Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Revolution Indeed Will Be Tweeted

At least at first.

[In which he offends the literary gods by confronting Malcolm Gladwell]

Okay, if you haven’t read Gladwell’s article, go read it now. We’ll still be here. I promise.

As I wander around the Midwest talking to companies and professional groups about social media, one of my favorite opening slides is a simple one:

Social Media Doesn’t Matter.

That’s right; the people who have generously forked over a chicken breast lunch and a coffee mug full of key chains stare in horror as I tell them that their chosen topic for this month’s luncheon is a bucket of BS.

I still keep the mug.

If you’re still checking this frequently neglected outpost, you know what I mean by that: What matters is what happens in the real world, IRL, meatspace, whatever.

In the October 4 edition of the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell posits that social media are (yes!) doomed to failure if users expect massive change to result from their efforts. He begins with a description of the Civil Rights movement and, in particular, the risks and sacrifices made by the Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-in participants. He goes on to address the level of commitment needed by the freedom riders and calls on the blessed names of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman.

Politics, social change … even sales requires soliciting commitment. Clicking a “like” button is a minimum level of commitment. Making a $1 PayPal contribution or joining a conversation is relatively low-risk on the cost/benefit scale.

Point Mr. Gladwell.

But like the social media evangelists he decries, he misses the point. It’s not just about what happens on the Twitter machine.

But it’s a start.

Like those dormroom conversations at North Carolina A&T, social media conversations are a means, not an end. What matters is not what happens on Twitter or what some 20-year-old says over cheap wine in a dorm.

Action counts.

My practice is focused on business results, not on social change. But I still advise my clients that the number of followers, friends, retweets or whatever comes next is less important than the effect you see in sales or cost-savings.

But it has to start somewhere. And it starts with a conversation.

Whether that conversation starts in a blog post comment stream, a Twitter feed, a Facebook post or …

A Munich BierStube in the 1930s

Or a tavern in Philadelphia or Boston in the 1750s …

Yeah, social conversations can change the world.

Just not all at once.

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