Declare Independence From Social Media Silliness

The great patriot and social media enthusiast Benjamin Franklin would surely enjoy the communications revolution that has swept our fair industry and would have plenty of good advice for modern-day practitioners. Advice well earned. At 15, he adopted the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood just to get his articles published in his brother's newspaper. This ruse pissed off his brother to no end and ultimately forced young Ben to flee to Philly where, at the age of 21, he formed an early social network called Junto, a group of "like-minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community."

Once in Philadelphia, Franklin quickly distinguished himself as an agent of change, a man Malcolm Gladwell might be forced to describe as connector, maven and salesman. At 22, he established The Pennsylvania Gazette, essentially a printed blog of his essays and observations, a vehicle that earned him tremendous social currency. Shortly thereafter, he set up the city's first library, the Wikipedia of its day, complete with America's first librarian. A noted scientist, perhaps his least-known invention is the concept of paying it forward, freely sharing his ideas, inventions and on occasion his cash all with the hope that "it may thus go thro' many hands." Clearly, without Franklin, there are no open-source API's on Facebook and certainly no #good tweets on Twitter.



Having established his bona fides as social media pioneer, let me now call upon the ever-humble B. Franklin to offer us instruction on how modern-day marketing patriots can declare their independence from social media silliness. And while this piece is no Poor Richard's Almanac, it will approach the topic at hand with a similar clarity of purpose and simplicity in language. It will also do so knowing Franklin would have supported this author, "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do." Finally, it will encourage marketers to take AIM, a simple acronym that befits a Franklinian approach to social media.

1. A is for Audit

All too often, marketers take the "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach to social media. The numerous social media pundits who prescribe dabbling over diligence encourage this philosophy. Back in 1748, Franklin would have warned you of the risks of this approach, noting, "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it." Instead, Franklin would have encouraged a rigorous social media audit, offering, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

Hardly revolutionary, a social media audit lays the groundwork for a successful campaign, fulfilling Franklin's prognostication that, "Diligence is the mother of good luck." These audits can be done in-house but as Franklin warned, "Those that won't be counseled can't be helped." Kinaxis, a supply chain management company, sought the help of Forrester before it went on to triple its leads and double its site traffic via a rigorously planned social media program (see detailed case history .)

2. I is for Implementation

A great communicator himself, Franklin would have been undaunted by all the new options, evaluating each carefully in order to "Never confuse motion with action." When it comes to content creation, Franklin's remarkably timeless advice to, "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing," is as true for Twitter and YouTube in 2010 as it was for patriotic pamphlets back in 1775. Anticipating the transparency that enlightened marketers now seek, his proverb "honesty is the best policy," is truer today than ever before.

Franklin inherently understood social media implementation, and the critical roles of likability, entertainment and patience. For brands that want to build fans on Facebook and the like, Franklin offered, "If you would be loved, love, and be loveable." For brands afraid of having a little fun with their audience, Franklin encouraged, "Games lubricate the body and the mind." And for brands in an unrealistic hurry to gain traction in social media, Franklin noted, "He that can have patience can have what he will."

3. M is for Monitoring

As Postmaster General in 1768, Franklin monitored the routes of British mail ships to discover why it took them two weeks longer than private merchant ships to reach U.S. ports. Conducting his own focus groups with merchant captains and whalers, Franklin ultimately charted and named the Gulf Stream, which was acting like a firewall, slowing the movement of data from East to West across the Atlantic. Not new to the idea of monitoring, Franklin approached even minute details with earnest, noting, "A small leak will sink a great ship."

So, too, must social media marketers monitor their activities with rigor and respond accordingly. While lots of free tools are available to monitor everything from conversations to web traffic, organic search performance to lead generation, Franklin reminded us that, "Lost time is never found again," thus the anticipating the use of time-saving paid services like Radian6. With such a disciplined approach to social media, marketers can, in Franklin's words, "Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time."

Even 220 years after his death, Benjamin Franklin remains a beloved character, bestowing a treasure trove of wisdom for good citizens and good brands. In fact, among the 12 virtues that he drafted when only 20 years old, you will find the single best guidance for any brand I've ever read, "Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve."

4 comments about "Declare Independence From Social Media Silliness ".
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  1. Michelle C from SYNTHESIO, July 8, 2010 at 3:47 a.m.

    You made me think of a conversation I had yesterday with a guy that used to work for law firms and saw the labor-intensive research they would carry out. He told me that they would spend months, for example, sending people to small towns to sift through town papers looking for stories of deaths that were contributed to lung cancer.
    Before he had even finished his first couple of sentences, I had already typed a query into our search engine for death and lung cancer, then clicked on the filters for "United States", "Regional Newspapers".
    Monitoring the web is going to take some firms to a whole new level..

  2. Theresa m. Moore from Antellus, July 8, 2010 at 2:31 p.m.

    As a very busy writer, artist and designer I rarely have time for social networking. I am sometimes taken to task for "neglecting" my social activities online, but I have to prioritize. As for Benjy, as the Firesign Theater once described him in their album "Everything You Know Is Wrong", he was the only president of the United States who was Never president of the United States. If you doubt that, who is featured on the 100 dollar bill? He was a visionary ahead of his time, and he accomplished everything with the same proberty and attention to detail few people practice today. Social networking would have been seen by him as "a time suck". Yet somehow he found time to be a ladies' man. People who get easily distracted by social networking have lost their perspective by needing to be validated by others, instead of being self-reliant and determined to succeed.

  3. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, July 9, 2010 at 6:53 a.m.

    Wikipedia may be a bad example (in comparison with a library) as I know many Wiki editors work in PR or work for the organizations that have an interest in what is said or deleted there. Anyone can edit at Wikimedia so a lot of good information gets deleted.

    The person who most cares about how an article looks is the one who has the final edit.

  4. Drew Neisser from Renegade, July 12, 2010 at 11:39 a.m.

    Jerry--you are correct about Wikipedia--the Pennsylvania Gazette was really more like the Huffington Post.A bit sloppy on my part.
    Theresa--we differ on our perception of social media. You see it as a time suck. I see it as an incredibly valuable time-saving source for information and connecting with like-minded professionals. From this perspective, Franklin would have loved all the new ways to engage with his peers.
    Michelle--I agree with your assessment.

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