The Seed

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 6 min read

Discovering The Seed That Started It All For Me

In 2008, I became obsessed with Social Media. In the decade since, I’ve spent considerable time and thought trying to unpack why I was so interested in these new technologies in the first place.

When I look back on it all, there was a desire to use these tools to make the world a better place. I’d long been disillusioned by the state of WORK. Growing up in the 80’s, and seeing my mom get laid off, watching my dad grind it out as a funeral director, I perceived that work was this thing you were supposed to hate or, at best, endure. My MBA only served to reinforce my perception that business is amoral. The sole purpose of a business was to maximize profit even if it came at the expense of the customer, the employee, or the environment.

When social media burst onto the scene, my optimism took over and with rosy colored glasses I saw a beautiful future where new incentives would reshape the nature of business.

The Early Days

In the early days, before brands had started investing serious time, energy and money, and when the platforms were not yet public companies, social media was for the people.

We collectively embraced an internet, free from the gatekeepers who could thwart any individual’s ability to publish thoughts to the world. From this new prospect of an open and connected world came the possibility that a massive shift in the balance of power would emerge. We saw a future where people had actual power and influence. We had real potential to affect change in business, government, and in our own personal lives. It was exciting!

I saw people connecting with one another across time and geography, organized into tribes focused on their passions. I saw collaboration, empathy, compassion, and activism.

In so much as we chose to be authentic and honest, Social Media was a reflection of us. It amplified what was. Employees could talk about their jobs, customers could talk about brands, brands could talk about themselves, and so much more.

Because of these changes, I expected to see companies relate to their employees differently. They would recognize the opportunities and liabilities that would emerge in this new connected world and would proactively seek to create an engaged workforce. They would embrace transparency for the benefit of the consumer. They would excitedly embrace the opportunity to listen and understand their customer by monitoring the web for the sort of business intelligence that only years prior they’d have spent countless dollars to acquire.

And yet, in 2018…

The optimistic vision for the future, well… it hasn’t exactly happened like that.

The openness and connectedness, rather than bringing us together, is marred by harassment, trolling, and divisiveness.

The connection and engagement with other human beings that we initially fell in love with has been replaced by an ever-increasing volume of paid advertisers and noise from fame-seeking influencers looking to get rich quick by monetizing their audience.

The access and spread of information that was supposed to enrich our lives, is under siege by an onslaught of misinformation intended to distort and confuse what is really true.

The platforms that we, the people, built, are now glaringly more concerned with their investors and advertisers than their users. Profit first. Safety, security, integrity and trust second.

So, do we just give up?

Despite everything that has happened, I’m still a believer… in people. Because that’s really what this is about for me, and it always has been. Social Media are just tools.

  • Tools to connect.
  • Tools to listen.
  • Tools to broadcast.

These tools can only amplify the people behind it. How we choose to use these tools directly impacts what we get out of it.

The very same things we did in 2008 can be done in 2018 and beyond. We can still connect with one another across time and geography. We can still inspire and engage our employees. We can still use our brands as a force for good in our communities.

It will always be easier to check the box than it is to do the hard work. It’s more attractive to do the short term thing because we lack the patience for the long term results.

Where do we go from here?

For me, the seed that started it all was seeing a future where we build extraordinary companies that make the world a better place. I believe that tools that enable collaboration allow us to do that.

If you think about it, doesn’t it sound better if every company cared about their employees, spent time to develop them, and worked to align everyone toward a common goal? Imagine how those employees would behave online. How would they talk about the company? How would they interact with customers, competitors, and the industry? How would they help to recruit the next great hire for your company?

How would social media amplify an engaged workforce?

What if that same company actively monitored the web and created solutions to meet the needs of the market? What if they chose to invest in social causes that their customers cared about, or spent money in the short term to create more loyalty in the long term?

How would social media react to a company like that?

What if the leadership of that company published their intentions on the web, or gave people a peek inside of the decision making process of that company? What if those leaders were available to customers online, and once in a while made the small gesture of acknowledging and appreciating them? Better yet, what if they inquired and listened to them about what they like and dislike about the company and it’s products or services?

How would social media react to the leadership of a company like that?

As for me…

Despite my frustrations with where we are, I’m going to continue focusing on the people. In many cases, this will come down to communication and leadership.

If Social Media are just tools to amplify what is, then I’m going to help build the organizations and leaders that have the willingness to show the world what open and empathetic communication looks like.


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

3 replies on “The Seed”

  • November 28, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    A very important and touching article you’ve written, Jeff. I would also add to the list of things that need changing is for executives to personally and genuinely participate, and not have their profiles or content farmed out to an agency to make it appear that it was self-written.

    • November 28, 2018 at 7:56 pm

      Thanks Grant! You know I completely agree that execs should be personally involved. Feels like we’ve been beating that drum for years without much success.

  • terry gibbard
    December 6, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    A well written and thought out commentary on the state of social media and applicable to “all” media, for all media should be invested in the real need for transparency and truth, as well as the needs of its workforce.
    The annual disgrace of businesses that layoff hundreds if not thousands of workers around the “Holidays” in the name of profit, is a stain on the leadership of those companies that promote themselves by way of social media as concerned for the welfare of the least among us.
    Thanks for a post that should remind people in leadership positions that there is a path to a better social world if they would invest in the people who can make their companies great, the workers, as well as the customers.

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