December 10, 2011

What an economist can teach you about Social Media

2 minute read, in Social Networking

Last October in Turin, Italy,  I was one of about 100 people captivated by economist Manfred Max Neef’s ability to communicate critical and complex concepts through simple, sometimes passionate, sometimes funny anecdotes. Because they were conveyed so compellingly, several have stuck with me. One in particular might explain why so many people (still) don’t get Social Media.

Max Neef told a story about his interest in  defining the single attribute that distinguishes humans from all other animals. He asked a teacher, who suggested it was the ‘soul’, but he wasn’t convinced.

The next teacher he asked explained that humans have intelligence, but animals only have their instincts. But his experience with his own cat wouldn’t let him accept this answer either.

Max Neef forgot abut the question after that until an ‘a-ha’ moment years later, when he realized that it must be ‘humour’. Two weeks later, he came across a paper by a Japanese expert in animal behaviour citing a species of birds who tell each other jokes.

In University, over breakfast with his father–a brilliant scientist, it occurred to Max Neef that he’d never put the question to him. So he did. His father said, “try stupidity”.

Defining himself as a ‘stupidologist’ (having studied the affliction for some time) he explained that stupidity describes not the lack of faculties, but having all the information you need and still making bad decisions.

He went on to explain that we have created more information in the last 100 years than in all of history prior, and that decision-makers were still making the wrong decisions.

But there’s a big difference between having information and understanding it.

He used love as an example to make the point, explaining that no matter how much empirical data we collect on the subject–social, chemical, etc–without ever being in love, you just won’t “get it”.

This is the challenge facing organizations trying to leverage social networking platforms in their communications strategies today: You have to get bitten by the bug to use it effectively. But of course the irony is that when you do, your priorities change.

Next week I’ll list some tips for easing into it, even with your hectic schedule. In spite of your preconceived ideas about it.


PS: In case you don’t know, today is Slow Food’s Terra Madre Day. Slow Food Toronto has put together an amazing list of producers, artisans and chefs for you and the family to meet and eat with (free) between 2 and 6 pm at Harbourfront.

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