When most people think of social media strategies they think of doing things online when what they should be thinking about first, always, is people meeting face-to-face. People think about doings things online because they’re not actually thinking about social media “strategy” they’re thinking about social media tactics and that gets them thinking about Twitter and Facebook. What they should be doing is thinking about their objectives and building a strategy around them. Doing that, these days more than ever, reveals that one of the main objectives is – or should be – helping build community by joining, and adding value to, existing ones. The best way to do this is for people to meet face-to-face.
Now before you say, “yeah, but we can’t meet all our customers or target audience face-to-face” let me tell you about a face-to-face meeting I attended this week.
I joined about 10 others at a friend’s house for a simple meal and discussion of the ideas in the book Transforming Power by Judy Rebick. The book looks at various movements around the world where people are organizing informally to take back power in their own lives – including the power to elect presidents such as in Latin American and the US.
Rebick was at the meeting and gave a short summary of the book to launch discussion. The discussion was wide ranging but one thing that was mentioned frequently was the success of Obama’s social media campaign. One key reason for its success, however, was framed fundamentally differently from how most mainstream media reported it. The discussion at the meeting made it clear that the success started on the ground in face-to-face meetings in people’s houses and community centres across the country. The job of the super sophisticated online strategy was to help make these meetings happen and then magnify their effect a million times online. They key is that, without the face-to-face meetings, that sophisticated online strategy would have failed.
Obama campaigners didn’t meet all their potential voters face-to-face however: they gave people tools to organize their own meetings – and then got out of the way and let those meetings happen. They let go.
For most organizations letting go, online or off, means transforming the way they do things; transforming culture; transforming systems – transforming power.
Rebick highlights one of the most powerful recent examples of the power of face-to-face communication in her book: the 2007 United States Social Forum.
It was modeled on the World Social Forums that started in Porto Alegre Brazil and have been bringing together thousands of activists annually since 2002. It was organized by, and prominently featured, people of color and was the most diverse social forum ever according to Rebick and others who attended. It attracted 12,000 people – face-to-face on a big scale. Obama was elected the next year using a campaign built on many of the same values as the social forum: inclusion, decentralization and local empowerment. Exactly what part the US Social Forum played in electing Obama would be an interesting study…
So the message is simple and clear: get out there, talk to people, help them talk to other people – and get out of their way.