We First: marketing social change

The opening line of We First

When you write a blog, you get sent a fair number of books to read and review. Some you get around to, some you don’t. This month, as part of marketing blitz from Simon Mainwaring and company, I received a copy of We First along with a number of emails asking me to post and link to the book on Amazon, which I dutifully do right here.

Yet while We First is perfectly packaged – a dissertation on the still popular topic we call social media; a well-done website including sound bites on what blogger reviewers should say; numerous shout outs to brands such as Toms, Nike, Zappos and others who might buy the book in bulk; and more than a few proclamations that the author is the owner of the idea behind We First, a sure way to line up paid speaking gigs and more sales – the book is well worth reading, whether you’re a company trying to navigate the “End of Us And Them” or an agency or marketer striving to guide clients.

In short, Simon makes three strong arguments. The first is that in an age of consumer control and the ability to support or take down a brand for its misbehavior or bad judgment, all companies should learn to leverage that same social behavior by inspiring positive word of mouth through actions that do good.

Second, the author lays out convincing evidence that consumers are motivated by more than low price. Brands that have integrity, that commit to sustainable practices, whether economic, environmental or social, enjoy higher sales, greater loyalty and more endorsement.

And finally, Mainwaring reminds us that our biggest problems – global warming, hunger, economic disparities, and potable water — are too significant for governments and NGOs to solve. It’s time for business to embrace a new set of values and focus on making contributions of value to society and community.

Simon is clearly not talking about making charitable donations or using superficial social acts as a ploy to generate PR and temporary good will.  In fact he condemns the “hypocrisy of many businesses to save with one hand what the other hand has destroyed.” The truly sustainable company wouldn’t need to write checks because its daily operations would enrich rather than deprive the community.

We would all be better off if business heeds some of We First’s recommendations and examples. And there are plenty of the latter for inspiration, as Mainwaring gives kudos to the usual suspects – Whole Foods, Starbucks – along with giants trying to do good (Pepsi) and smaller firms who have social responsibility built into their DNA (Dancing Deer Bakery.)

And to his credit, he shares practical suggestions for how companies can get with the program, including ways to leverage employees; the benefits of collaborating with government, supply chains and even competitors; using consumers as partners; and something he calls contributory consumption.

Side note re contributory consumption:  When I taught last year the University of Oregon, my assignment to the school of journalism and communication was to develop a program to jump start innovation in America.  One team came up with the idea of a digital currency that would reward consumers for contributing time or money to worthy causes.  Brands could purchase or earn the currency through certain behaviors, then grant the digital value to consumers who supported bought their products and services.  The team is working on bringing this to life as we speak.

The cynics among us wonder if the inherent greed and profit-motives of most business might cloud a more modern perspective that reveals the benefits of embracing this new social responsibility. More practical thinkers simply hope that consumers take advantage of their recently acquired power and force change. And finally the optimists might actually believe that companies and businesses can change on their own. Let’s hope so. If Simon’s own transformation is any indication, at least it’s possible.

Simon Mainwaring can be credited with a few things. A lesson in how to market a book. Positioning and packaging himself as a writer/speaker. But more importantly for actually writing something that will push an important conversation forward.  If you’re tired of what social media is and interested in what social media might actually let us achieve, pick up a copy of We First. And think about what you and your business can change to answer the question that appears on page 1.



Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Hi Edward. I agree wholeheartedly with points 2 and 3. I completely disagree with point 1 when it comes to major brands. Toyota, BP, etc have taken hits but still fly strong. US Banks strong. Big Oil in general strong. Walmart considering how many including me will never buy anything from them also able to withstand a lot of vocal pressure on and off line. Even tech like Facebook should be dead in the water for it's ethics lapses and abuse of its user base. Apple should be getting dinged for tracking everyone. And all I hear is dead silence when it comes to sales (always good) and stock (going up) for all these examples. But for small brands say a local restaurant you bet your butt Social can take them down.


Hm. "Embrace a new set of values..."

@edwardboches You mention in your recent teaching assignment, "One team came up with the idea of a digital currency that would reward consumers for contributing time or money to worthy causes..." which strikes at the core problem -- our currency, or reward system, is out of sync with what we perhaps really need.

Businesses are based on building new financial value, driven by unchecked growth, which requires aggressive competition. This competitive force is adored by conservatives and has positive results in innovation, winnowing the weak, raising lifestyles, but also negative ones in terms of resource consumption, waste, pollution, and gaps in filling societal needs. This basic conflict between drive and debris is the foundation of the past 100 years of political debate, liberal vs. conservative, left vs. right -- do we share or be independent, protect the group's need for help or the individual's right to achieve? The truth is both sides are right, society must share and bolster independent success; society wants both shared resources and low burdens to individuals, which is why we constantly have budget deficits in government. U.S. gov't spending is 25% of GDP while taxes are only 14.4%, showing that both sides end up wanting more government than they are willing to pay for (political side note, Dems and GOP, we have to both raise taxes and cut spending to bring our budget in line, quit arguing, you are both right).

Which brings me to my point: The definition of value must change if society and businesses are to realign their growth with benefits to society. Financial currency is one definition of value, but not the only one; a healthy ecosystem, clean water and air, knowledge and education, and all the groovy stuff at the top of Maslow's pyramid require more than cash. I don't have the answer, but I do know that unchecked growth in the human body is called cancer, our planet is being terraformed, and we do not have enough resources to give all 7 billion of us steak dinners and iPads that plug into the wall. My responding to you via this computer is a privileged use of massive production resources that can't be scaled across all humans; if everyone on the planet ate like we do, we'd all be out of food. Our resource consumption is out of alignment and the competitive incentive that spurs our growth is driving us too far.

Does this sound like communism? No, it's simply a fact that unchecked growth is unsustainable. Liberals who want costly shared solutions without thinking about individual incentives, which build resources, are wrong; conservatives who suggest financial gain is a panacea and shared safeguards like the EPA are unnecessary forget we could end up like Mars. I wish either side were right; I'd also like a pet unicorn. In nature, the solution is called stasis, when everything achieves balance. The earth has been good at this, which is why after millions of years we still have an atmosphere to breathe. I may buy the book to see if it has some logical path for humanity to realign with what nature has already solved.

We have deeper issues than social-media community building at play today.


One word: Wikipedia. The world's largest encyclopedia developed by volunteers who weren't paid. We're living in a revolution, and great social change finally can be created without permission from large institutions. We can do it ourselves. Heard much about this book, sounds like an interesting read.