Social media and history

Posted on November 10, 2012


The November 8 workshops associated with the Social Media Leadership Awards at Wharton Business School provided incredible food for thought. Knowledge@Wharton and Social Strategy1, along with sponsor Ernst & Young, brought together people who’ve been doing this much longer than I, whose insights forced me to think about what we’re doing, and how we can improve.

Since I still have a bit of old school in me, I took notes with a plain old Bic pen. These follow here, with my what-if’s in italics.

The first session was called Customer Experience Management. Panelists: Ted Rubin, CMO of Collective Bias; Michael Lewis, Chairman and CEO of ILD Corp.; and Shayna Beck of The Vanguard Group.

I didn’t expect to gain much from this session. We’re not AT&T or Apple, managing millions of customers who buy products or well-defined services. Our “customers” are readers, researchers, people who are interested in history. But the panelists made me re-think the standard definition of “customer” as merely someone buying a product or service. The customers of Center for White Rose Studies consist of our community, no matter how they arrive at our doorstep.

Ted Rubin stressed that CEOs and CFOs may no longer focus just on ROI, return on investment. As social media overtakes traditional marketing, management must think about ROR, return on relationship. Marketing is less about the hard sell, more about making a genuine connection with others.

Shayna Beck agreed with Ted. She said that although Vanguard’s financial services are highly regulated, she had to begin with “soft” connections, lifestyle focus, not investment advice.

They noted that social media may be accepted bizspeak for what we’re doing, but to a person, they sense it is simply social. Business has changed, the way we do business has changed. We’re moving into a social environment.

Regarding the technology used: There’s less corporate control over message. “Let everything go out there and spread the news.” People will talk, and it is up to “us” to be aware of the conversation. LinkedIn is about more than putting your resume online. It’s content-driven, with contributors talking about business. Consensus: LinkedIn is the most underused platform.

Twitter (they said) is another platform that has enormous potential. If I heard them right, Twitter is less about following the minute-by-minute stream of Tweets, and far more about using hashtags to research trends and potential discussion areas.

Miscellaneous thoughts that caught my attention:

  • We should be helpful advocates, not crazy stalkers.
  • Lurkers are valuable. “Comments” are not necessary for success.
  • Never forget to develop a strategy. What are we trying to accomplish?
  • “Social” is not measured by the same metrics as digital. They may be related, but “social” requires more patience (long-term strategy).

What this means for Center for White Rose Studies: I kept coming back to this session – yes, the one I’d deemed least applicable – during travel time. Our board will talk about this on November 20, so it’s not official policy yet. But I am beginning to think that we should remove all participation costs for our archive projects (e.g. White Rose History III), keeping those projects 100% public.

Our goal, after all, is to involve as many people in these collaborative efforts as possible. We will work on ways to “curate” participation, to ensure academic integrity. But if a seventh grader wants to jump in feet first, I don’t want her to be excluded because of administrative fees.

And, with “social” media, casting a wider net than traditional educational processes, a person on the other side of the world could stumble across these stories, never having heard them before, and contribute a perspective that challenges our perceptions – much like Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman (aka Kareem Amer) did in February 2011. His use of our White Rose work and graphics in his fight for justice for the women of Egypt inspires all of us to this day.

Finally, we are in this for the long haul. We’re not looking for short-term sales. We want our readers and fellow researchers to stick with us for as long as they are immersed in the study of German resistance, or informed dissent and civil disobedience in our own country and era. So perhaps we are indeed in the right place, at the right time, using the right tools to achieve those goals.

The second workshop was entitled How Social is Driving Entrepreneurship. Panelists: Phil Pearlman, Executive Editor at StockTwits and Partner at Social Leverage, LLC; Jeremy Kagan, CEO of and Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School; and Dr. Raina Merchant of UPenn’s MyHeartMap Challenge.

Again, this topic didn’t sound like something we would benefit from. Again, I was wrong!

