Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Curse of Short-Termism


The headline reads Dow Industrials Fall to Seven Week Low. What? Is that really important? In fact, is reporting the daily fluctuations of the stock markets something that we should pay attention to? Whether we should or shouldn't pay attention to something is not the point of this post; what I'm interested in is how that headline illustrates our cultural obsession with the short-term. (image from springabove)
"What does this have to do with sustainability and social media?" you might ask.

Everything.

Sustainability:
If we can't look past seven weeks, how the heck are we expected to look past seven months, seven years, or seven generations? We struggle to look past the ends of our cultural/societal noses when making decisions that will affect generations that have yet to be born. Sure, unemployment sits at near 10% and there are numerous reasons for people to feel short-term anxiety about making mortgage payments, putting food on the table (fortunately, I am in neither of those boats), and ecological destruction. The underlying systemic reasons for where we are now stemmed from short-term thinking 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago. Lax lending standards, policies that encouraged borrowing for people that probably would have been better off NOT borrowing, poor regulatory oversight, and business decision making led to these situations.

Social Media:
As a social media user, I am constantly battling the urge to check the data stream and see what interesting snippets are out there. For the most part, I skim something and rarely make it through an entire article jumping ahead to the next thing. Worse, I may simply want to post something that seems interesting at that moment for the sake of posting it and not pausing to reflect on what the post says about me, what I'm all about, and what I'm trying to communicate to anyone that might be paying attention. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of filling the air for the sake of filling it and ignoring what the content may or may not contribute to the long-term points and mission you may be trying to fulfill.

Might the wholesale thoughtless adoption of a communication mode that has the potential to engage people in positive social change yet revels in short-termism exacerbate the "sustainability problem"?

It's something to think about.

If you're a person (or a brand/organization) interested in leveraging social media to engage communities and generate sustainable social change, it's imperative that you remember how your messages maintain your commitment to your long-term mission. Is that tweet about the crazy traffic jam in China really relevant to the people connected to you or the people you'd like to be connected with? What value are you adding by spreading that meme? How might the message be interpreted in the long-term, looking back on a stream of communication?

Pause a moment, look beyond seven minutes or seven hours, and think about what you're saying...for the long-term

Monday, August 16, 2010

All Media is Social...
...now it's faster.

There's nothing new here...and many have said the same thing before. The information's always been there, what's changed are the formats, delivery mediums, and speed. We can interact with content and stories being hurled at us from all directions much, much faster.

The PanMass Challenge wrapped Zipcar...that's social media too...right? We just interact with it differently...because it's a car and not a tweet or a text message, but we can make it into a tweet or a text message pretty darn fast (with the right mobile device)

Imagine the Sears Roebuck catalog in 1899, a key advertising/marketing/sales publication that paved the way for the westward expansion of our nation (and a brand that's still around and well recognized). People interacted with it, bought stuff from it on faith & trust (mail-order was a new form of commerce) but the interaction (the feedback mechanism) was ssssllllooowww...if there was something a person reacted to, and felt the energy to generate, they had to send a letter...that may have been no small feat, with paper, writing utensil, stamp, etc. needed...and depending upon where one lived (class & location) easy access to delivery service. The interaction was there, the pace was glacial....and that was fine...for the time. The way information about the catalog or the catalog itself was in person, physical word-of-mouth; the people that lived in a small rural village knew each other quite well and would talk favorably or unfavorably based upon their singular two-way delayed interaction with Sears. Spreading the word only went so far.

NOW...some piece of content, whether a pop culture happening like Levi Johnston's rumored mayoral candidacy, that funny ad from the Superbowl, the job quitter whiteboard hoax, or a socially significant press release from a mission-driven organization can be blasted around the interweb through innumerable feeds, posts, tweets, texts, stumbles, or tumblrs, etc. Almost instantly thousands if not millions of impressions may be made...if you're a brand or a company, you'd better be paying attention to what those impressions make on the people that receive (and read) them about your brand/company. Oh, and if you're thinking it's about tighter controls for the content you generate and the channels it travels through, you're wrong, it's about engaging in the spaces where the people you want to create relationships with generate the messages that are propagated, promulgated, and amplified - or dampened.

What's in common is that to be successful, organizations must send messages to the person receiving them in a way that sparks them to action at the time they're ready for action. One could argue that the spark would need to be mighty large in 1899 to generate an order or some kind of interaction with the brand as well as the connections that person may have.

The key is the way your customers, employees, stakeholders, members, neighbors, patients, clients, bosses, elected officials...all citizens of something...interact with your brand, messages, information, science, etc. is constantly shifting and cannot be controlled.
Given the speed with which information about you, your organization, or your brand may be shared, it is imperative that you know where the conversations about your brand and topics related to your brand are happening, engage in those conversations, provide value, and offer ways for people to take action as desired.
This was made abundantly clear to me as I watched the Frontline Episode: The Vaccine War. I found it fascinating that the Internet was trotted out as the enabling villain in the public skepticism about the wisdom of public health officials when it comes to vaccination, and that in the face of some compelling scientific evidence refuting (whew...I did not type refudiate!) claims that certain ingredients in vaccines were linked to autism, people clung to the decisions they made after viewing YouTube videos like this, later revealed to be a hoax. So, my question to the CDC, NIH, etc. is, are you monitoring the conversations about vaccines and their side effects and engaging?

If the public is getting their information elsewhere than your web pages and publications then you better be there.