Purpose ideas, Social Objects: Lolcats or changing the world


Pic (probably my all time fave of Hugh's cartoons) c/o Gapingvoid.com

There's been a great conversation stimulated over the last couple of days by the ever thoughtful Hugh who's being trying to explain the connection between Purpose Ideas and Social Objects and why it needs to be tight. I love the way he's always teasing at the theory to really make sense of it for practitioners.

And, most appropriately, the conversation's been picked up and carried on by John, John and Mark here on Feeding the Puppy.

I just wanted to add a couple of things to the debate:

1. Purpose ideas are what really drive brilliant businesses and make them worthwhile engaging with, either as an employee or customer (as per my comment at Feeding the Puppy).

Of course, you can have a business that measures itself purely in terms of financials and many out there are like this BUT (and it's a big BUT) if you want yours to outperform financial businesses you need to build your business on something beyond money, on something that connects with the world outside, on something that really matters to you (and hopefully your customers). For too long we've thought about the world of business merely as an economic sphere when the important piece has always been the connection of the business with a broader public, "society", say. Purpose-ideas help us reforge that connection and rebalance the equation.

2. That's why (Mark, are you listening?) you can build you PI around almost anything – anything that is, except money

3. That said, John's comments (and of course, Hugh's musings, too) point up that the dangers of just having a social object without it being routed in something you really believe in. What they're criticising is, if you like, social object-as-tactic, rather than social object-as-strategy. As we get used to the social thing, I suspect, we're going to need social objects connected back – rooted, maybe – to something that really matters to the brand or company or whatever. This is why the connection Hugh argues for is so important – it goes beyond mere sociality…

4. We need to mean it, maaaaaaan…

Have been re-reading Clay Shirky's latest and am really taken by his distinction between the (merely) social and the civic: the former being summed up by Lolcats or just generating WoM and buzz for the sake of it; the latter being characterised by actually doing something to improve the world in which its users live using social tools and sociality.

At the moment, too much of "social object" schtick that I come across is Lolcats; not enough rooted in a genuine desire to make things better – with a Purpose Idea.



1 Comment

  1. John V Willshire
    August 23, 2010

    Mornin’ Squire
    Well put… it is indeed the dangers of social-object-as-tactic that I think is important to recognise. And I think it’s rooted in that most modern of issues we have – when clients ask ‘…but how many people will it reach’?
    By defaulting to something as a social-object that ‘everyone can do/get involved in’, what you actually end up with more often than not I would suggest is something that’s of such mass interest that…
    a) Anyone could do it… and not even just in your sector, ANY company at all. Which means it’s hard for people to remember who actually did it.
    b) When it finishes, it doesn’t leave any sort of lasting legacy for your business. It’s just an attention tactic like the old ‘gorilla-in-a-jockstrap’ adage.
    For ‘gorilla-in-a-jockstrap’, read ‘kitten-with-a-caption’…