The Mullen Strategy
As a former old-economy New Yorker now living in the refreshingly new-economy Bay Area, I'm often struck by the huge gulf of understanding and opportunity between the two. I'm also constantly inspired by the short list of leaders who are able to navigate the best of both. Fast Company is the only publication I've seen that is able to tap into this short list, particularly with profiles like the one of Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen ("Joint Venture"). These profiles are not about technology people or technology problems but rather leaders working on matters that are accessible to all of us, and, in this case, at an organization reputed to be allergic to change.
Sara Fenske Bahat
San Francisco, California
As a Navy civilian worker, I find it comforting that Admiral Mullen is pursuing information-sharing technology. It's his kind of thinking that brings new life to our military and helps keep our edge.
Having spent time early in my career working in Washington, I am aware of the impact of the unelected officials who wield great power. I was glad to read that Admiral Mullen is not about status quo and is eagerly seeking input from a variety of audiences.
Grosse Pointe, Michigan
People like Admiral Mullen in government (mainly the civil servants at the federal, state, and even local levels) are a lot more common than the general public realizes. Innovative people are everywhere; red tape can often hamper government innovation, but there are interesting examples of the places we live being made better when government works together with the community and industry.
If a Fortune 500 company made a public habit of firing individuals solely based on their sexual orientation, it would be news. I'm therefore surprised Admiral Mullen wasn't asked why he thinks "don't ask, don't tell" should be repealed from a "good for business" standpoint. Just as the military is losing skilled linguists, companies with outdated workplace policies are missing out on the best and brightest talent.
Royal Oak, Michigan
We don't care about keeping our details hidden (Tech Edge). Except when we do. And at those times we need to have the control to close that door. Logic does not guide this debate. These reactions are entirely about the psychology of control.
Really interesting article ("Repeat Offenders"). Mekanism does great work. But the language they use really doesn't fit with their process. They claim that they can create a campaign that will infect people who will have no choice but to passively spread this content like a virus. That's not true. Here's what makes Mekanism successful: They follow the audience they seek to reach very closely. They listen. And they develop campaigns based on what that audience wants to see, that fit into the types of conversations that audience is already having. In reality, that's not "viral."
If successful, the spread of that video may sometimes look like the spread of a virus, but the spread of online content doesn't work like biology. It involves the active work of the audience to see content spread. Maybe the language of "viral" works for a company like Mekanism because, despite the language they use, they don't approach a project as if they can just infect people with random content. The problem is that continuing to frame their success in this way keeps up the myth that there's that magic button to press to make a video "go viral." Then, you see statistics about 85% of viral campaigns being deemed a failure, largely because people were living under the myth that content can make people do things rather than thinking about how the brand might provide material that audiences might want to do something with.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
This article is so on the money ("Five Steps to Social Currency"). It drives me crazy when brands jump on the social-media bandwagon without any thought or planning. Why use the number of followers/friends as a metric of success when you do nothing with them? The media and creative agencies are so infatuated with awards and being different that sometimes the most effective (and simplest) solution is overlooked.
Daniel van Leeuwen
A Facebook page or a YouTube video serves a totally different purpose from a private online community; strategies must be matched with the brand. Companies can use social media on a smaller scale to "test" campaigns and ideas before they launch to the masses. Although it can be scary, giving your customers the opportunity to give input will not only better inform your end product but also mobilize some informed, passionate advocates on your brand's behalf.
New York, New York
Slacktivism is a ridiculous term that misses the overall point of online social engagement, which is to provide a gateway to future activism (Do Something). Those text messages, tweets, and clicks provide people with an easy first step into social activism, a low barrier for entry. So I say, connect them online with click campaigns and then engage them later with offline letter campaigns, volunteer opportunities, street marches, and other calls to action.
Los Angeles, California
Five years ago, Haiti wouldn't have received the sort of charitable contributions it has because the effort would have been too much. People would have had to call in, or write down a Web address and remember to access it later with a credit-card number at the ready. Now charitable giving is instantly at our fingertips with text messaging and services like Twitpay's Retweet to Give. If slacktivism means charities have more funding at their disposal, it's a worthwhile movement to support.
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A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.