Using social media for good: A challenge to corporates

Submitted by on the 14th of January 2016

On social media, there’s a market for every kind of information. Some trivial drivel. Some incredibly loaded. If something happens, it will be spoken about.

There’s no hiding.

2016 hasn’t started off too well, testament to some really dumb people who have used social as a soapbox for prime idiocy.

Without excusing any of the idiots, where there is a void of good stories, something needs to fill the gap. Unfortunately, it just so happens to be hatred.

Good stories make people feel good. When people feel good, the economy gets better. Good stories make good business sense for everyone.

So how do we start telling better stories?

A quick recap

The past weeks have gone something like this:

(1) Stupid rant by ignorant human on Facebook (cue Sparrow-esque and Khumalo-like peeps).
(2) Lots of people (rightly so) get pissed off. Twitter explodes.
(3) Mainstream media picks up on the story pretty late in the social media scheme of things.
(4) Corporations or political organisations aligned to aforementioned ignorant human distance themselves from the individual in question.
(5) Ignorant human gives half-arsed apology or says they were taken out of context.
(6) Political parties use divisions to gain votes in a local election year.
(7) Memes of ignorant humans do the rounds.

The saving grace is that most citizens, corporations and public servants in this incredibly complex and awesome country of ours would prefer not waking up with this negative sentiment on their timelines, prefering positive engagement. If that small minority of ignorant humans stopped saying dumb things, the above could go something like this:

(1) No stupid rant.
(2) The end.

Ending the cycle

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Degrading people to the level of animals and calls for genocide are a slippery slope. It’s the cycle of history, and it’s a slope that we have to get off.

It’s clear that there’s an ugly wound still oozing different shades of pus, but we’re a resourceful country. We’ve overcome so much, against many odds as set by the naysayers, and this is yet another test of our immense fortitude as a nation.

No, we can’t just forget the evils and ills of our past. That is something we should never forget – yet we can move forward. We can galvanise to create a better future. Not through words. Not through happy Tweets of how ubuntu is alive and well. That’s not enough. We need action. We need more jobs. We need decent education for everyone. Homes. Running water (preferably inside those homes). We need to narrow the gap between a small comfortable-living minority and the mass of disempowered, disillusioned South Africans.

That means using the wealth of our corporations and government to create meaningful opportunities where we all benefit. It’s the long-term view that the better off we are financially as a nation, the more customers there will be to buy things.

Rethink your CSR

It’s easy to use positive rhetoric on social media. The placebo effect of positivity can be immense – but it’s not a cure. Feelings are intangible. We need the tangible if we are to start seeing a difference in the lives of those who are most in need.

The practice of CSR is flawed. As long as it is seen as a function of marketing, the agenda will always be first and foremost in favour of the company and its stakeholders. Everyone does it. It’s old news. It’s expected. And people are jaded.

For corporates, social media needs to become the tool that informs the nation of what actual steps have been taken, not what they are planning to do. And they don’t have to be the ones to tell the story.

The best charity is given anonymously

What if the country told the story for the corporates and governments on their behalf? Wouldn’t that be so much more powerful?

As we have seen in the past few weeks, news spreads from individuals. We trust our peers for opinions far more than we do corporate chest beating. If corporates are to create social change through job creation and social upliftment – and I mean really created change – then that story could be told on their behalf.

A TV ad about a young woman whose mother was a domestic worker and, because she received an internship from Company X, she is now a shining light of her community, is just not good enough anymore.

What about taking your media and marketing budget and putting it into the tangible? Hell, how about doubling that budget and using it to create meaningful opportunities that you don’t talk about?

We’ll take it from there. And everyone will hear about it.