Recently, I attended a talk on social media by Jay Baer, co-author of The Now Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social. He was the perfect speaker for the topic– slightly geeky, articulate, deep and with a dry sense of humor.
What he said was this: Business (and any traditional organization) faces a new reality in the online world. Employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders have almost instant access to information. Business, used to operating in a measured, paced way, with all the experts participating and making decisions, now has to react and respond — fast. You can’t take days to respond — now you have hours at best. You’re operating in an environment where you can’t verify the issue at hand, you can’t take the time to contemplate a proper response, and you can’t coordinate a response within the organization. You have to know enough to be able to move — and move now.
Every customer can now be a reporter – and every employee a marketer and a customer service person. A business has to learn how to create conversations, because social media is about people, not logos or brands. And speed wins. Helpfulness wins.
Today, Baer said, social media is a job; soon it will be a skill. And its power is not in the company, but in the company’s people. Consider what that means for any top-down management culture (and that’s most of them) – ongoing conflict inside and outside the organization that will get worse before it gets better.
I heard all this, and I knew Baer had a listening device in my office. I am living what he was describing, including the organizational conflict.
What strikes me is how much of what Baer said is like the gospel message and Christianity’s early history. Christianity grew because of what its people did – speak truth, and care for widows and orphans and all the others ignored by Roman society. The disciples didn’t conduct a branded marketing campaign; there were no banner ads hanging from the Coliseum. In fact, if there were banner ads, they were Nero’s human torches and the people dying inside the Coliseum.
Christianity flourished because – like social media – it was decentralized and accessible to anyone. And just like the people who use social media, the people who were Christians could do wonderful things and at the same time create horrible distortions – heresies like Arianism that at times almost overwhelmed the church.
What can business and Christians both learn from what’s happening with social media?
Social media has two related currencies – relationship and trust. It’s not about how many people follow you on Twitter or how many Facebook friends you have; it’s about the quality of the relationships you have with people, and whether that quality is sufficient to engender trust. Small groups of people who have solid relationships and implicitly trust each other can accomplish very surprising things.
Jesus anchored his ministry in relationships. Yes, he fed the 5,000, but he focused on the 12. Paul usually offended the majority in the synagogues and marketplaces but there were always the few who listened and heeded, and he focused on them. It was all about relationships, and from the relationships came trust.
That trust transformed the world.
Our organizational realities are being remade by social media and the rise of the online world. We can hide behind our office walls, hoping it will all go away, convincing ourselves that it really doesn’t matter and the new advertising campaign will solve all our problems. Or we can start listening and talking with people, taking the first step toward relationship and trust.
This article has been revised from its original publication at The High Calling. Used with permission under creative commons.
Photograph by Ave Lainesaar via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.