Book Review: We first: How brands & consumers use social media to build a better world.

As we watch Super Bowl XLIX disappear in the rearview mirror, maybe this would be a good time for some Superbowl trivia! Anyone can play, because the two-part question really has nothing to do with football. Ready?

After 23 years of dropping millions and millions of dollars on traditional high-end, celebrity-based Super Bowl ads,th-1 which company approached the 2010 Super Bowl in a radically different way, and what was the approach?

I will reveal the answer soon. It is one of several interesting points made by Simon Mainwaring in We first: How Brands & Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World.

The title is a play-on-words derived from a type of capitalism that Mainwaring feels has been about Me First for too long. And he argues that businesses that opt to stick with that model have their collective heads in the sand. Instead, Mainwaring sees the rise in a We First capitalism – where visionary corporations, businesses, consumers and citizens begin using capitalism as a “profit with purpose”: mindful, contributory, and socially oriented. Indeed, Mainwaring refers to studies that have determined that large majorities of people around the world are willing to change their consumption habits if it will make tomorrow’s world a better th-2place to live. Companies such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Anita Roddick’s Body Shop, and Seventh Generation products started their businesses with these beliefs.

Mainwaring makes the case that a confluence of at least two unstoppable changes will be responsible for the rise in a “profit with purpose” philosophy. The first is clearly social media, which is the new revolution – following in the steps of how the Industrial Revolution transformed manufacturing and the Digital Revolution transformed communications. Social media can be tied to many things, but Mainwaring is certain that social media will permanently transform the way business is conducted. It is is democratizing the market — providing people with new leverage to push back against corporations that misuse resources and consumer trust, and whose mission is solely to profit their shareholders. Social media will also be the tool that recognizes and reinforces the efforts of We First companies.

The second unstoppable change is generational. Researchers have found that Millennials are the likely demographic of change. They prefer collaboration to competitiveness, and sharing to hoarding. They prefer connections and diversity. And data has shown that once Millennials find a company they like, trust, and respect, they not only will keep coming back, but they’ll support and promote that company through – you guessed it – social media.

Social media may be the new revolution, but Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine is cited in We First as noting that we can also perceive this new era as digital socialism (down, DOWN, political geeks! Hear me out!). Kelly quickly differentiates that political socialism is an arm of the state, whereas digital socialism operates in the realm of culture and economics. Progressive companies are mining digital socialism by the now-familiar crowdsourcing – using social networks to seek out collective mind power, ideas and feedback that can both accelerate innovation and build an ever-growing customer community that are emotionally invested in the company. Which conveniently brings me back to our Super Bowl trivia question…

In 2010, Pepsi used the big money they would have laid out Super Bowl ads and instead funded the Pepsi Refresh project, which worked thusly: Pepsi invited people to its website, and encouraged those consumers to complete an application describing a social cause, and then select a monetary award category (ranging from $5K – $250K). Crowdsourcing is what actually selected the winners, since visitors to the site could vote for favorite projects. By the way, the advertising industry immediately thought PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi had too much carbonation on the brain, and that the company had totally blown its marketing budget (and chances) on some kind of low-ROI touchy-feely flavor of the day. But in about 90 days, even PepsiCo was amazed with the outcomes, as more than a billion impressions were logged from the Refresh site. Shortly thereafter, Pepsi could boast that their Facebook fans quadrupled. And Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s CEO, garnered Fortunes magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Business” — for the fifth year in a row.

Mainwaring has written an eye-opening book – one that reaches far in demonstrating the ripple effect in how social media, Millennials, and other factors may interact to move from a Me First to a We First capitalism.

Bonus: Mainwaring makes reference to how smart phones can help you promote a We First world. Check out this link, and then look for some on your own. Let me know what others you find!

For more on Simon Mainwaring and We First:

Simon Mainwaring / TED Talk – We First

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