Social Media and the Power of Public Knowledge

We’re starting to hear the rumbles, here and there, from businesses of every type and every size. Social media, the marketing tool that was supposed to deliver amazing results, doesn’t seem to work very well for some companies. They say effort invested isn’t providing anything much in the way of meaningful results.

The first response seems to be platform flight. Facing Facebook failure, organizations decide to move on. They decide to focus on Twitter, and if that doesn’t pan out, they move onto Pinterest, perhaps, or Instagram.  It’s the digital equivalent of the African Savanna, where the herds are traveling ever onward, perpetually in search of a water hole that will quench their burning thirst.

It’s not a bad strategy, if you’re an elephant.

If, however, you are a company that wants to build meaningful relationships with your customers in a profitable and enduring fashion, it’s a disaster.

So what’s going wrong here?  It’s a simple problem. We’re focusing too much attention on the media aspect of social media, and not nearly enough on the social end of the equation.

Understanding Social Media: The Power of Public Knowledge

Let’s start this whole conversation by saying this: it’s not Facebook’s fault you’re not connecting with your customers. It’s not Twitter’s fault, nor Pinterest’s fault, nor even Instagram’s fault. All of these social media platforms do exactly what they say they’re going to do: provide a fairly easy-to-use way to share your content easily with anyone who wants to listen to it.  If nobody’s listening, it’s not the communications vehicle that’s the problem. It’s the message.

In other words, don’t blame the radio if nobody dances when your band’s song plays. The people have proven that they’re willing to dance — if the music has the right beat. When a song comes on that they like, they dance.

If you want to use social media effectively as a marketing tool, you have to understand, on a fundamental, humanistic level, what causes people to participate in online conversations. Why does someone join Facebook in the first place? What drives them to post their thoughts and feelings? What encourages them to like a company page, to comment on that page, and to share the content they see there with others?

Steven Pinker has some great answers. We encourage you to watch this video — it’ll take about 10 minutes of your life, but it’s 10 minutes that will make you a better marketer. Of particular interest is the bit on public knowledge.  It starts at about minute 8.

Watch that, and then think about the Arab Spring revolutions that rocked the Middle East. Pinker points out that it’s the phenomenon of public knowledge that sparks community action. What we learned from the Arab Spring is that social media is an ideal vehicle for creating public knowledge.

Knowing that someone else has the same knowledge you do, and is experiencing similar emotions as a result of that knowledge, is an extremely empowering and motivating experience. Dominant organizations have learned the lessons of Arab Spring, strategically using their social media presence to create the experience of public knowledge within their target audience.

Harley Davidson is doing this on Facebook with their Harley Davidson Worldride Campaign. Go to their page and check it out. During a two-day event, where Harley riders are “taking over the world,” fans are encouraged to log in and share how many miles they’ve ridden. So far, the results have been astronomical — the total miles would bring you to the moon and back!

This is public knowledge in action. Riders are sharing their distances, true, but they’re also sharing their experiences. They want to tell what a good time they’ve had. Hearing about other people’s good times on the bike motivates those who haven’t gone riding lately to get the hog fired up so they too can participate. Even the people who can’t go are logging in to share their support, explain why they can’t participate, and offer encouragement to those who are riding.

Real world activity can, with the proper, strategic encouragement, drive social media activity, which in turn can drive real world activity. That’s the power of public knowledge. It transforms governments, it builds brands, and it is the only thing that’s been proven to change the world. If your organization isn’t tapping into the power of public knowledge now is a good time to start. Give it a shot before you give up on your latest social media endeavor. You’ll be glad you did.

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