Today, as many contemplate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it might useful to remember that men such as Mahatma Gandhi and MLK were harnessing the power of “Social Media” long before the internet provided all of us with easy access to the tools to build social networks and effect change. These men were driven by, and tapped into, the powerful forces that are unleashed when grave injustices are unmasked and injected into the consciousness of an inherently compassionate population.
The principles that Gandhi and MLK used to engage, motivate and call to action large numbers of people who connected with their vision of justice and change, are the very same that drive the successful use of Social Media today. Surely not everyone building a community of followers, or a “Tribe” as social media evangelist Seth Godin might call them, are doing so for progressive or benevolent causes. But it is worth noting that these men created dramatic and enduring change without violence, without the support of powerful corporations and without easy access to mass media. What they understood was that compelling ideas, when communicated through communities of like minded people, can motivate large numbers of individuals to take action. And those people can change the world.
Today, the average person has access to community building tools that did not exist in the time of Gandhi or MLK. Today it is so much easier for the average person or small organization to publish ideas and motivate others with a compelling call to action. As a marketer I am aware of and endorse the use of these tools for commerce and trade – even if it means I have to be subjected to hundreds of invitations to get whiter teeth or easily shed unwanted pounds. I am free to choose which messages I engage or ignore.
Social Media can help a start-up learn about their client’s needs, small companies are able to build reputations by adding value to their engagements with existing and prospective clients, new entrepreneurs can identify new markets and design products to serve them. All of these things are made easier through the evolving Social Media tools that are available to most of us at little or no cost thanks to the internet. Good stuff, all of it.
As I think about MLK’s legacy, I am inspired by the power contained in a compelling idea, and I am excited about how the tools, now in the hands of virtually everyone reading this blog, can amplify the voice of ordinary people to create extraordinary results. Yes purveyors of hate and exploitation also have access to these very tools, but I am not discouraged by this. U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis once wrote: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
All of us now have the ability to shed sunlight on those ideas and concepts that we find most compelling and share them with the communities that we build and nurture. To some that might mean tweets about whiter teeth or sexy pictures. To others, many others, it may mean finding ways to enrich the experience we share with our communities… to effect change, to speak truth to power, to hold companies accountable for the products they sell, to spread the word about great new music, films or cool new products…. to help shed light on someone’s vision, to help turn someone’s compelling idea into reality….. ideas like this one:
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
Martin Luther King – excerpt from “A Letter from A Birmingham Jail” - 4/16/1963
Happy MLK Day!