves. I think firms no longer have a valid customer list but, their ex-customers have their own approved vendor lists.

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