Now is the moment you’ve been waiting for

There are a great many “changemakers” who have been working diligently to create positive social change in their communities around the world. They create systems, reimagine futures and galvanise communities to bring this change to life. Sometimes this manifests as consultation, social impact hackathons, or placemaking innovation. Other times, it involves developing peer support networks, educating those at the margins of our society or raising the profile of others working on systemic change at community or government levels.

It is hard, emotional – and often largely under-funded work.

To understand how social change actually happens, we look to “problems worth solving” – the large scale, deeply ingrained, intractable problems that, if solved, would generate both economic returns and social impact. We call this creating “shared value”. Often the problems that are worth solving don’t get the attention that they deserve because, by their nature, they are difficult to solve. Often the core issue is well known and well understood by domain experts and those who live with these challenges each and every day. And in most cases, the problem worth solving has been tackled many times – yet persists. One high profile “problem worth solving” is climate change. Another is homelessness.

What is often missing in the social change program is the “burning platform”. Yes, climate change is urgent. Yes, homelessness needs to be fixed. But tackling these issues can be delayed when messaging is obscured, or when political energy is easily retargeted. By their very nature, “shared value” programs require multi-stakeholder buy-in from at least three groups:

  • Citizens
  • Governments / formal bodies
  • Other stakeholders – corporate or community.

Without all three, the program will fizzle out and fail.

In Australia, Beyond Zero Emissions have set out The Million Jobs Plan. It covers seven key sectors, from energy, building and manufacturing to transport, recycling and land use through to training – where targeted investment and activation would transform communities, industries and the lives of Australians. It is an ambitious program that has begun the hard work of galvanising multi-stakeholder groups.

Living with COVID19 has provided a unique opportunity. COVID19 has delivered the burning platform that many changemakers have been waiting for. As Dave Marvit explains:

As the virus fades, it will once again become hard to effect change. Systems will ossify and resist improvement. But we have this unique moment when the cement has, temporarily, unset. We should use it.

Dave Marvit, Grey Swan Guild

The time to make change happen, is now. Let’s get to work.

Lessons in Corporate Social Reputation Management from Dell

Dell have learned their social media lessons the hard way. In fact, you’ve probably heard more than one of their success stories.

These successes have been achieved in a systematic way, using targeted approaches and clear measurements. As shown in this presentation, step 1 is listening and engagement, with step 2, the creation of an online influencer relations program.

But the thing I like most is slide 4. Once you are listening and you have begun your influencer relations program, think about the programs that you are going to build out in each of your lines of business. Look for business champions who see the need and have the opportunity. Look for the quick wins and then promote those champions to the other lines of business. Back up these “hero” stories with measurements and outcomes (even preliminary outcomes are fine). And finally, share best practices. Rinse and repeat.

From Little Things, Big Things Grow – WorldNomads and the World of Micropayments

For some time I have been mulling over an idea. I’m grappling with the complexity of the world in which we live and with the changes I can see taking place before my eyes. I’m working through what it means to work, to live and to make a difference to our families, our friends and our colleagues. And I am doing this in a practical way – in my work for SAP North America’s Premier Customer Network and also as a member of the board of youth not for profit, Vibewire.

I have been drawn to sites like and that transform the relationship between individuals and organisations (and amongst us as well) – and I like what they are doing and where they are going. All these things are starting to weave together in my mind, loosely, under what I am calling The Social Way. But is there an example?

No doubt you will have heard about micropayments – small transactions that, when pooled together add up to a whole lot. We see them everyday in our ATM withdrawals (press YES to allow us to charge you $2 for this transaction). But rather than having a micropayment roll into your general revenues, what if you could use that to do some good? How big could it go? What broader impact could make with micropayments?

In this TEDx talk, Chris Noble from travel insurance company,, talks about their Footprints program, and how in the wake of the Asian tsunami in 2004, that WorldNomads put the idea of micropayments to the test. By simply asking customers whether they would add a donation to their insurance premium, WorldNomads transformed and galvanised their customer base into something greater – into a community with a shared purpose. And that purpose was not just to have a good time – but to DO some good.

