Commentary

Search And Social Are Saving The World

Here's a tip: the ones who succeed in the coming years will be those who make a genuine contribution to humanity. Greed is out; dishonesty will be revealed, and, ironically, the more you prioritize doing the right thing over the bottom line, the more your bottom line will benefit.

This direction is inevitable, thanks to a simple phenomenon: the proliferation of ever-more-powerful search capabilities and the rapid disappearance of whatever semblance of privacy we once had. We are experiencing a top-down, bottom-up convergence of forces that compel us to just be better people.

The top-down is simple: companies that are built around a core purpose and values, with a motive beyond profit, have always, over time, outperformed companies that aren't. Ben & Jerry's, Whole Foods, Zappos... if you lead with love, love for what you do and the people for whom you do it, profits often follow. These companies don't falter until the moment their focus shifts from what they can do for their community to what their community can do for them (to paraphrase a President).

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That's my hippie side talking. Here's the bottom-up reality, though: if you don't lead with love, if you don't act with decency and integrity, if you think you can contribute 3% of EBITDA or whatever and make up for whatever bad behavior generated that EBITDA in the first place, you will be found out, and you will be punished by the market.

Take Enron. Take Sigg. Take Nestle. The message from the market is clear: you deceive or betray your public, you pay.

These forces have always been in effect, but here's what's different: thanks to search, you can no longer conduct your affairs in secret. Thanks to social, news about dodgy practices can spread like wildfire. Thanks to connectivity and digital empowerment, it is simply untenable for companies not to be socially conscious.

The degree to which we've lost control of information is extraordinary and growing. Just yesterday, Google announced the purchase of Plink, a visual search engine, thereby furthering the search giant's Google Goggles efforts. Passing by an interesting building on your trip to Venice? Snap a shot on your cell phone and run the search - no doubt you'll find out the name of the building and its entire history in moments.

Technology like this is great for buildings, as well as art, wine, books and logos -- but what about people? It's not too hard to imagine a scenario where you can snap a photo of someone, without knowing who they are, and find out their entire history in moments. Where you're known as soon as one person in the matrix tags you, rendering opt-out effectively meaningless. Where the only choice is to behave, not as if Big Brother were watching, but as if everyone you've ever loved, everyone whose respect you ever wanted to earn, every teacher and child and grandma were waiting to see what you were going to do.

I remember watching Bill Clinton on television during the Lewinsky affair. He was asked why he lied about it, and his response seemed spontaneously genuine. He said he did what we all do when we're doing something we know we're not supposed to be doing; namely, he tried to do it when nobody was looking.

Today, everyone is looking. So has transparency has forced our hand? Are companies growing more inclined to act for the good of humanity? Let's hope so. If there's nowhere to hide, maybe the only option left to us is to become accountable.

I'd really love to hear your thoughts on this one. Let me know in the comments or via @kcolbin.

15 comments about "Search And Social Are Saving The World".
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  1. Janine Mcbee from SCMS, April 13, 2010 at 12:14 p.m.

    Spot on. We all have an obligation to be transparent and accountable.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 13, 2010 at 12:43 p.m.

    Drinking the cool aid again all over the place, are you?

  3. Tia Dobi from Expand The Brand, April 13, 2010 at 1:12 p.m.

    "Lead with love" = Truth well told.

    How could it not work?

    Thanks, Kaila.

    Peace and profits,

    Tia Dobi
    Publicist, Social Media Success Summit 2010 w/Guy Kawasaki, Mari Smith, Whole Foods, Best Buy & the Dream Team of Social Media. 1/2 off tix ends Fr 4/16
    http://www.smss2010.com

  4. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, April 13, 2010 at 2:09 p.m.

    This phenomenon is nowhere more evident than in the contrast between Myspace as a haven for prowling pedophiles because it was either kids or degenerates using it in its heyday, compared to Facebook which became so cross-demographically popular that your mother and even your grandmother are likely to be using it. I restrict my sailor-worthy language while posting items of interest that my students and parents are certainly going to see. If I were a bad person up to bad things, Facebook might be completely untenable.

  5. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, April 13, 2010 at 3:41 p.m.

    Thanks so much for your comments, guys. Paula, I don't drink Kool-Aid -- all those disgusting chemicals! ;-) Lol

  6. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., April 13, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.

    KUDOS!!!!

  7. Glenn Campbell from Glenn Campbell Public Relations, April 13, 2010 at 7:48 p.m.


    This the Internet iteration of Adam Smith's "unseen hand" so noticeably missing on Wall Street and no doubt this version will
    fail as soon as good people rely on it to do their job.

  8. Carol Wolicki, April 14, 2010 at 9:25 a.m.

    There was an interesting piece in the NY Times – or maybe it was the Boston Globe – (can’t remember where I read what anymore!) that talked about priests who practiced but who’d had a failure of faith. They, essentially, went through the motions but the ‘spirit’ – so to speak – was no longer in them. (Hold that thought.)

    Now, comes this piece about Google, the high priest of ‘search,’ founded by a Russian émigré, with it’s mission of “Do no evil.” Being an early proponent of PCs and an early employee of a networking software company, I joined with my tech colleagues early on in believing that technology could change the world for the better. For a while, I wasn’t so sure. But 1984 came and went and Orwell stayed buried. Still, there’s THOSE gov’t computers and Jack Bauer whose too close to reality for comfort sometimes and China, of course, and hackers of all languages. I read about security and privacy problems and know they’re all too real. But I never put the two of them together with ‘search’ in the way that this does. So, here’s the question: if we lose our faith in god, is it ok to believe in Google as the new ‘all-knowing’ entity in the universe and, if so, will triumph come to the good?

