Did social media really begin in 1984? The event that made you FEEL.


By Bernadette Jiwa, Contributing {grow} Columnist

I didn’t know it at the time but back in 1984 (before Internet!) I lived through the first viral social media campaign. I witnessed Bob Geldof use the medium of music and Band Aid to mobilize a tribe of people around the globe to take action. Real action. In fact, he raised about $150 mm.

Until that moment, we were largely passive observers of media, consuming TV and news stories as mindlessly as we did Pringles chips — “once you pop you can’t stop.” We were unquestioning viewers and voyeurs. Outsiders looking in, sometimes moved and yet unmoving, stuck as we were to our sofas, our lives controlled by the scheduling of TV programmers.

While Michael Buerk’s report on the famine in Ethiopia deeply disturbed us, we still watched from a safe distance. Stunned observers of an unfolding catastrophe. When Bob Geldof got a group of friends together to make a record to raise money for the victims, he didn’t realize he was giving all of us a chance to step inside that story. Suddenly there was no poor them and lucky us. There was only us. Our story. We were all a part of the tragedy even if we weren’t living in it.

Ask any great screenwriter and she’ll tell you that the best stories enable us, the audience, to get inside them. I believe that’s true of all great social media too.

I was talking recently to the head of a very dedicated team at a non-profit. They are working so hard to engage with people via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the good news is that their social media engagement levels is off the charts. But somehow their likes don’t convert to donations in cold hard cash. And I wonder if we need a new definition of what it means to be engaged? Does giving a  big “blue virtual thumbs up” make us feel like we’ve done our bit? But does it MEAN anything? Does it DO anything?

How do you turn the weak connections of social media into strong connections that take action?

The secret weapon of great social media is that it isn’t media (a means of mass communication). It’s actually a story, one that we feel we are a part of. Great social media doesn’t just engage us, it changes how we feel about something enough to make it part of our story and moves us to act, not just to “like.”

That is difficult, isn’t it?

But it always has been of course.

Do you remember what it felt like when you first heard this …

bernadette jiwaBernadette Jiwa is a Perth-based branding expert and story specialist. You can find more of her creative insights at her award-winning blog The Story of Telling

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  • One of the problems, IMHO, is that with social media we now know about every good cause there is. It is easy to get overwhelmed. And there is a need to sort out legitimate from the scams. We have two charities that have personal meaning for us (and that we feel do a great job of managing their resources). The Humanitarian Fund is a great one to support. 100% of your donations go to help people. They find other ways to cover overhead costs. And the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, well, they are amazing. If you don’t have the personal story to connect you to your service (we are also active in our church), then yeah, you have to find the real story to move people. IMHO.

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  • Feelings must, and need to be taken into account, acknowledged, and accepted as we get closer to one another by engaging, learnng, and sharing.In this digital age, and beyond…

    Thank you Bernadette for your exciting post! .

    What a delight to meet you, and to read your perspective on “…social media… the event that made you FEEL.”

  • AND … it’s easier to get hit up by these folks. I get requests almost every day from people I don’t know.

  • Lovely to meet you too!
    This just out from charity: water who are responsible for some of the best storytelling in the non-profit space http://youtu.be/6bH7SPNdSt4
    Their work really moves people to act.

  • Thank you Bernadette!
    http://youtu.be/6bH7SPNdSt4 has been bookmarked…

  • I still get goosebumps when I hear that song. I loved your parallels to *activating* donors…great post!

  • Watching that video takes me back to high school and of course I look at the people and think about how much they aged because I haven’t changed at all in that time. 😉

    It definitely started a chain of events. I remember being in Jerusalem during the summer of ’85 and watching Live Aid in one of the pubs we hung out in.

    I could tell you a million stories about those days and that is the kind of thing that we want our campaigns to inspire, feelings. We want people to be moved and to relate to whatever we are promoting. Stories are a great way to help make that happen.

