“The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.” Mr. Spock, The Wrath of Khan
If you understand that phrase, then Simon Mainwaring’s new book “We First,” is especially for you. How can you affect change into today’s digital world? Mainwaring stresses social media for social change.I emailed Simon recently to ask him a few questions about the book and its inspiration.
Jason Mollica: Obviously, when you wrote the book, many things aligned to show that we need social media to affect change. Are things that are happening in 2011 hammering that point home?
Simon Mainwaring: Absolutely. Perhaps the best snapshot of this is the most recent riots that erupted throughout the United Kingdom. What emerged to both positive and negative effect was the organizing capacity of social media. Initially, a lot of commentators demonized social media because it allowed the protestors and rioters to organize themselves and, ultimately, cause more damage throughout the country. At the same time, the very same social technology was used to organize people who didn’t participate to contribute towards the clean up. For example, you can see the efforts made by cupoftea.org.
The point is that throughout the world we’re seeing consumers and citizens using social media to organize themselves and have their voices heard. Whether it’s the revolutions currently under way in Libya and Syria, whether it’s the riots in London, whether it’s pushback against marketers like Italian Vogue that recently advertised slave earrings, social media is being used to insure that customers and citizens have their voices heard.
JM: It seems like people don’t realize how important one-to-one interaction is. Have you noticed this?
SM: I do agree that one-to-one interaction is critical, but I also recognize how difficult it is for an institutional brand to do this. That said, social media makes it possible like never before. The big shift that’s required for this to happen is not a technological one, it’s a mindset one in which brands or institutions commit to investing in relationships over the long term rather than treating their interactions with citizens or consumers as transactional.
JM: How can contributory consumption be used to bolster an argument for social media in business?
SM: At its heart, contributory consumption is a simple idea that builds on wonderful efforts of the past like One Percent for the Planet, Product Red and an application called Social Vest. Simply put, a small proportion of the sale of each product or service is dedicated to a cause in alignment with a brand’s core values. How this can be used to make the case for social media is that, once there is alignment between the core values of a brand and its social outreach, companies quickly come to realize that the PR value of those efforts actually reinforces the for-profit narrative that they’re putting out there about the brand.
Unlike cause marketing or corporate foundation activities, which are done outside the for-profit business, contributory consumption is based on the integration of purpose into the for-profit business model. So at the same time that a brand is doing good, it is also doing good for its own brand building. As such, the ability of social media to amplify those efforts will demonstrate how it can be used to raise brand awareness and drive sales.
JM: Are there other companies aside from Pepsi Refresh that we should keep an eye on?
SM: There are several leading brands that are charting new paths in this area. One is Patagonia, which is a wonderful model of transparency with its Footprint Chronicles, plus a leader in social change with its Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which has brought together many large players in the apparel industry to work together for a more sustainable future. Large companies like Proctor & Gamble and Unilever are also making wonderful efforts. Unilever in the area of sustainability and Proctor & Gamble with the issue of cold water with its Click for Water campaign.
We also see sub brands of companies like Proctor & Gamble such as Pampers working with Unicef to make sure that children around the world receive vaccinations in exchange for people purchasing their Pampers diapers. The list goes on and on, which demonstrates both the concern of brands to do good and also their awareness that this is good marketing. They include Pepsi, Nike, Coke, Starbucks, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble. When you consider the power of the brands on this list, you realize this is a fundamental shift going on in the private sector, and not a trend that’s isolated to a few brave companies.
Simon’s first written words in “We First” are “Is this the world you want?” It’s a terrific way to start us thinking and affecting change.