I’m really loving the transformation in our view of social media. Not long ago we were still trying to figure out what to do with social media tools with books like New Community Rules. And then we learned enough about how to target and measure social media to take it beyond the consumer markets and into the B2B world with Social Marketing for Business.
Today’s featured book is called We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World. It’s a book about using social media to create a better world. Reading the cover, I was immediately reminded of the beginning of The Facebook Effect, where people used Facebook to organize government protests in South America.
I’m thinking about how timely We First is. As I write this, I’m reflecting on the role that Twitter and social media played in organizing demonstrations in Iran and in Egypt. So far, the biggest role social media has played has been in getting the word out and organizing people. But to what degree is social media making the world a better place?
About the Author
Simon Mainwaring (@simonmainwaring) is the founder and CEO of We First, a brand consulting firm that helps companies use social media to build communities, profits and positive impact. As I perused the cover of the book, I asked myself, What does a branding company have to do with making a “better world?” I got my answer in the introduction.
Simon Mainwaring was at the World Economic Forum in January of 2008 when he heard Bill Gates speak. As soon as Mainwaring heard the words “creative capitalism” and “change the world,” he was hooked. As he thought about how he could use his skills and talents in branding to make the world a better place, he came up with the term “contributory consumption”–the idea that each consumer transaction goes toward building a better world.
Doing the Right Thing and Making Money are Not Mutually Exclusive Principles
The basic definition of capitalism is that it’s an economic system in which the means of production are owned and operated for private profit. Prices are set by the free market, profits are paid to investors, and wages are paid to workers by companies.
Mainwaring points out that our current focus is more of a “me” focus than a “we” focus. Early in the book he talks about Bob, a representative amalgamation of the American success story. Bob has worked hard and is living the good life. The corporations that produce the products Bob purchases are interested in profits and expanding their business around the world. Investors who invest in the companies that produce the products that Bob buys are interested in getting a great return on their investment. Bob is also interested in peace and freedom and living in a great community. Yet all these choices by all these constituencies affect other countries and other people around the world.
We First explores the possibilities that are available when we think about taking on the challenge that Bill Gates threw out to take on creative capitalism. We First explores ideas and strategies that allow as many constituencies as possible to pursue their self-interest without destroying the planet or each other.
We First Challenges Businesses of All Shapes and Sizes
We First asks a lot of questions that some people might find uncomfortable. I wouldn’t call myself politically inclined, but there is something about this book that made me think that people on either extreme of the political spectrum might be challenged by what Mainwaring is proposing.
I’m specifically thinking about Chapter 5: “Instilling We First Values Into Capitalism.” Mainwaring gives the example of Greenpeace and its controversial program against palm oil sourced from Malaysian and Indonesian suppliers involved in deforestation. When New Zealand’s consumers heard about this, they started a Facebook page boycotting Cadbury products. Finally, after a year of consumer pushback, Cadbury announced it would no longer use palm oil in its candy.
I can just imagine the spirited discussions that would erupt after a statement such as this one:
“Global citizenry is the antithesis of the Milton Friedman philosophy of capitalism, where the sole function of the corporation is to make money for shareholders. If capitalism is to become sustainable and succeed, companies must begin to acknowledge their human side, including the ability to demonstrate compassion, understanding and empathy.”
We First Will Make You Think
I really enjoyed this book for its thought-provoking value. There are some arguments I agreed with and some I wasn’t quite sure about. But the one thing I absolutely loved about this book is how it pulled statistics together and made me think and rethink my opinions on business and the economy.
The other thing I enjoyed about this book is its challenge to our business community and the call to action to take a moment and rethink what you’re up to. Mainwaring provides enough studies to show you that today’s consumer is thinking about the global picture and–increasingly–making purchasing choices based on those values.
We First is a terrific read for anyone who follows economics, politics and business. I promise you that no matter where you stand philosophically, you will find confirmations and challenges to your point of view. It’s a fantastic book for business book clubs and business students as well.