For as long as I can remember, I have been enchanted by the Civil War. I have found it morbidly fascinating that families could split up and kill each other, and yet armies across rivers would chat about how much they wanted to go home. I have always been enamored of Abraham Lincoln, and find it amazing that he was extremely unpopular in the North as well as the South throughout the duration of his presidency.
There is a lot to study in the Civil War. There were innumerable technological patents issued. Medicine, by necessity, took great strides – the idea of sterilizing the surgery environment was born out of that series of tragedies in our history. Military history, too, was altered by the American Civil War. All of these new, immensely powerful weapons were introduced and handed to soldiers right in the middle of battle. But the commanders of those armies – they only knew what they had learned at West Point. They knew the bayonet charge, the cavalry charge. They knew that to defeat an army you had to come right at them. This knowledge, these things that were seen as “givens,” explain in part why casualties ran so high as the war dragged on. People were charging at armies that had minnie balls. People were charging, literally, right into firing squads.
As historian Shelby Foote says in the series, the weapons were far beyond the tactics.
The same holds true when it comes to Social Media.
Social Media and business
These days, it seems, we are approaching advertising and marketing in the same way we always have – as sales pieces. Some companies are bringing these traditional methodologies to Twitter and Facebook and Blogs. This is like trying to use antiquated military strategies when all of the technology has changed, and literally, companies that approach Social Media incorrectly will get blown out of the water. No one expects the hard sell on Twitter unless it’s 100% clear that’s your reason for being there, and even then you might find yourself entirely ignored.
We have created these new technologies before understanding the strategy needed to make them work. I think of Jeff Goldblum’s line in the first Jurassic Park movie. Companies are moving into Social Media because they can without thinking whether they should. Well, he didn’t say that exactly, but you get the point.
Our weapons are ahead of our tactics, and our marketing strategies are suffering for it.
Social Media and society
All of this also holds true when thinking about Social Media and its effect on our modern society. There are about 27 posts I could write about this topic (and maybe I will), but for now, consider the following, and let me know your thoughts about them.
Social Media has created new job opportunities, but we don’t really have names for those new jobs
Social Media has created new ways to communicate, but we don’t really have a name for this new method of communication (is it networking? is it friendship?)
Social Media has created new ways to unite – look at what happened when reports of protest started coming out of Iran and Egypt.
Social Media has also created new and powerful ways for us to abuse each other, and we have no way to police that. We have no control. The weapons are ahead of our tactics.
The Learning Curve
By the time World War I approached, it had become apparent to most military strategists that the era of the bayonet charge had ended. World War I saw trench warfare and the use of poisonous gases. By World War II, of course, war had entirely changed again.
I don’t want to see our learning curve happen in parallel with countless missteps or tragedies. I don’t want to see companies fail because they are trying to blast out ads via 140-character tweets. I don’t want to see more people die because we have these powerful modes to communicate with no way to control them.
I am not asking for an authoritarian controlling mechanism in either case. But we need to stop and think, for the sake of our businesses and our society. What are we doing with this “Social Media” thing? It is a revolution. It is an evolution. That means we have to change with the technology. We need a road map. We need someone to write it. We need tactics that keep up with our technology. We need a strategy that can make the most of our actions. Right?
Note: This post was originally written on October 1, 2010. It has been refurbished for a new project I’m working on called History Lessons for the Social Media Practitioner.