Joe Trippi, a leading political strategist, spoke at the Mashable Connect 2012 group today about what he calls the Age of Empowerment – where the massive Goliaths of the corporate world are under threat by a flood of “self organized armies of Davids”. We, those in marketing and digital, have been groomed to help companies become Goliath – but what do we, and our clients, do when digital and social forces are working against traditional power structures? According to Trippi, the answer is to help hand out slingshots — like Apple, creating ipads, iphones, etc that help to empower people to go after Goliath, and Goliath – sized problems.
To Trippi, the political power structure that supports this corporate structure has become corroded – across the board, it’s broken, much as before the printing press, disenfranchising the poor and their needs in the favor of those of the rich and the corporations they own. He contends that this situation is unsustainable and beginning to break down.
Carville’s famous quote has changed – where it used to be the economy, stupid, now it’s the network, stupid. The scale and power of the tools available to execute political campaigns has shifted massively even since the last presidential election. When obamas campaign was finished, he had over 100k followers on Twitter. Now he has over 15 million – a step change in his ability to work directly with voters. In the past, when you had to cut a deal at the top of a labor movement or another interest group to get their members, the dynamics were set, and encouraged corruption. When people become fans of campaigns, there isn’t a need to go to the interest groups.
(I’m not sure that last piece is entirely true – even if the campaigns are speaking directly to voters, people tend to follow the advice of those they respect. That said, political campaigns ability to speak and interact directly with people will likely make interest groups more accountable to their users, lest they seem out of touch vs. the campaigns talking directly to their members.)
Probably the most compelling example of using technology for better government was that of the connected campaign of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, where SMS, Facebook and Twitter was used as the central hub and messages went into the poorest villages via SMS – even in a country with 13% internet penetration. Now, the Nigerian government is using their Facebook page as a means of taking suggestions for improving Nigerian government, including opening an embassy in San Fransisco in order to connect Nigerian tech talent with an area that might be able to leverage it. While the Obama campaign has done something similar with its open petitions initiative, the Nigerian example is based on frank conversation, where the Obama effort has come under fire for being less than responsive to key audience concerns.
Trippi’s thoughts resonate for me in the context of the need for brands to define and live their purpose as a means of connecting with their audiences and being responsive to their values. Unfortunately, sometimes the way that brands define and live their purposes can lack force. The question Trippi poses – what slingshots is your brand distributing? – looks to me like a useful filter for brand purpose and the implementation of that purpose. If the brand isn’t helping take down an audience-relevant Goliath by empowering its people to with weapons help fight together, they’re off the mark.