Putting The Social Back Into Social Media

With all the talk of the Tumblrs, Groupons, Facebook, Google+, et al., uber-billion-dollar evaluations and roller coaster balance sheets, it's easy to ignore what truly underpins all social media, and much of the web itself.

Take the story of Emmanuel Kelly, a victim of war, multiple amputee and orphan. Or Darcy, a young eloquent boy with lymphatic obstruction who wants to be closer to his family. Of the 4,147,200 minutes of new video content uploaded every day on YouTube, these two videos came to my attention through friend-recommendation. In both cases, the reason that these videos were cited as "must-watch" was the same: they are both deeply meaningful.

As a startup founder, I'm one of the guiltiest parties in following the acquisition rumor mill, startup infighting, M&A announcements, Facebook's API of the week, and IPO speculation. But, focusing on technology and the opinions of billionaires distracts from the deeper questions of what drives every corner of the social web.

I maintain that there really hasn't been much new web-technology invented since the dawn of the Internet. Things have gotten faster as a result of infrastructural investment into fiber-optic networks. Storage has become cheaper, hence lowering barriers to entry and opening up creative opportunities for developers and architects. Innovative freemium business models have emerged, giving everyone with a laptop the opportunity to build a new business. But, the core of the web remains relatively similar to what it was 20 years ago when I said goodbye to my BBS and started using Mosaic. There are just lots more tools.

Interestingly, though, we constantly focus on "new technologies," as if there is a magic bullet game-changer around every corner. But, truly, the power of the web is that it is socially driven and interconnected. This is different from other technologies like automobiles, electricity, airplanes, and microscopes whose functions are not primarily social. The web itself, in its essence, is a social creature.

But, what does this all have to go with green marketing or cause marketing?

Understanding that the web is a place of deep social interconnection will eventually lead to the realization that content and communications efforts must fit this mold at some level if you are to leverage the web for its truly unique power.

Bad content will be ignored. Good content will be consumed. Meaningful content will be shared.

Cause marketing and green marketing are -- in their essence -- drivers of social conversation and change. There is lots of room for useful content, like how to bone a trout or how to make a rainbow shooter. However, if you want your content to be shared, there has to be some socially compelling reason to do so. Cause-based and green-based messages perform the double duty of hitting people in their compassion or call-to-action core, while also tying the image of your company to the positive message.

This diatribe is shared not just theoretically, but also increasingly from hindsight. I'm becoming progressively more intrigued with how hard (and expensive) it is to gain attention on the web through traditional methods, but how -- relatively speaking -- even a small dedication to charitable or community initiatives can help a business stand out. My prediction is that the next evolution of cause marketing will be not just defending its validity and effectiveness to CMOs, but prescribing it as a necessary "must-do" in the marketing and communications arsenal.

In short, ask not what social media can do for you, but what you can do (for the world).

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