  9. Renee Mcgivern from Spark Plug Consulting, April 14, 2010 at 11:26 a.m.

    Transparency keeps people on their toes, but what about being caught in one act, the one time we lose our temper, the only time we got mad enough to spank our kid at the Target store, etc. and that get's blasted out to the world. Suddenly that's who we are for life thanks to an eager Tweeter or poster. What I'm hoping is that social media users are responsible with the tools they're using knowing that a person's name and reputation, including their own, is precious. Instant judgments and quick reactions just bring us back to the days of Henry the 8th's "Off with her head." Transparency and responsibility are required of everyone.

  10. Cynthia Holladay from UpRight Marketing, April 14, 2010 at 5:33 p.m.

    If we are awake, that is, if we have the courage to think critically, we know that we still have to live with ourselves. Whether or not Google, the government or the social media audience is watching, we make a choice as to whether we hold ourselves accountable. This reminds me of the movie, "The Legend of Bagger Vance", where the Matt Damon character faces and comes to grip with his inner demons with the help of Will Smith's character, Vance: http://bit.ly/d2BWIL. Perhaps Search and Social serve as "Bagger Vance" in a sense, but quoting Cornel West, we still need the "courage to wrestle with desire in the face of death."

  11. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, April 15, 2010 at 2:56 a.m.

    You lost me when you rationalized that a complete loss of anonymity would be a good thing and somehow not "big brother". Did I read that right and, if so, are you insecure of what your husband might be up to? ;-) More seriously if you also happen to be an ideologue: do you think its fair to have busy-bodys photographing men as they come out of strip bars?

    Laws are going to need to be passed now to stop the use of databases hooked up to face recognition software. Otherwise there might be a mass deletion of Facebook and other profile pictures...people protesting that their own profiles can be used against them.

    If one is saying that it is great that technology can spy on us better...forcing us to tell the government and everyone else everything where we previously would have chuckled at government arrogance and posted on Facebook what we wanted to post, I am not in agreement. I don't believe in the collective "good". The book "1984" was about that.

    "1984" was also about a government assuming that citizens should be honest about what personal relationships they have with others and that got involved in a relationship between a man and a woman (Winston and Julia), breaking them up because it didn't want the relationship to continue.

    Clinton should not have answered questions about his personal life to a government official, especially a wacky social conservative who should have remembered that the GOP had just spent the past 15 years fighting feminists who wanted to stop older male businessmen from having "power differential relationships". I say this as a Republican who saw my own party turn against me by taking the Marxist feminist stance on what should have been a private affair between a man and a beautiful young woman (yes, I thought Monica was hot and what Bill did wrong that I cannot forgive is that he sold her down the river and called her "that woman").

  12. Ateeq Ahmad from Edmunds.com, April 15, 2010 at 12:11 p.m.


    Let the cynics quibble over the entrails of the details. I will salute you for this article.

    Dreamers of a world where one's integrity is paramount need to take heart from this proliferation of actionable information via search/social/new media.

    An example to buttress your argument further. Just last year, the govt. of Iran could not really crack down as hard as they had wished because the world was not only watching but "tweeting down their necks", so to say.

    The rogue governments of the world need to take heed. Injustice anywhere can be seen everywhere, almost as it happens.

    Kudos for this article again!

  13. Katie Smillie from SocialMedia.com, April 16, 2010 at 4:18 p.m.

    Love your thoughts!

    Here at socialmedia.com we are calling the next generation of ads "Ads 2.0". Social advertising is a big part of Ads 2.0, but so are the companies that are selling good products and services to exactly the people who want them, in an honest way.

    Seth Goldstein created an interesting graphic that compares Ads 1.0 to Ads 2.0. You can check it out here: http://blog.socialmedia.com/ads-20-the-next-evolution-of-online-advertising/.

  14. Ira Kaufman from Entwine, April 23, 2010 at 12:50 a.m.

    Inspiring article!
    " the ones who succeed in the coming years will be those who make a genuine contribution to humanity. "

    How do we as a social media community mobilize our colleagues and clients to live the values in their missions and realize the benefits?

  15. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, June 28, 2010 at 8:42 p.m.

    Oh how I wish just a scintilla of this were true! In the blinding blizzard of digital information, there is more obscurity than ever before. True, if you know what you are looking for and have the capacity to choose, the environment is an open landscape. But the rate of transaction today is so blindingly fast, that screaming is all we do. We are devoured by wolves before we hear their howl. I have a 96-inch long register tape recording the last upgrade of my Verizon Wireless service. It is riddled with 'gotchas' and 'gobbledegook' to keep me staked to their peg for 2 years while they pick me clean. @Glenn, I love your music, but Adams Smith's "unseen hand" is the "invisible hand." The "unseen hand" is probably in your pocket, with an investment banker attached to the other end, living the values of Smith's Vile maxim: "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind." We need simple rules, simple justice, and a political/legal structure that hasn't got its head buried too deep in the master's slop pail.

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