I had already talked with Phil Pearlman and Jeremy Kagan the night before at the reception for finalists and sponsors. Phil’s day job may revolve around stocks and the “social-ization” of data analysis, but his passion remains psychology. He asked if we would let him write an article about the psychology of resistance, what causes certain people to have the backbone to go against the flow to do what’s right. Let him? Phil, that’s been on our wishlist (aka Call for Papers) for years!

Phil explained that StockTwits takes the Twitter concept and applies it to the world of finance. While most of us read Tweets posted by politicians, celebrities, or real-life friends, StockTwits allows users to follow stocks. That said, Phil said he’s interested in how “social” can predict markets, specifically financial markets. (Me: It would be fascinating to track the correlation between trends on Twitter and trends on StockTwits. But that’s the old Mathie in me thinking out loud. And probably something that somebody somewhere is already doing.)

Dr. Raina Merchant’s project is at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. As a heart doctor at Penn, she was concerned that her patients could suffer simply because the good citizens of Philly didn’t know where the nearest defibrillator (AED) was located. As she looked into the topic, she found that not even paramedics, AED manufacturers, or other medical professionals knew where the nearest AED could be found.

She initially tried to get her team of two to walk the streets of Philadelphia to find these AEDs. They quickly realized they could not do this alone. So they “crowdsourced” the project, running a contest to get people (individuals and schools) to use their cell phones to take pictures of all the AEDs they saw, mapping the uploaded photos. The two grand prize winners each found more than 400 AEDs, and the project mapped >1500 AEDs in Philadelphia County. (The AED map is available as an app.)

Raina’s project proved that regular, well-known “platforms” can be used in innovative ways. It’s unnecessary to invest in cutting-edge technology to achieve spectacular results.

The panelists stressed two things above all others:

  1. Labor is capital. “Social” is not free, because there is a cost associated with labor.
  2. There is no longer a “wall” between virtual and real life. There is the expectation that the lines between the two are permanently blurred.

Both Jeremy and Phil said that there is more data being generated than anyone can process. Harnessing all that data is the big challenge. The next step will be figuring out how to do so.

Miscellaneous thoughts that caught my attention:

  • Original content is critical to success.
  • “We have overcome the tyranny of distance.” Samuel Morse, after his invention of the telegraph.
  • Earlier, traditional forms of education are dead or dying. (However, panelists + attendees could not identify what will replace those “traditional” forms of education. Khan Academy was mentioned, but as example of how thinking is changing, not how it has changed or as ultimate, final form.)

One attendee asked about evolving etiquette related to social media. For example (she asked), would the panelists be offended if she were Tweeting as they talked? Would they consider that rude?

On the contrary, they replied. (Immediately half the people in the workshop got out their iPhones and started Tweeting.) Tweeting or having a laptop/iPad out and typing away are now deemed equivalent of taking notes the old-fashioned way (like I was doing). Someone (Jeremy? Phil?) noted that the social media age is characterized by “continuous partial attention.” 🙂

What this means for Center for White Rose Studies: The people who will be most interested in, and most likely to participate in our projects are high school and college students (aged 14 – 24), including graduate students. They (you!) will be expecting new media, not traditional. Although we must have a certain amount of stability, not changing platforms on a whim, not adopting the newest new-best-thing just because it’s out there, we’ve got to remain flexible and agile.

I love Raina’s innovation. She and her team didn’t throw money at the problem. They worked out a low-budget solution that yielded amazing results. I want our board of directors, and our community, to help us come up with the same type of innovation. Let’s spend our grant money and donations wisely. Let’s keep overhead low and focus on KNOWLEDGE, on COLLABORATION, on EDUCATION.

I believe that the community that is Center for White Rose Studies will be able to start making a dent in all. that. information. I know that Phil and Jeremy were talking about financial and marketing data. But when I stop to consider how much “data” is out there about the Shoah, unprocessed, unmined, and consequently not understood? Wow. We have work to do, people. Please help us innovate in Raina-ways to achieve the impossible.

Finally, the Keynote Luncheon speaker was Barry Libert, CEO of OpenMatters. He defined social media according to three “rules”.

