The SocEnt book club had the amazing opportunity to talk to Simon Mainwaring last week. Simon’s book, We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World, was introduced and reviewed on our blog. Simon shared some thought provoking ideas about the future of capitalism with our listeners, and a transcript of the interview is provided below. First, however, we want to share information about Simon’s company We First. Simon has just announced the first ever We First Social Branding Seminar in Los Angeles, February 1st-2nd. He’s a world-class leader in the brand storytelling who has worked on brands like Nike, Toyota and Motorola; he writes about social media for Mashable, Forbes, GOOD, Huffington Post and Fast Company; and his recent book was a New York Times bestselling author and Amazon Top Ten Business Book for 2011, so you won’t find better training.
Plus everyone who attends gets to invite a non-profit they care about so this is really a valuable and meaningful event.
So register for the seminar to get ahead with your business and brand and please share the pdf with others so that more non-profits can benefit.
As a reminder, our call with Mari Smith, author of The New Relationship Marketing, How to Build a Large, Loyal, Profitable Network Using the Social Web is on Wednesday, December 14th @ 6 pm ET. To RSVP or for more information about our free conference call, email alex(at)startsomegood.com
Enjoy reading Simon’s insightful ideas! Here is the transcript:
What was your inspiration for We First capitalism?
There were three things that factored into it. Firstly, I’m not as young as you guys, sadly and I’ve been all around the world doing those things that are supposed to make you successful, and yet I found myself walking around my backyard in Los Angeles wondering, "Well is this it?" I’ve been out there consulting for Fortune 500 brands for years and finding myself less than fulfilled.So I got into a bit of a mid-life, mid-career crisis, wondering what it’s all about. Secondly, my father passed away suddenly during the night and I missed the five phone calls that were made to try to reach me to say goodbye. I hadn’t seen him for five years as I was doing those busy things that we do when we get busy. And that made me mindful of my time on the planet. I’ve got kids and you sit there and go, so "What’s my purpose, what’s my reason for being here." And then thirdly, in that context, I was very mindful of the economy turning pear shaped - this was the end of 2007, beginning of 2008 - and I happened to listen to the speech that Bill Gates gave to the World Economics Forum, his "Creative Capitalism" speech, and he just said government and philanthropy can’t fix the world on their own and we need the private sector to get involved. That seemed very logical to me. I’d been working on these large brands for a long time, and they seemed largely self-serving at a time when the economy was starting to tank and a lot of people’s lives were being compromised and it just seemed logical to me that we should all play a role, first to improve the lives of others, and second to make sure that society is more sustainable so that brands can have customers to sell their products and services to. So I decided to take on Bill Gates’ challenge and write the book, and because I’m a working dad and had consulting and other things going on it took me longer than it should, it took three years to get done, but now it’s out.
Do you envision We First capitalism as a logical outgrowth of the rise of social media or do you think it will take a determined and focused efforts on the parts of the participants in social media, the consumers and the corporations?
I think there is incredible tension on two fronts: firstly, one between the way business has been practiced and whose interests it served in the past, and the way that this had now led to an economic crisis all around the world and consumer and citizen demand all around the world for this change. Secondarily, I think every period of new technology like social media creates a period of creative destruction, to use the term that the economists use, when a lot of the monopolies of the past fall by the wayside and other companies come to the fore.This has created a certain tension as well, between the old and new, so I think on an economic timeline and also on a technological timeline, there’s incredible tension.
That said, I think 2008 was pivotal because we allowed ourselves to realize that we now live in a mutually dependent global community. What happened on Wall Street affected Main Street, it affected Iceland and Greece, and the EU. Suddenly everyone around the world, as a function of the internet and the ability to share information across social media channels, has realized that we’re in this together and we are, at the moment, failing on many fronts together, and we need to work together if we’re going to survive. So I think We First Capitalism is going to eventually emerge, not without a lot of growing pains, but it will be largely be driven by consumer and citizen discontent.
You spoke a little bit about how those who benefit from the old will be reluctant to change from the old and just now about changing the bottom line, but expanding on that, what do you see as the biggest obstacles of We First capitalism?
I think the corporate incentive schemes are the greatest challenge in the sense that the US is completely disproportionate in the ratio between the salaries of corporate executives and the average employee- well above the same ratios in Europe. But things are already moving in the right direction if you look at Bank of America debit card (dropping that five dollar charge because you have one online young woman raise 300,000 signatures in a petition). If you look at Netflix and Qwikster and the pushback against those two services being separated and how they backed down there. If you look at bank transfer day, two days ago, in which 700,000 people joined credit unions to the value of 4.5 billion dollars in assets. That’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but if you look at Occupy Wall Street which is taking a lot of inspiration from the amazing changes going on in the Middle East that was partly been driven by social media with the Arab spring revolution, when you put all these together, we’re in period that will absolutely transform the way business is done and the way brands market to customers. So I think it will happen but the biggest obstacle right now is corporate incentive schemes and consumers are going to have to impact their bottom lines to make those changes.
