Things as other things

Cookie monster bin

Image courtesy thingsthatlooklikeotherthings

Occasionally several dozen people have to stand and listen to me share some thoughts and answer some questions whilst they wait for free food and drink.

Surprisingly this is not a punishment. Or at least it’s not meant to be.

Neither is it a sales pitch, an attempt at mass conversion, a wedding reception, funeral oration or ‘free’ seminar.

At least it’s not meant to be.

During the most recent run of this delayed gratification Q&A session (or cruel and unusual experiment if you’ve read the Geneva Convention) I was asked to comment on the #Kony2012 phenomenon. (I’m going to assume from this point forward that you know what that is)

So when asked to write something for a company blog, I naturally thought I’d put together some words about how things start off as one thing and end up as another.

Even as Kony 2012 got into full swing – (when it had a mere 12m views as opposed to the 85m it currently has) – there was growing criticism.

(Warning – contains swearing, unsavory references, is unrelenting and merciless (full disclosure – I like Charlie Brooker and I don’t care…))

Since founder/director Jason Russell was arrested in San Diego after police received reports of a man running through the streets and traffic naked, vandalising cars and “masturbating” things have just got worse. (you can find the video yourself).

CEO of the charity behind the film, Ben Keesey issued a statement claiming Russell had been admitted to hospital suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition but I’m pretty sure that most people will have ruled this out as an explanation and provided one of their own. And there is the problem.

Something that probably started with a load of good intentions has ended being something where the central message has been lost, credibility destroyed and a video of a psychotic man with problems has also “gone viral” (ok, well only 1.5m views so far).

A thing that ended up as another thing. Social media can be tricky like that.

One of the problems, as COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg put it, is that ““What it means to be social is if you want to talk to me, you have to listen to me as well.”

A lot of companies engage in social media trying to create a social brand instead of trying to become a social company. And then they don’t like what people are going to say. For the past 3 and a half years I was involved in a company that worked with many of the leading travel brands. Here’s how one of them opened a social dialogue with its customers (after grounding its entire fleet a few weeks before as part of an industrial relations wrangle – leaving about 80,000 of them stranded) and offered them some pajamas…

Step 1 – the “social media team” at Qantas, as part of an ongoing “social media campaign”, released details of a competition on Twitter:

20111122000361356630 original

Step 2 – instead of a few tweets of nice stories to be used in a ‘crowd sourced’ campaign, they got a flood of sarcastic comments more about the ongoing labour relations battles with the unions and the grounding of the fleet than the quality of their service. The whole thing becomes a trend:

Qantus3

The entire episode took a further plunge when this rather well done parody of Downfall – a film depicting the last days of Adolf Hitler – was posted on YouTube, as seen below.

(Warning – also contains swearing, (full disclosure – I still don’t care…))

A thing ends up as another thing.

We’re quite busy making sure that a company where I now have the great pleasure to work: Mxit, is going to become a social company not a social brand (it’s already Africa’s largest mobile social network). This means a bunch of stuff such as internal connectedness, preparedness, and collaborative approach to customer and employee engagement.

It also means that when we want to talk, we have to listen as well.

So to any of the staff who might end up reading this and have been ‘talked to’, we, and especially me, are listening.

If that doesn’t work, as Hitler put it (meant to be Quantas CEO Alan Joyce in the clip above) –

“With any luck someone will post a new funny cat video”.

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