Q&A talks about social media and the Occupy movement with author and futurist Daniel Burrus. His consulting business is Burrus Research Associates in Hartland, Wis.
Q: You put forth the question: Is the 1 percent of the population’s wealth really fueling the Occupy protests across the nation, including Hartford, or is it that with social media it is so easy to get a protest going no matter what the cause? OK, which is it?
A: The Occupy protests are due to shared concerns by a large number of people, but they are only the latest in a series of protests that have been enabled by social media and there will be many more on a variety of subjects. It has never been easier to get a protest going anywhere in the world using social media tools to both connect to the targeted audience, in this case potential protesters due to their discussions, interactions and communities of interest, and arrange a specific time and place to meet. This will become easier every year due to increasing technical advances.
Q: Spontaneous demonstrations that pop up across the country hardly seem new, though. In the last 45 years, since the Vietnam War for example, there have been events like these. What’s different?
A: Smart phones. Because smart phones are with us all the time, and they are both a phone and an inexpensive computer that has access to the Internet including social media, and 85 percent of all phones sold globally this year are smart phones, and there were already a large number of smart phones in use in 2010. Spontaneous demonstrations will continue to be the new normal.
Q: What do the occupy protestors really want from corporations? Is it going to be possible to satiate them?
A: Corporations as well as governments are Information Age organizations that focus on informing. Social media is about the Communication Age and that’s about dialog and engagement. Protesters want dialog; corporations and governments are not good at that.
Q: You say protest on both sides will grow. Is there going to be an anti-Occupy backlash in your view? Will the well-heeled be moved to protest the Occupy movement?
A: There are several things happening. Look at the stock market. On Oct. 13 it was at a 13-month low and now we’re all happy campers. [But] there is a Wall Street recovery and a Main Street recession. People are looking at this great divide. In many areas, there are unbelievable numbers of closed plants, shuttered businesses and foreclosed homes. When people read about Wall Street getting rich, they get angry. Americans have short-term memories but they remember we bailed Wall Street out. They ask, “Aren’t they going to bail us out?” Second, what’s happened over the last several years, the middle class has always made this country great — unlike any other country in the world. There is giant movement in both directions. A lot of people in the middle moved up and a lot moved down. We’ve lost the middle. When you don’t have that center, you get unstable.
The last element to this is uncertainty. Our government is giving us a gigantic shot of uncertainty. We need certainty. Both sides are not working together and just giving us more uncertainty. They need to give us something to go on. Both sides are so uncompromising. Certainty helps a business owner open the checkbook. When you have a wait and see attitude, you don’t hire. So, there are more people feeding those protests.
Q: Your website says you “help clients understand and profit from the driving forces of technology-driven change.” Is there a way for businesses to understand and profit from the occupy movement?
A: Yes. The need to become Communication Age organizations that know how to create meaningful dialog and engagement, not just Information Age organizations that simply inform. Social media for business is a key to this and we are in the early stages of businesses embracing this change both on a technical and cultural level now.
Q: As a follow up, what’s the first meaningful step businesses should take to transition from the Information Age to the Communication Age? What’s the first step to creating engagement?
A: I have surveyed over the last couple of years thousands of individuals at the corporate level. They all agree we are far better at informing than communicating. Social media is about dialogue and engagement and communicating. Embracing social media in business is the beginnings of using those tools to get engagement. Social media can be used internally to discuss what diverse employees are working on. It can create a new form of collaboration and engagement within an organization. You have to walk before you can run. If you can’t do it on the inside, how can you do it on the outside? We need to be able to master the tools of social media and communication internally before we can expect to master them on the outside.