Listen to the story in Chris’ own words. It sounds very much like The Social Way … or at least one of the paths we can follow.

Where Are You on the Trust Barometer?

Whenever the social media conversation shifts to “influence” – who has it, how you can get it and what it’s worth, you know we’re talking trust. After all, what we perceive as “influence” is simply a combination of trust and relevance – a heady mix of the right audience, a trusted shepherd and a call to action.

Don’t believe me?

Nicholas Christakis has an interesting post on the power of twitter and its ability to influence a large following. As he explains, Alyssa Milano with her celebrity and her 1.3 million strong Twitter following would normally be considered “influential”. But when she tweeted out a link to the Amazon page of a book called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks & How They Shape Our Lives, the roar of social media silence was deafening.  There was not ONE clickthrough. Not one sale.

It seems – finally – that we are seeing the reality of trust and the power of relevance. That’s why I am particularly interested in this report from Edelman Australia – the 2011 Australian Edelman Trust Barometer.

Launched today (see the Tweetstream), this is the third survey to be carried out in Australia, but we are already seeing some interesting trending:

  • Coming out of the GFC, we saw an upswing in trust in government (54%) and businesses (52%)
  • Trust in NGOs (65%) is the highest of any Australian institution, with the Media well down at 32%

The full report is embedded below and can be downloaded from Slideshare. It makes for interesting reading.

But what does this mean for brands and marketers?

As one of the launch panellists, Vanessa Hall, pointed out, trust is created through the interplay of the message or story the brand wants to tell, the expectations of your customers/stakeholders and the promise that exists between the two (my interpretation here). This is where the challenge comes – after all, our customers are rarely interested in the brand story, and their interpretation of your brand promise is often different from where you (on the client or agency side) tend to see it.

And with social media, individuals are now well equipped to engage with brands in a public (and searchable) sphere. Positive and negative brand experiences can be published, shared and amplified around the world in minutes – and this makes “trust” all the more important. As the report points out, “Trust is a protective agent …”. And yes, it can lead to tangible sales.

But, we need to consider the following trends:

  • Aligning our business purpose with a greater good (CSR is a good start)
  • Strong support for NGOs (consider partnering with an NGO to build your trust profile)
  • Multiple voices in multiple channels (while CEOs have increased level of trust and respect, use expert voices across your business and in multiple channels to build a network of influence)

Perhaps, most importantly, you need to think about all this in relation to YOUR business. Where do you sit on the trust barometer? And how are you going to improve?

COP16: 16 Journeys from 16 Countries in 16 Weeks – Can I Count You In?

Last year, as Christmas came around, there was a powerful groundswell around climate change, culminating in the COP15 conference in Copenhagen (COP15 stands for the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). You may remember I was quite excited about “Hopenhagen” and the crowd sourced ambassador program put together by the Huffington Post. But it all felt too rushed. There was not enough time to build momentum outside the web world – we needed businesses on our side, governments to commit and we needed a grass roots, community activation plan that no one could ignore.

Despite the noise generated by Copenhagen, it was clear that the agreements not to agree, had been hammered out well beforehand. The groundswell arrived too late. It was all noise but no movement.

So I want to start early this year. COP16, to be held in Mexico in December, is the next global rallying point. But to make this successful, we need to do a lot more preparation in the lead up. And that means STARTING NOW.

What I am proposing is this …

COP16 – 16 Journeys from 16 Countries in 16 Weeks

I am looking for teams of participants in 16 countries. These teams will travel from their country of origin to Mexico, but they will do so over 16 weeks. They will travel where possible using sustainable technologies – electric or diesel cars, trains, boats, gliders – whatever comes to hand. The teams may hand off to others relay-style or stay the course from beginning to end.

Their task is not just to ARRIVE, but to EDUCATE, HARNESS and MOTIVATE people along the way. The aim is to create awareness and build a movement, town by town, truck stop by truck stop.

