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Run your own newspaper
2012-03-10: I love reading many books at once (I've two Sunday sofa books, many loo books & articles, and lots of stuff I'm working through at my desk), and interspersing it with radio and TV. I find reading a bit here and a bit there, mixing it all up, to be a great source of new and inspiring ideas.
Today's massive whoa! moment was this.
Listening to Excess Baggage this morning, there was a chap on talking about how enormously brave it must have been of those soldiers at the charge of the light brigade to ride their horses into murderous fire. What I felt, hearing that, was the bravery of the soldiers, and how brave one must be to be a soldier. It was a standard against which soldiers must hold themselves.
But hang on a minute. I've just read the account of the charge of the light brigade in The Hinge Factor which quotes Encyclopedia Britannica saying The Crimean War was "the worst conducted military campaign in British History" and goes on to detail how a commander positioned himself so far from the action it took dispatch riders half an hour to convey his orders. The book calls Lord Cardigan incapable and dangerously stupid and the story that unfolds is about those soldiers being sacrificed because of grammatical errors, misunderstanding, people blindly following orders and sheer leadership incompetence.
So why isn't the moral of the Charge of the Light Brigade "never follow your leaders because they are unredeemed fuckwits"?
Because the press isn't in our hands. It's owned and written by the fuckwits, by the people who would have us conscripted and ridden into enemy fire for Queen and country and a place in history.
So here's an interesting thing. Now, we have social media. Now, ordinary people like me and you have access to a press of our own. Twitter, created in 2006, is already credited with several revolutions.
Now, we can write our own history. OK we could do that before if we were a folk singer, poet, rapper or storyteller, but those take skill and skill takes time and only the best win which means if you're doing it after a shift, you're always going to be behind someone of independent means. They may seem like they are of the commoner, but they aren't. Twitter is closer.
I'm also reading The Myth Of Leadership which is about creating leaderless organisations .. because that's sort of what this whole social media thing is about. I'm interested in how we can organise social media to get stuff done.
The issue about history being written by the winners is probably something most people have taken on board at some point, but here's something awesome. As humans we love stories. We like a narrative arc, it's just how we are made. For example, a person you can identify with is in this position when x happens. They act upon that and are further challenged by y and then would you believe it, z, but they emerge victorious having changed and learned some universal truths along the way. Stories become popular because they bolster popular universal truths and create a sense of community and shared values. All a beautiful shoe-in for propaganda (and a main reason why I generally don't enjoy Hollywood films).
So .. amazing realisation imminent .. history is presented in that way. Henry VIII this, that, the other, tadahh! But that's not real. It's that way because that's how we best understand things, from the early millennia before writing when we hung around campfires. Storytelling and song were the only ways we could pass on history. In truth, events are "the consequence of many different factors and the subtle influence of small acts .. we tend to overlook and devalue the impact of the vast majority of people who lack status but who truly contribute to making things work."
In other words, the whole storytelling, narrative arc thing makes us think leaders are great, when in fact, most of the time they just happen to be riding a wave-of-us going "whoooooaaaaaaa, WTF?", with a team of PR writers making it sound great after the fact.
Another thing that came to mind from Excess Baggage was the bloke who had been all over Russia who, when asked "where should someone go" said first "go to Moscow where you'll see the history, the monuments, the leaders, the churches", and it occurred to me that travel to see the sights is propaganda too.
So here's the thing. Suddenly, we have access to a press of our own and it's called Social Media. We can share our experiences, pass on our own truths and we no longer have to wait for a journalist to publicise our grievance.
That's massive, and it's new, and it must be very threatening to those in power.
So, watch. Facebook has just sold shares. Assange is being sucked into a life alone in a Texan jail. Social media is funded, either by advertising or .. what? There's a fight for control of this new 'press'. This moment might be as free as it gets. Social media is amazing, protect your ability to speak freely and to reach others.
From a marketing point of view if I'm going to advise your company my advice will be what it's always been. Branding has to be true. You can't say "we care" and then use abusive labour, for example. You can't say "we build quality vehicles" and sell a clown car. On Facebook recently I discussed a film made by a friend about lovely chickens and their lovely life before becoming a fast food meal. That person was challenged by two people who had worked in a factory that also supplied the company. Never eat 'this' because 'this happens', were the stories.
In a world losing privacy, it won't be long before pretty much everything is public domain. Your business practices will be examinable. Your ex-employees will talk, your employees will covertly film. They'll only do that if there's a big gap between what you say and what you do.
And on the plus side, if you're good, people will be your advocate. So be good. Good business, and good marketing are blow-away amazing. Make sure you're on the right side of the social media revolution.

By John Allsopp
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