  • Brent White

    Talk about a form of marketing which touched so many of our senses with that video, it was a brilliant piece of marketing for any time, let alone for when it was produced.
    Brent White
    Gigs for Online Marketing

  • Interesting! I remember Band Aid as well. Was it the start of social media? I’m not so sure. What makes social media a disruptive technology is the fact that it is a two-way conversation. That is, consumers can engage with brands and influencers in a way that simply was not possible before. I don’t think Band Aid increased conversations between fans and Bob Geldof, etc. Also there was no cohesive community around Band Aid. Although people shared the goals of the event, there was no single platform where users were engaging and doing things that enhanced the message beyond Band Aid’s basic ask and raising awareness. In a way, that might explain why social engagement does not readily convert. The goal of social isn’t (or shouldn’t be) fund-raising or sales. The goal is to have a conversation, and keep on people’s radar. If that converts later, all well and good. Sorry marketers, social media just isn’t a neat quid pro quo formula, as Band Aid evidently was. (We sing = you give.)

  • Hi Roger, you make lots of great points. Marketers do often treat social media like it’s an extension of TV only free. Bad move!

    I believe the power of LiveAid was not just that it raised money at that one event but that it showed people that they had the power to make a difference as a collective. We didn’t have the tools back then to have a two way conversation, but it did make us have those conversations at the dinner table, over garden fences and in pubs.

    Today charity: water is a great example of social engagement leading to conversion.

    The secret of disruptive innovations and business models isn’t that they disrupt ‘the industry’, it’s that they disrupt people.

  • Takes you right back eh Josh :).

  • Thanks Rosemary….so much meaning attached to just one song.

  • Thanks Bernadette. I agree with your point about disruptive innovations! I just think that LiveAid, Band Aid, etc. was more “media” than “social”. Of course, that’s just my view! 🙂 In terms of showing “people that they had the power to make a difference as a collective” you can trace that back even further, to say the March on Washington in 1963 or even the French Revolution!

  • Or the Beatles Roger!
    There are no right or wrong answers :).
    Would be great to create a timeline of the significant pre-Internet events.

  • Yes, a timeline is a great idea! Isn’t social media really an evolution out of what preceded it? So you are right, there may not be a definitive moment that we can point to as THE beginning. Which I guess is the point I was trying to make all along!

  • Rahul Patel

    Its really a story where we all are playing our parts. Some of us are playing it good and other are not able to play in nicely. It is interesting to see how you have connected the entire story to social media but in my opinion it was not a start of social media. You can call it mass media only.
    In social media two way conversation is possible between any two individuals be it some organization or a single user which was not possible in the campaign he initiated.

  • We can agree to disagree Rahul. I don’t believe this was a turning point for mass media, where we began to see the power of media to reach out to people, to change how they feel and move them to act. I think what distinguishes LiveAid from mass media is that it created a groundswell, a movement if you like. Before LiveAid mass media was all about blasting out messages to passive consumers. That’s not what happened in 1984.

  • Great article, Bernadette. I really enjoy your style of telling stories about stories. 🙂

    Reading some of the comments here, I suppose you could draw the conclusion that this wasn’t the beginning of social media. But that’s only if you look at it from the strict context of brands directly conversing with their customers. As @businessesgrow:disqus mentioned in his recent article, that kind of engagement is hard to scale on social media (and wasn’t around in 1984).

    But, this article I think addresses social media from the broader (and more important context) of creating stories that compel people to get involved, whether that’s supporting the cause with donations or sharing their stories online. Like BandAid, those are the stories that spread online — the ones that evoke a strong emotion, that put us in the middle of the story (like Bernadette said), even if we’re still sitting in our living room. Jonah Berger talks about this in detail in his book, Contagious (highly recommended).

    And look, we’re still talking about BandAid 30 years later.

    You’re right, Bernadette — charity: water is a fantastic example of this in action. TOMS and 31Bits also do this really well. They all evoke that “this is too good not to share with everyone” feeling when you read/watch their stories.

    Thanks for writing this!

  • RogierNoort

    “But does it MEAN anything? Does it DO anything?” Yes, it keeps our conscience clean. Without any effort or spending any money. I “Like” this and have done my bit, especially when I share it on my time line.

    A bit sad, but I think people actually believe they do some good when giving a thumbs up.., while in truth.., nothing happens.., at all.

    Good post Bernadette, brought back some memories…

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