I want to sincerely thank Fast Company for the many articles written on what is happening around the world to empower people in developing communities, especially the most recent cover story on Matt Damon and his organization Water.org ("Can This Man Save This Girl?"). I almost hesitated to read it, nervous that it would be too good to be true. Of course, it was the high-caliber writing and content that I have come to enjoy from Fast Company. It speaks to the many things in which I am interested: entrepreneurial thought, technology and innovation, and unique and creative ways people are making a difference in the world. Fast Company's focus helps these seemingly disconnected areas of my interests appear perfectly intertwined. For this, I am grateful. I look forward to having my mind further expanded with each issue.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Ellen McGirt's look at Water.org highlights an interesting and innovative model for addressing water issues in Africa, but the piece fails to directly quote any Africans. It's an example of erasure journalism—the reporting eliminates Africans from their stories and replaces them with Westerners. The title likewise reflects disinterest in the voice and agency of Africans, and the accompanying photos—Damon with a glowing iconographic halo, a downward-angled shot of a Malian girl crouching in a muddy hole—are an unthinking reinforcement and assertion of power inequality and stereotype. I'm surprised Water.org would condone an article like Fast Company's. By failing to include any African perspective on an African issue, the piece stands as a statement that African voices are not worthy of being heard.
This year, I asked my engineering master's students if we should go back to the moon or bring water to the whole world. They said there was no profit in bringing water to the poor, but going to the moon would develop jobs and inspire innovation. When I suggested that jobs and innovation would come from such a challenge as watering the planet, they acted as if I were crazy.
In the same way we have developed solid analytics for online conversion funnels, we will soon see methods for rating the ROI of social-media campaigns ("[Like] + [Retweet] = $$$?"). It is a much harder problem to solve, but psychology provides some clues on how to proceed. Social media is driven by our natural desire to share with others, and this sharing leads to effects of reciprocation and trust. Companies and brands are beginning to insert themselves into this cycle and benefit from the effects. We can quantify the magnitude of changes using the same general schemes as in psychology studies, but the trick is connecting this to dollars.
Unmentioned in this story is the damage a brand can do by obtaining "likes" and then boring consumers with a lifetime of low-value status updates. The root of this issue is a lack of planning when setting up the success metrics prior to launch. ROI is not that hard to measure; suitable tracking systems already exist. The real issue is that marketers have not been challenged on why and how they want to participate.
This is such an inaccurate view of how mainstream brands consider social media, social commerce, marketing, and ROI. Talk to 1-800-FLOWERS, Banana Republic, or The New York Times, and ask if they care about seeing numbers. The answer will be a cold, hard yes. They want metrics, data, intelligence, performance, and actionable insights. Marketing channels may change, but the fundamentals of marketing have not.
As a longtime hater of Ticketmaster, I'm impressed with Nathan Hubbard's rap ("Rocking the Most Hated Brand in America"). I'd much rather see dynamic pricing that allows me to pay a market rate for preferred seats and know the money is going to the industry creating the product and the guys up on stage. There is a very efficient marketplace for live concert experiences; it just happens in a very poorly organized secondary market. If Ticketmaster can rationalize the market so I can buy a ticket in advance—and without wasting my time with Craigslist or some scalper outside of Fenway Park—it'll have earned its money. For the first time ever.
Angela James failed the editor's test? They must have been asking the wrong questions ("Happily Ever After"). Her career in e-publishing doesn’t just parallel the industry’s rapid growth; she is also a major innovator, instigator, and accelerator.
I applaud Cathy Davidson’s work on change and distraction (Life in Beta). I look forward to what her HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) network can accomplish. My greatest hope is that it can help academic programs shift from answer-based to question-based; this would generate real innovation and technological breakthrough.
Congratulations, BankSimple. Somebody finally got around to creating a better banking experience ("A Bank That Doesn’t Suck")! Forrester and its ilk can keep finding arguments for why it won’t work, but I hope the BankSimple team will wake up every morning, look into the mirror, and kiss their faces, saying they are happy to be creating a new world. Way to go, guys!
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A version of this article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.