It’s Time for the Internet of Ideas


Back in November The Web Summit arrived in Dublin. And for a brief, beautiful week, nerds ruled the streets. Publicans wondered bemusedly at their sudden shortage of craft beer, delinquent ‘youths’ in Temple Bar were temporarily scared off by desperate start ups, begging them to invest. People with Google Glass could actually walk around without being punched in the face. It was a magical time. And temporarily – as will a lot of conventions of this nature – we all got caught up in the excitement.

At the event itself, particular attention was paid to the industries of health, education, politics and aid. Much of the conversation at the main stage was given over to how tech and ‘the internet of things’ can fix a world of broken things – like poverty, education, isolation, terrorism, cancer, obesity, etc. There were a lot of words been thrown around with little weight or understanding behind them – like ‘content’, ‘micromarketing’ and ‘big data’. And trends. Boy, do people love trends. 3D Printed Personalities? Hover-boards? SnapCat?! (An app I’ve just invented that combines two top trending items – SnapChat and Cats. Patent pending.)

In January I am reminded again about this obsession in business for ‘what’s next’. But then I was also reminded that one of the most interesting ‘aside’ parts of that conversation was occurring on the smaller stages – away from the Bono talks and the thinly disguised sales pitches. And it was this: Just how much of a positive effect can new tech have, if the system it is built for is broken?

Take education for example… How much can tech really improve our ability to learn (as adults, children or infants), if the curriculum and its basic teaching methods are outdated? If we still put so much pressure on teachers to be data logger, therapist, lesson planner and experts in all things – rather than just a much better engager and facilitator? If we do not educate the educators in technology? If we still measure students on how much knowledge they can regurgitate, rather than how they can apply and use it? If an ‘effective’ classroom of today can still look exactly like the classroom your granny sat in?

The talks on health also made me think. It seems that ultimately, we need to push two ideas alongside the amazing health innovations that are making daily appearances in the news. First, is the empowerment of the patient through self-knowledge – that a patient should ultimately be the expert on their own health, their family history, the secrets locked within their personal genetic code. Secondly, is the idea that health needs to be addressed as something we assess, check and maintain regularly – we should not be waiting for symptoms to find out we are sick. We need to start using technology to find our potential health challenges before they start causing us problems. In both education and health, what we need in 2015 is not necessarily new tech, it’s new ideologies.

And then there are the issues of privacy and personal freedoms… of security, of governance, of the right to be forgotten or the right to ‘remember, remember the fifth of November’. Whatever you think of Anonymous or what we do with ‘life after Snowdon’ we must all agree that ideologies are coming to the forefront of the internet, so we better start talking about them. Hell, they’re coming to the forefront of the biggest world news stories.

This argument of digital ideals is only beginning to unfold – as different groups jostle in the battle for online privacy and freedom of expression, versus using personal data to protect and inform. In the last week we have seen it dialled up a notch further, as Anonymous announce their intentions after the attack on Charlie Hebdo and subsequent aftermath. A hefty final step firmly in politics for the original meme makers and fathers of nyan cat. Hacking has grown up. Hacking has ideologies.

In the industrial and agricultural revolutions, there was a marriage of both ‘new things’ and ‘new ideas’. The tech revolution is no different.

In short, we are entering the era of the hacktivist.

I actually believe this is an exciting area for brands, organisations and businesses because, ultimately, a successful brand is based on strong ideologies. #RebootIreland could have learnt a lot from that – as “We’ve no ideas, but hey there’s a hashtag.” is an all to familiar phrase in both the marketing and political boardroom. Good marketing today (and in fact, always) should involve explaining your brand story – your ideology, where you are coming from, your vision… what you stand for. Through driving home this ideology – both internally and externally – brands and businesses can not only create and communicate a clear and exciting positioning for themselves, but can also play a role in driving genuine positive change in how we think as consumers and how the behave internally, for the better. It’s no longer about being part of the broadcasting network, it’s about fitting in, seemlessly into the online conversation. At the right place, at the right time and never ever just ‘for the sake of it’. It’s not about jumping on a ‘trending’ topic on Twitter, it’s about engaging in the ones that matter to you or your brand, thus making a real contribution.

It’s going to get ruthless. Not everyone will survive. There will definitely be more#EpicFails.

It seems the majority of the most ‘popular’ examples of marketing fails for 2014 all involved a brands not acting ethically in unplanned situations, having the wrong opinion versus it’s core consumers or, worse, no opinion on at all. Take Uber for example – the cab company that upped their taxi charges to astronomical levels when everyone was trying to get from a hostage situation. Or Coca-Cola, who cut their gay couple out of their TV ads in ROI. In both cases one could say the brands weren’t to blame – it was the legislation, it was the tech. Blah, blah, blah. But it’s really not. It’s actually how they reacted when brought up on it that was the issue. Holding your hands up rather than holding an opinion is no longer OK in 2015.

No longer will we be able to hide behind some ‘jazz hands’ and a smart new piece of tech.

You must have an idea and you must have an opinion.

So make sure you do. And make sure your whole team are on board with your brand policies and opinions – particularly those in charge of your social media.

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