A review of Simon Mainwaring’s new book We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World
By Michelle Hardy
In case you missed it in between tweets, there’s a new business paradigm emerging. Both consumers and businesses are harnessing social media tools to move corporations from “me first” to “we first” behavior, and author Simon Mainwaring just released the blueprints for this new form of cause-driven capitalism.
Mainwaring’s new book We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World reveals a brewing revolution; corporate profits are becoming inextricably intertwined with social responsibility, largely due to new online tools that mandate transparency. You can read my Mother Nature Network interview with this author here, in which he offers solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the current CSR movement.
While countless marketing professionals and academics are writing about social media these days, few writers beyond Mainwaring have so brilliantly connected this communications phenomenon with the potential for an entirely new marketplace in which profit comes from purpose. As a social media influential himself and a member of AdAge’s Power 150, Mainwaring has a prophetic understanding of how online opinion leaders will instate a new system of checks and balances for corporations. His passionate voice is that of an activist, while his logic is based upon years of being a world-class leader in the ad industry. Now, Mainwaring is CEO of We First, a brand consulting firm helping companies and consumers create shared prosperity through social technology.
All of this expertise translates into an excellent read that is at once practical and mobilizing. We First goes beyond inspiration and actually outlines functional strategies for merging brands with causes authentically. The book is chock full of helpful case studies, statistics, and research, all of which give context to the marketplace shifts Mainwaring predicts. The book is just as useful for consumers as it is for trade audiences. Each chapter sheds light on progressive CSR successes while also showing how consumers directly propelled these achievements.
To those consumers questioning their influence in a branded world, We First demonstrates just how enormously activists can sway corporate policies. My favorite example in the book was the Greenpeace social media siege against Nestle’s unsustainable use of rainforest palm oil. While some consider the campaign a bit harsh (at one point in 2010, Greenpeace created a YouTube video in which someone opens a Nestle Kit Kat bar to find a bloody orangutan finger, representing the wildlife sacrificed for the company’s palm oil production), such activism reveals the tremendous power consumers now have over companies. The Greenpeace video attracted hundreds of thousands of hits in just a few days. With the ability to instantly broadcast concerns to millions, companies must be on their best, most transparent behavior.
Despite the avalanche of online dialogue Mainwaring describes, not everyone is embracing social media. Some surprising statistics in the book: 64% of CEOs from the world’s top 50 companies do not use any social media, and fewer than 10% of these CEOs use Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Clearly, there’s a disconnect with the C-suite. Mainwaring explains that for CEOs to be wholeheartedly in tune with issues consumers care about, they must be engaged in consumer conversations. CEO participation in social media is essential for a company to publicly commit to causes and absorb consumer sentiment on these issues.
Overall, Mainwaring’s book is a must-read for trade audiences, consumers, and activists alike. Anyone fighting the good fight for CSR can find solace in this energizing guide to enlightened capitalism. Whether you find the book a marketing lesson, an inspiration, or a call to action, I am confident you will open your laptop with new vigor after reading We First.
(Featured Image by Anne Helmond)