Givers, Takers, Social Media and Warm Bodies

Written by Tim Haight

I'm VP of Technology Services for CGNET. I love to travel and do IT strategic planning.

April 11, 2013

warm bodiesThe idea that popular science fiction reflects a society’s unconscious fears is not new. During the 1950s, all those invaders-from-space movies mirrored the looming, alien presence of cold-war Communism, or, in the case of Godzilla, the peril of the atomic bomb.

The latest symbols are vampires and zombies, and not just those monsters, but how they can also live as nice people. I see Twilight and True Blood as examples, particularly appropriate to the era of the Iraq war. Why do all those poor countries hate us? How can we be both aristocratic, powerful predators and good guys? Lately, it’s zombies. The main difference between zombies and vampires is that zombies are much more proletarian. They are everyman, or, anyway, every walking dead man. And the underlying question is how can we be mindless, desperate wage-slave consumers and also be OK?

The equivalent of True Blood in zombieland is Warm Bodies, a post-apocalyptic romantic zombie comedy that I liked very much. One of the key plot points is that the zombies ultimately recover (although not before eating the heroine’s boyfriend’s brains). And the first symptom of their recovery is that they begin again to feel their hearts.

This is a long way from the usual subject matter of my blog, strategic IT planning, but hang in there, we’ll get there. Seriously.

The latest place in the heart is social media, not social media marketing, but social media. My Facebook news feed, for example, is full of puppies and kittens, mandalas, travel photos, praises of God, jokes and cartoons. People are sharing things that make them feel good, so that others can feel good. LinkedIn isn’t like that, but people are sharing stimulating news and ideas, mostly.

Social media marketing, on the other hand, is an oxymoron. Face it: you’re not giving and sharing all that much if what you’re really trying to do is to drive readers to your Website and then onwards to a sale. I’m sure this is controversial, every social media marketing guru, and they are legion, will deny it. But for me, it’s a matter of original mindset: If sharing is the ultimate purpose, and sales are a byproduct, that’s probably OK. But if sharing is the means and sales is the end, ultimately, you’re faking it. And it takes a good dose of honesty to face the difference.

Which brings me to givers and takers. Adam Grant has this really good new book out called Give and Take. It’s so good that I’m blogging about it before I’ve even finished it! In it, Grant presents experimental evidence that readers of Facebook profiles can overwhelmingly detect which profiles belong to givers and which to takers.

One of the best uses of social media, Grant maintains, is that it provides a lot of new ways to get behind people’s public personae and find out what they’re really like. Whether it’s sharing your lousy customer service experiences, or finding people who know the job applicant but are not on the references list, or reading the online product reviews, there are now lots of ways to debunk false fronts. So good luck, social media marketers, it’s harder than ever to be a good fake.

This is even beginning to be recognized in print. A recent book about social media and its failures is titled, engagingly, Can’t Buy Me Like. I suspect we’re riding a dialectic here. After the infatuation with social media marketing will come the disillusionment, followed by people still doing social media marketing, but a lot more carefully, creatively, honestly and helpfully.

Uh oh, I still haven’t gotten to Strategic IT Planning. OK, here’s the connection. Another part of the new beating of the heart is a renewed emphasis on empathy, or, at least, on understanding what other people are thinking. A very hot new author is Daniel Pink, who wrote Drive, a book about what really motivates workers, and To Sell Is Human, which is the first book about sales I actually enjoyed reading. Pink points out in Drive that the old way of motivating people, with basically financial incentives, doesn’t work very well anymore. What employees care about, increasingly, are autonomy, mastery and purpose. The smart boss figures out how to support this, which results in more employee engagement and ultimately, more creativity and productivity.

Two Forrester analysts, TJ Keitt and Simon Yates, have recently written on how IT can foster employees’ engagement by actually providing tools that enable them at work. They point out that a lot of workers are turning to consumer electronics like smartphones, tablets, apps and the consumer cloud because they do a better job with them than what they are supplied with at work. Keitt lays out three goals: creating employee-obsessed IT organizations, working with business leaders to align technology with the workforce vision, and partnering with the HR department to measure success. For his part, Yates presents a practical way to measure the progress towards these goals, over time.

So there’s hope that the zombies can recover, social media is empowering this, but there’s more to be done. Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this long post, and, as always, I dream of actually getting comments.

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