But that's just what an incarcerated counterfeiter was able to accomplish through a Samsung smartphone when he organized a coordinated strike at several Georgia prisons in December. If the counterfeiter had accomplished this feat as a marketer, he'd not only be keynoting at SXSW, he would have a book contract, be on the speaking circuit along with the likes of professional horn tooters such as Jeff Hayzlett and would have already nominated himself for a WOMMY.
This unsung social network genius utilized Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and email lists to coordinate and run his strike. The participants conducted a successful work stoppage, updated their progress online, issued demands and even ran a media relations program with press interviews and current coverage monitoring. If Crispin, Porter & Bogusky had put this campaign together, it would have probably been able to justify billable hours for a dozen people and a project fee of $150,000. Our counterfeiter probably got 30 days in the hole.
Why do marketers make such a huge deal out of social network activities and pat themselves so heartily on the back when they get something right? Because social networks represent the new magic act that they can use to tantalize their clients into spending more money.
As long as marketers are able to maintain the illusion that it takes some kind of special knowledge, like turning lead into gold, they'll be able to perpetuate the illusion that only highly paid gurus are able to tap into the riches of the networks. That does, of course, discount the activities of those with skin in the game; those who are forced to use the networks for the reasons around which they were designed in the first place: to communicate.
The first word in social networks is social -- not sell. In 2008, over 250,000 people were involved in a global protest through Facebook against kidnappings by Columbia's FARC. In 2009, young Iranians used Twitter and text messaging to organize flash mobs to protest their government's policies.
These individuals, like our counterfeiter, put social network tools to effective use to further ideas that were probably a little more important than driving traffic to the launch of the new McWhatever. Their reward for this creative social networking strategy was social change, not some eight-inch acrylic trade association trophy.
When a tool is recognized and used for its intended purpose, it ceases to become a shiny object. Ask anyone who has ever been involved with activism: when you need to get a message out, the communications tools at your disposal suddenly lose their mystique.
As the "client side" catches on and the networks themselves lapse into a useful ubiquity, we'll see the sudden groundswell of "social network gurus" become the pet rocks of the communications and marketing industry.
The next time your company is thinking about hiring someone to develop a "social network strategy," find a "guru" who can put the tools to use without all the hot air, smoke and mirrors and self-congratulatory hogwash. All the candidates you need are on Facebook, just start your search with the word "prison."