Social media as an integral enabler

The inaugural Meaning conference, curated by Will McInnes author of new business book Culture Shock. #meaningconfMonday saw the coming together of a group of activists from the worlds of business, academia, politics, farming, architecture and denim.

I don’t think any of them would think of themselves as activists though…just individuals who have decided to approach business a different way, with social channels and tools underpinning much of what they do and how they do it. They were gathered to share their actions and stories for the inaugural Meaning conference, curated by Will McInnes author of new business book Culture Shock.

Described as ‘a handbook for 21st Century business’ it showcases organisations from across the globe that are making a change, an impact on the people who work there and the world.

Cynics may dis-regard this book and its message as something best left to creative agencies or ‘funky’ new companies, not for big business and certainly not an achievable reality for ‘real’ people in ‘real’ jobs. However if it was one thing that you could take away from yesterday’s speakers, it was the power of the individual and that their small actions have led to big change as well as track-able, tangible impact on the (business) world.

With social business at the heart of the event, specific technology platforms or tools were rarely singled out yet they were underlying and essential to every single speaker or project. Technology and social channels act as enablers, collaboration platforms, learning tools, ways of creating disruptive innovation within dated, resistant communities and organisations.

Luis Suarez of IBM said “I don’t give a sh*t which tech platforms you use, find what works for you and live within them” going onto say “with open networks more work gets done and I’m more effective”. Suarez stopped sending email four years ago, with a deep-rooted desire to be more productive. He did this all within inside IBM who notoriously describe themselves as “an email driven company”. The inevitable challenges were met, he countered them with tools and workshops for staffers and today they have a whole new business stream –  IBM social business.

Learning about how an idea literally formed around a kitchen table, centred on propaganda gardening was a personal highlight of the conference. Pamela Warhurst spoke of her community project Incredible Edible. This homemade, localised, seemingly ‘nice-to-have’ campaign is actually a leading example of how to re-generate and engage disenfranchised communities, stimulate their economy and provide education and training for the masses. A survey conducted by Incredible Edible showed that 49% of local businesses saw an increase in sales directly from what Warhurst refers to as ‘Vegetable Tourism’. Warhurst spoke of the power of small actions leading to big change – countries all over the world have now adopted her project and its approach.

David Hieatt of Huit Denim and Do Lectures fame also talked to that point, “I can’t change the world, but I can change my town.”. His products go beyond well made high end jeans and jobs for locals, they encourage and embody storytelling, Huit quite rightly said “the things we own tells stories about us”, one of the ways Huit Denim allows you to do that is with their ‘History Tag’ – using the internet for you to track the life and memories of your jeans right from conception.

Stowe Boyd talked about the ‘Future of Work’ and how the social web was penetrating even the most resistant ‘old’ companies, as employees search for got meaningful connections with or without management consent. Going onto say the shape of business will change, from the long-standing pyramid hierarchy to a more rectangular, linear structure, enabling more fluidity and productivity. A bi-product of which is social density, which is reported to show people are happier and therefore more productive.

Image source: Twitter.

At the start of the event McInnes stated “business today is toxic”, a war cry that all the speakers show cased was possible to change, and entirely possible even when faced with some of the most challenging bureaucratic systems. A broad range of areas and industries were covered including architecture, happiness, workers co-operatives from the ‘70’s to present day and there was much discussion of future economies, politics and structures. All of these topics were connected by an often-unsaid presence of social media, social tools and the social web.  What was interesting was that whilst many of us will recognise these ideas of change, some of which have been talked about for over a decade, there are now these accessible tools to enable and empower organisations and individuals alike to make real change.

Sejal Parekh is a brand and social strategist. She is @holasejal on Twitter.