Imagining that we are living in an era of We First capitalism. What would that look like?
Through the efforts of many other people besides myself including social enterprises, social entrepreneurs and non profits out there, if we can get 5-10% of the private sector to authentically integrate purposefulness into their for-profit business models and to genuinely want to contribute, then I think we can scale social change to an unprecedented level. I think the vast majority of the private sector, out of necessity, out of a tough economy, and out of a entrenched shortsightedness, will take a long time to come around to this. But the exciting thing is that if only 5% of the private sector embraces a concept I talk about in the book called contributory consumption, where a small percentage of a purchase for a product or service goes towards a cause in alignment with the core values of the brand, if only 5% do that, and if they contribute 1 cent on the dollar from every one of those sales - so 1 cent on the dollar from 5% - as a function of the billions of transactions that go on everyday on every mall, to all the billions of credit card transactions to all the billions of virtual goods transactions on social media gaming platforms and all the online transactions or mobile transactions, the private sector would absolutely dwarf the $14 billion raised by corporate foundations every year and we would do it in a sustainable and systemic way.
What kinds of steps should an individual take to promote We First capitalism?
I think the first step for myself and everyone else, which can be an uncomfortable one, is to take ownership or responsibility for this issue. We’ve all been guilty of behaving in a ‘Me First’ way in how we consume as customers, the way we treat the environment, and yes, the way business has treated other people. So we need to become mindful shoppers instead of mindless, we need to use mobile applications like GoodGuide where you scan the barcode of a product and get you a social benefit rating, and you can choose to support brands that are more socially responsible. Secondly, you can celebrate those brands that are doing this and you can criticize those that aren’t across social media channels. Thirdly, if you’re a business owner or a shareholder, you need to consider what companies you’re supporting as an investor, or as an employee or a CEO of a big brand. You need to consider how am I bringing my values, my purpose, to life in a way that’s going to be meaningful for my customers.
Editor’s Note: below is a review of the Social Enterprise Book Club book for October, We First: How brands & consumers use social media to build a better world by Simon Mainwaring. We’re excited to by hosting Mr. Mainwaring for an open conference call on November 8 to discuss his book. Stay tuned for more information and your opportunity to RSVP.
By Aaron Lesser
Which side of the Occupy Wall Street Protests are you on? Are you for the movement? Against it? Are you part of the 99%? The 1%? How about the 53%? Do you support the inertia behind the movement but not its expression? Do you think those people should just get a job?
Simon Mainwaring’s book, We First: How Brands & Consumers Use Social Media To Build a Better World, offers a way forward in the debate about our future. It’s not about separating people into opposing groups or blaming sections of society—it’s an examination of where our society is and how we can steer it towards where we want it to be.
The book opens with a simple question: Is this the world you want? Regardless of where we are in relation to the past, chronic food shortages, disease, poverty, and inequality are still powerful negative forces in modern society. We First outlines what Mainwaring calls The New Capitalist Manifesto. It is not a revolution against our system, but an evolution into an economic system that takes its impacts on society into account.
The movement, We First, is in opposition to the thought process historically associated with capitalism, Me First. Although capitalism is motivated by self-interest, Mainwaring argues that its true strength is not its ability to serve the individual, but in its ability to make individual self-interest benefit society. By changing the standards by which corporations judge success, from purely bottom line profit and loss to social impact, we can use the engine of capitalism to create the world we want.
But why, after hundreds of years of Me First capitalism, would the whole system change? The answer, for Mainwaring, lies in social media. Social media allows corporations and consumers to interact in a new way. Consumers can give instant feedback on products or marketing campaigns and corporations can interact with consumers at all times. Consumers can let corporations know what they want, what causes they are interested in, or in what direction they want the company to go. This allows corporations to engage in social good endeavors without affecting their bottom line. They can find causes their consumers are interested in and build a loyal base of followers by pursuing actions that benefit that cause. This interaction is the innovation in this book: with the rise of social networks, the social capital a company can generate by being environmentally friendly or starting social ventures is just as valuable in the long term as traditional capital.
A few forward thinking companies are already implementing Mainwaring’s vision. The Pepsi Refresh project is the best example of the budding We First movement. Pepsi selects 1,000 social good ventures, initiated by individuals or organizations, to compete for funding from Pepsi. These ventures are posted on Pepsi Refresh’s website and anybody can vote for them. The top vote getters receive funding. PepsiCo not only gets goodwill and brand loyalty, but according to Mainwaring the Pepsi Refresh website now gets more visitors than many of the sites Pepsi advertises on. In other words, the cost of giving money to the social ventures is offset by the social capital PepsiCo is earning.
We First is the kind of philosophy we need in a time of division, in a time where the only thing most people can agree upon is that this is not the world we want. We First is about eliminating the barriers between us and using our human qualities in capitalism to create the world we want.