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Complain. Consume. Create.

The first two are easy – complain and consume. But the third, which is where the solutions are, is the most difficult. It’s easy to buy anything these days. A phone. A car. A television. Then complain about all the things that are wrong with it. But to create anything new requires extraordinary effort and the willingness to be wrong. So most of us will spend all our lives doing the easy things – and very little doing the most difficult thing

Let’s start with the complaints. Everything is wrong. Schools don’t work. Traffic is bad. Governments are corrupt. Business destroys resources. Hospitals are the scourge of the earth. Religion polarises people. Young people have lost their direction. This is something we all discuss since we experience some aspect of this in day to day life. But we are content to leave it to those who supposedly have the power and the solutions – the government. How many initiatives do we take up on our own and then champion them? Hardy anything, since the process of change, is long, mystifying and frustrating.

We’re very happy to consume. The latest phones. The biggest blockbusters. The flashiest cars. The king sized burgers. The palatial houses. The pizza with ten extra toppings. The designer dresses. The glittering jewels. The procession of cities through airplane and train windows on package travel tours. Life, in other words, is best when it is a never-ending shopping trip.Or so some people believe. Complaining about the way the world is helps to blow off steam and reduce stress levels. Consumption does make us happy in the short term, at least until the gloss and the excitement of the purchase blow over.

But creation is different. When Salman Khan set out to teach his cousins mathematics and put up those scrawly tuitions on YouTube, he had no idea that he would be redefining education in a fundamental way. He had not set out to change the world. He simply solved the problem of distance, time and repetition required to learn a subject by making it available to his cousins to learn – 24/7. Not within the confines of a classroom, but anywhere in the world. In the process, he redefined the problem of creating millions of great teachers to one of creating access because, with Khan Academy’s system, a million students can learn at the same time.

If you Google for inventions that changed the world, the results are startling The first ball point pen did not appear until 1950 – and now about 14 million are sold every day. The bicycle was invented only around 1820 or so. The bra was not around before 1913. The button was invented in prehistoric times, but the buttonhole came into being only in the 13th century! Did that leap actually require over 1000 years of thought? And it took 200 years after the lead pencil was invented to dream up the eraser! The paper clip, an essential part of every office and liberally quoted as an icon of design excellence was invented only in 1892.

Just goes to prove that we are great when it comes to consumption. I’ll leave the truth about complaining to your judgement. If only we created more than we complain or consume, the world would be a far better place!

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Facebook ‘Likes’ are claps

One of the measures of social media relevance is the number of ‘likes’ you can get on the brand page. But like using megapixels to determine the clarity of an image, it’s probably the least effective metric of engagement.

Imagine you were a speaker at a convention. And at the end of your talk, the audience claps politely. They ‘liked’ your speech. But how many were truly influenced? How many were motivated enough to give feedback at the end of a session? Or were you just another speaker who filled a space for a short time and got due acknowledgment? That’s the trouble with just accumulating likes without aiming for a deeper connection.

Staying on the speaker analogy, what your brand needs is action. When people rally around or bombard you with questions at the end of your talk, you know you have touched a nerve, challenged their assumptions. There are people who ask for your card and want to stay in touch. They are the genuine fans, the ones you can build a deeper bond with. Even in a large audience of 500-600, you can hope for deep connections with just a fraction. The rest may simply not be interested in your ideas or moved enough to contribute or even stay in touch later. But that’s ok. One of the rules of brands that really go places is that they build a committed core – and it grows from there

The successful brand pages, the ones that have already got millions of fans use social media to drive their core to expand the base. Look at the Red Bull Facebook page. It literally tells you on a day to day basis that the brand is into adventure and extreme sport and let you know if some thing’s happening close to you. The other thing that Red Bull expends a lot of energy on is to recruit brand ambassadors whose job is to throw Red Bull parties. The profile of the brand ambassador is sharply etched – they need to be active, social and fun loving individuals with entrepreneurial and leadership qualities. Helping people have fun is their job.

Does it then mean that social media is largely for brands that have the potential for a social connect, as opposed to those which don’t? In a sense, yes. Trying to be social when your product and market are inherently not is a lot like trying to be an extrovert when you are an introvert. You end up looking like a wannabe who is trying too hard and that actually gets you more pity than social mileage. For example, here’s the BP America Facebook page. Every single post gets criticism and angry activists attacking the company’s policies, practices and profits. These are cuts that go really deep. It’s the equivalent of having graffiti right next to your suave advertising message. Every fact is thrown back, heckled and stamped upon. It’s a PR disaster that does nothing to improve the company’s image – even though there are over 300,000 ‘likes’ for the page.

The simple lesson is that social is not for every brand – and some brands are safer staying away from the social arena. It’s like Principals gatecrashing the dorm party. They aren’t welcome and everyone lets them know it!