But this is not just about people. It’s also about business. We’ll be asking those sustainable businesses around the world how they can help. Who can provide the cars, the support, the transport, the logistics and the planning? Who can help us bridge the world’s oceans? Who can demonstrate their business innovation and global leadership by helping us achieve these aims?

And, of course, this is about stories. About the real stories of people touched already by climate change. It’s about the future stories of generations – that these teams can begin to also tell.

But this is also about YOU. These are only beginning ideas. I need you to rally around. Share your thoughts and best ideas. I need you to think about your NETWORKS – about who you know and how they can help. Share this idea – build on it – and let’s make sure that COP16 is not a cop-out.

Just don’t be silent!

The Case for Hope and the Need for Action

Hopenhagen solbadningIn a little over two weeks, the world’s leaders will be meeting in Copenhagen to discuss and hopefully agree on decisions to reduce carbon emissions. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) is perhaps the last chance to achieve consensus on this contentious issue.

Why should you care?

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the carbon emissions for all countries must (not will) peak no later than 2015. These emissions then must reduce by 80% or more by 2050 if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Sounds bad, right? Sounds difficult, yes?

The thing is, we are being asked to make decisions – or rather – we are asking/pushing our leaders to make decisions on our behalf. But these decisions won’t just change our lives – they will have far reaching impacts on our children and grandchildren. How important are your children to you? What kind of world do you want to see them live in?

5 May 8 - Sprinkler 5I don’t know about you, but one of the most joyous memories I have from childhood is running through a sprinkler with my brother on the hot days of summer. These simple, common activities bond us as families and communities – they signify where you grew up – where you belong. And I have a feeling that losing these things will profoundly affect the way that we see ourselves as a society.

Already, the world I live in looks vastly different to the one I grew up in – and the opportunities and experiences I had may simply not be available to future generations.

Is this a big deal for business?

One of the biggest challenges for business is not necessarily the costs involved with climate change – it is the uncertainty. As James Farrar points out, “Most business leaders already understand that CO2 emissions are a significant risk to the sustainability of their business but they lack the regulatory certainty and incentives necessary to begin to deal with the problem.” Once these frameworks and incentives are in place, business leaders will be able to focus on the programs of change, innovation and investment that will put them at the forefront of their industries.

What? You're a climate change skeptic?

I am not asking you to change your beliefs. I know all the facts in the world won’t change your position. I am just asking you what are you prepared to risk? What is the risk of inaction?

What can you do?

You can start by registering your petition with the Hopenhagen website – calling on global leaders to “seal the deal”. There are Facebook applications, blog posts, T-shirts and so on – all available from the Hopenhagen website.

Of course, there is more. There is always more that we can do. The important thing is to start.

Measuring the Hybrid Car ROI

A car purchase is the second most expensive investment that an individual is likely to make (the first being their home). And in that respect, consumers come close in behaviour to their B2B counterparts — after all, vehicles are expensive, have ongoing cost requirements and (whether we like it or not) reflect on our own sense of self. Accordingly, when it comes to purchase time, we shop around, do our homework, check blog posts, search engines and customer satisfaction ratings. We ask friends for recommendations, take a keener interest in the cars we pass in the street, and think through the implications of this major purchase.

Recently though, the greater awareness (and concern for) the environment, coupled with ever spiralling oil prices has seen a massive spike in the popularity of hybrid cars. (Some US states have gone so far as to mandate the production of eco-friendly cars.) But, even a cursory glance at the prices of hybrid cars shows that they are significantly more expensive, meaning that you will need a longer timeframe before your hybrid car breaks even with its petrol equivalent.

EcoCalc However, there are other factors at play in the calculation of ROI — and Todd Andrlik has developed a great online tool that brings carbon emissions into the calculation. Originally developed to assist his employer, Leopardo Constructions, in calculating the ROI impacts for their fleet of company vehicles, the calculator has now been made widely available. Simply enter a few variables about the vehicles you are comparing, press calculate, and you will receive data about fuel savings, unreleased carbon emissions and ROI timeframes. Check it out here.

