The Albert Einstein Guide to Social Media

2 Apr

Albert Einstein knew an awful lot. And if you pay attention to his work and his most famous statements about it, you might just think he was talking about us, the social media crew.

We might not be looking for a unified theory for all things quantum in our day jobs, or pondering the discrepancies between particle theory and relativity, but here are a few things Einstein has managed to summarize for us just the same. Funny how some concepts apply pretty universally…

A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.

It all starts with the goals and objectives, but look around you, and you’re sure to see the folks that still think the Facebook Page is the holy grail of social media success. Know what you’re aiming for before you choose any one path to get there.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

We’re hell bent on creating convoluted indexes and formulas to calculate and measure the fuzzy stuff like influence, affinity, or loyalty. As if somehow putting an algebraic formula to it will make it legitimate. Are there simpler ways we can be approaching these seemingly complex problems from a more human level? Is it ever enough to just say “this feels like the right thing to do”, even if we don’t have a spreadsheet upon which to demonstrate the results?

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.

You can count a zillion fans and followers but what are you going to do with them when you have them? Are they moving you toward something, or are they just there? And things like having genuine intent or an authentic mindset (not one on a mission statement somewhere) are much harder to quantify and put on a report, but they matter a great deal. They’re part of the untouchable essence of outstanding companies. It’s like porn. You know it when you see it, but it’s awfully hard to define.

Information is not knowledge. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

Case studies, case studies, case studies. Oh, how we want to read about what everyone else has done in hopes that it will be the safety net for us not having to do our own planning and strategizing. There are, however, no shortcuts. Precedent isn’t proof, and someone else’s story isn’t likely to be in the right context. There’s a fine line between not wanting to reinvent the wheel, and not wanting to do the thinking for yourself and be accountable for your decisions.

Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.

Loosely translated: majority isn’t truth. Just because “everyone” is doing it doesn’t mean it’s great. Conversely, just because you’re being the perpetual contrarian doesn’t mean you’re any smarter than the rest, you’re just joining the complaint flock. It takes courage and thought to go against the grain, illustrate a new approach, own it, and take actual risks in execution, not just on paper.

Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.

We don’t need a bunch of internet famous people and a confluence of empty personal brands. We need people that do good work and make a difference to the people in their universe, whether on a business or personal level.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

We need more clarity, accountability, and translation of social media into terms that everyone can relate to. Enough with the buzzwords and lingo already. “Joining the conversation” doesn’t explain anything.

Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.

Teaching and guiding adoption of social media can be an arduous task. But forcing too many rules without context and understanding is a recipe for resistance and resentment. And dragging people unwillingly into the social web before they’re truly culturally equipped will undoubtedly end in failure. Understanding new concepts and ideas takes time, patience, and the willingness of some to make small strides instead of huge leaps.

People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.

We all wish that you could just throw up a blog and instantly see a lift in your sales numbers, but it doesn’t work that way. Cultivating a social media community takes more time than many businesses would like. They’re so anxious to know whether they’ve made a good or bad investment, so they demand results and guarantees before they start. But much like the business relationships you’ve built the old fashioned way, creating trust and loyalty is an investment, not a transaction.

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.

In a world where content is everywhere, it’s not enough to just have a bunch of eyeballs see what you do. Value is a wonderful aim, if you understand that value is defined differently for everyone. Your definition of value doesn’t matter when it comes to offering it to someone else. You have to figure out how your customers, prospects, and community define it, and deliver that to them, relentlessly.

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

Social media is, in many ways, a solution to some of the problems we’ve created ourselves. The divide we’ve created between the company and the customer is one of our own design, and social media is helping to shorten that distance again. As a result, we cannot try and cram social media into the same mindset we’ve used for sales, marketing, and customer service for the last several decades, or we’ll just end up right back where we started, and end up blaming social media itself for not living up to our expectations.

The road to perdition has ever been accompanied by lip service to an ideal.

Authenticity. Trust. Transparency. Community. They’re a bunch of buzzwords – and empty ones at that – unless they’re backed up at a root level, and driven by concrete intent and execution. A poster on a wall or a vision statement drafted in a boardroom doesn’t mean jack unless you’re empowering and allowing the actions that help people deliver on those promises. Period.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

We collected impressions for ads as if having a million people see a billboard without any notion of what they did with that information was actually effective. We build call centers to automate customer service. We talked in “key messages” and soundbites, and we buried our mistakes under PR gloss-overs. Customers are now pushing back on those ideas and demanding better from businesses. Yet, we’re approaching Facebook as an eyeball collection tool, or Twitter as a press release distribution service, or throwing interns to manage our customer support forums, and we’re wondering why we’re having trouble seeing value in these tools?

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

We’re talking about new approaches to business problems, here. We’re talking culture shift. Adjustments to our approach, the courage to evaluate our weaknesses, and the willingness to invest in things that aren’t the same as we’ve always done. All that means that mistakes are inevitable. And rather than lynching and publicly vilifying those that fall short, let’s learn from each other, from ourselves, and start allowing social media a legitimate place in business process innovation.

Not bad for a guy with crazy hair who never tied his shoes, but who managed to single-handedly and drastically change our understanding of the universe around us. I’m thinking we can help businesses do the same for the online world we’re creating here. You?

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