The role of comms in rethinking civilization

I've noticed that I have found myself gravitating towards big topic panels here at South by Southwest Interactive, partly because I am more into subjects that act as catalysts for thought.

I've noticed that I have found myself gravitating towards big topic panels here at South by Southwest Interactive, partly because I am more into subjects that act as catalysts for thought, rather than those that are focused on telling us what we should be thinking. It gives me the freedom to adapt these provocative topics to my life and my work as a communicator. My filter for selecting the panels has been determining what I think will leave me with the most feedstock for ideas.

And so was the compelling presentation by author and thinker Don Tapscott, “Rethinking Civilization for the Social Age,” who framed the importance of all of this technology, the shifts in demographics, and the global social and economic dynamic. He offers the notion that in a world where financial systems, governments, and corporations are failing at solving the most critical and fundamental human challenges, it will be millions of self-organized and networked people who will disrupt power and solve the world's most complex challenges.

For those who have been using social media for clients, this may strike you as an obvious statement, but the concept is bigger that than the crowdsourcing that we bat around as part of campaigns. He highlights some of the more recent examples of social disruption and mobilization of networked communities, like the Occupy movement and Arab Spring, and that the convergence of the technological revolution, the “net generation,” and the social and economic revolutions are the fundamental drivers of change. Tapscott states that our challenge and greatest opportunity is to rebuild networked civilizations to solve problems.

He shares what many of us as marketers and communicators already know, that because of transparency fueled by an empowered, socially-connected population, companies are forced to stand naked. He continues to say that if you are going to stand naked, you better be fit.

If we believe in the merit of his thinking, I see that our responsibility as stewards of our clients' brands is to help build fitness:
  • Shape and communicate brand principles that can be both aspirational yet realistically operationalized, ultimately developing clients' reputation as a responsible global citizen;
  • Encourage openness to allow consumers to solve business problems using social media as an opportunity for engagement;
  • Use a brand's distinct value to facilitate solutions to the challenges that impact people most, not by pushing product but by first addressing areas of fundamental need. This will only further build brand integrity.
There is something that I find tremendously helpful about taking the time to frame where we are in our (r)evolution. The blistering pace of change and the technology innovations that fuel our day-to day lives set a frenetic pace. No place embodies that more than the experience at SXSWi, but pulling back allows us to quietly see it all from afar and I appreciate those here contributing both to the frenetic and the contemplative.

Chad Latz is president of the global digital practice at Cohn & Wolfe. You can follow Don Tapscott and the conversation about rethinking civilization on Twitter at @dtapscott using the hashtag #sxrethinkciv.

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