It is a wonder that companies like Toyota or Honda, makers of leading hybrid vehicles have not produced something similar.

Brands — Are Bloggers in Your Sights?

Minilarson03 From the outside, the "blogosphere" is a weird, anarchic and slightly self-obsessed world. With over 70 million blogs and countless thousands starting up each day, it is little wonder that most brand managers, marketing directors and CEOs have no idea where to start.

But have you thought about it? Who are these people who write blogs? And how would you respond if a "blogger" contacted you? Do you have a strategy? A policy? Any idea?

Here is how one leading brand responded to an inquiry about their latest ad campaign:

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because [we do not] … participate with nontraditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest".

Can you guess which brand this is? Have you heard about it already?

To my surprise, this was the response that was sent by Target to Amy Jussel, Executive Director of Shaping Youth. Amy had written to Target protesting about the depiction on their latest billboard — they are, after all, a family brand and one which should have an affinity with organisations such as Shaping Youth. Indeed, Target’s "values" include the following statement:

From national partnerships to local initiatives to our own programs, Target is committed to making our communities better places to live.

This story has now been picked up by the New York Times … and has spread like wildfire. And while the focus of discussion by NYT has been around whether brands should treat bloggers the same as traditional media outlets, there are other things to consider. Amy is not your average blogger — she runs a professional and high profile not-for-profit organisation. She is a parent and she is a regular patron of Target. Before this episode, there was clear a affinity between Amy, Shaping Youth and the Target brand. But the actions (or non-actions) of one of Target’s employees (or PR team) has had an amplified reaction. What could have been done better. Let’s take a look:

  • Keep it real: Clearly Target has a digital/social media strategy of some sort. They have done some high profile work with Facebook and have amassed over 20,000 members to their group — so clearly the response was not completely honest.
  • Quick research: In the time it takes to send a form response to an inquiry, you can easily do a search on the domain, the blog or the profile of the person writing in. In Amy’s case, Shaping Youth clearly appears at the top of a Google search with the following description — "Shaping Youth is a consortium of media and marketing professionals concerned about harmful media messages to children". A moment’s research can help guide your response.
  • Blog it for free: Time and time again, companies ask whether they should blog or not. Clearly a consumer brand could actively use a blog to engage, converse and discuss a range of topics. A blog would have provided a space for this discussion and would have allowed them to enter this conversation in a more natural and harmonious way.

For brands, the question might be "are bloggers in your sights"? The reverse is certainly true — brands are in the sights of bloggers. And while one blogger acting alone may have limited impact, en-masse, it is a very different ball game. Perhaps Target could benefit from the social media insight and skills of Mack Collier, Drew McLellan or Christina Kerley.

What do you think? Is TargetGate a parallel to Dell Hell?

SAP Communities Support the World Food Program

We all continue to debate the merits of Web 2.0 and social media. Various pundits proclaim the end of Web 2.0 and the demise of blogging while others extol the virtues of digital conversation and the opportunities it presents for forms of social activism. But I firmly believe that we are still in the very early stages of understanding what the REAL opportunities are.

One of the companies who are really pushing the limits of exploration in this space is SAP (disclaimer — this is where I work). Today, in what I think is a world first, the SAP communities announced that the community points recognition system is being transformed. Instead of printing and shipping shirts all around the world to "top contributors", SAP are aggregating the points collected and transforming these into a single, cumulative donation to Feed School Children (part of the UN’s World Food Programme).

If the points accumulated next year reach the same proportion as 2007, then SAP will donate 100,000 Euro. If this can be improved by 20% (ie 20% more contributions to the forums, wikis and blogs), then SAP will increase this to 150,000 Euro — and so on up to a maximum of 200,000 Euro.

This is an exciting innovation that I would love to see adopted by other companies and brands.