Rule #1: Listen. ‘We’re all technology companies these days – technology companies that happen to be financial services, human resources, manufacturers,’ [hey, he left out educators and historians!] ‘but we are all technology companies.’ The stress used to be placed on what we did or made. That has shifted to how we connect with people regarding what we do or make. We use technology to make those connections.

We must go beyond asking rotely, “How can I help you?” We must begin to mean those words, as expectations now dictate that we mean it! Think Apple versus Microsoft. We should strive for the Apple paradigm.

Social media requires a well-defined strategy that generally progresses through four stages:

  1. Ad hoc. Reduced risk. Low cost. Innovative. (Me: Center for White Rose Studies is clearly in this stage!)
  2. Planned. Increased capacity. Wider audience.
  3. Organized, with expanded success.
  4. Integrated. Optimal potential.

Rule #2. See. The result of “seeing” is engagement.

If a company combines multiple media platforms with innovation, the result is success.

And honestly, I stopped taking notes on Rule #2 at this point, because I was flabbergasted (and pleased) that he mentioned our innovation with our project worktables as an example of this point. Still stunned.

Rule #3. Let others speak. This point or rule stuck with me. ‘It’s not really social media,’ he said, ‘but rather human media. Social media is reaching out to humankind, humanKIND, with KINDness and compassion.’

We’re past the information age and must become “socially intelligent” in all our interactions (Me: not limited to business!). Companies no longer can rely on measuring assets, but must learn to measure human interactions. (Me: This echoes what Ted Rubin said about “return on relationship” as a new metric in corporate life.)

Employees are no longer to be seen as “costs” on the P&L. Rather, employees are assets. They can make or break the company they work for. (Me: In an earlier workshop, someone had noted that good companies no longer ban employee access to Facebook or YouTube during working hours. They know first that if they do so, even non-smokers will take “smoke breaks” to go outside and access Facebook and YouTube on their iPads. Second, good companies count on employees posting or Tweeting good things about their employer.)

Barry asked for feedback and comments on ways to improve the human connection. Nearly every suggestion revolved around compassion, caring about one’s co-worker, customer, employee, honestly and sincerely.

Two concluding comments:

  • Think simple and holistically, but start small.
  • Practice social skills every day. (Me: Note, social skills, not social media.)

What this means for Center for White Rose Studies: This underscores who we already are, what we already strive to BE. From our board’s CARE commitment, to our Ethics of Holocaust Scholarship, we’ve tried to define and implement guidelines that keep us focused on you, our community, strategies that embrace the wonderful messiness and glory that is humanity.

We want to keep the stories of these heroes who said NO to Hitler real, because the heroes were real. We’ve identified with them, and we invite you to do the same. And then once we’ve seen ourselves in them, maybe we can start to emulate their courage and their noble bravery.

We have started small. We need you to help us think!

Finally: When Steve Ennen, President and CIO of Social Strategy1, presented us with the award in the Media category, he praised our strategy of providing various portals to access the history of German resistance. But he especially liked our worktables for our archive projects, and told the attendees he believed it will change the way that people study history.

We think so too. His words were emphasized by Mukul Pandya, Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of Knowledge@Wharton. I told Mukul that I would value his input to how we go about our work (we are still in the ad hoc stage!), because none of us can know everything. That was precisely the motivation to set up these worktables: None of us can know everything.

With the ubiquity of social media, it makes no sense to stay isolated in an ivory tower. In the “olden days” before the Internet, knowledge could be controlled, access to information could be limited. That’s changed – forever. Teams of One are about as useful as a stone tablet and chisel in a Fortran Basic Cobol C++ (that is current, right?) class, about as relevant as CareerBuilder listings for keypunch operators.

Please join this conversation! Comment below to make suggestions, ask questions, provide direction. If any thread starts to take off, we’ll turn it into a post so that discussion can be highlighted and continued.

You, our community, are the key to our success. Thank you for joining this journey.