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Havas CEO David Jones: Social media and the price of doing well

January 3, 2013 | 4 min read

The digital revolution has changed every facet of life, from business to education, from how we communicate to how we receive our news, from how we entertain ourselves to how we shop. It has completely rewritten the rules of the way the world functions, creating a shift every bit as significant as the industrial revolution.

And it has created a much more open, transparent and social world.

The level of freely available information, the sheer speed at which it can spread and the ability to use technology to create mass-movements has empowered ordinary people to hold businesses and leaders accountable.

If they don't like what a business or a leader is doing they have the ability to sanction them or, as we saw during the Arab Spring, to remove them. In the business world, there is a new example every week of a company that is being held to account by people using the power of social media.

And while that's a massive challenge for the world of business it's a hugely positive thing for the world in general because it will drive the behaviour of businesses and leaders to a new and better standard.

That said there is a need for caution.

There is a risk that societies, leaders and businesses become reactionary and respond to spikes in public feeling rather than taking time to think, reflect and embed overall purpose and strategy and stick to that. A case of “Fire, ready, aim,” rather than “Ready, aim, fire”.

The key is combining the power of technology with the creativity of the human mind. As someone once said: "Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination."

Another area to watch, given that information flows at an ever-increasing speed, is the accuracy of that information. Today, anyone can publish anything so it can be hard for people to know what information to trust. Furthermore, many journalists now strive to be the fastest to get a story out rather than ensuring their information is robust.

Finally, there is the potential for the power of the Internet to be used for ill rather than good by terrorists, criminals and oppressive regimes.

Despite these concerns, I think it is a massive positive for society, for business and for the world.

In the social media age, which is defined by radical transparency, the most successful businesses and leaders will increasingly be those that demonstrate the ability to lead and add value in a socially responsible way. The new price of doing well is doing good.

At the heart of it all is the brilliant younger generation, who will drive us all to change, maybe even faster than some of us are comfortable with. They are the most knowledgeable generation that has ever existed as technology has democratised access to information and education.

They are the most responsible generation that has ever existed - not the rebellious idealists of previous generations - as they see the world's growing issues and problems. But above all they are the ones who best understand how to use the power of digital and social to drive positive change in the world.

It is their voice that is accelerating the global movement towards a more socially responsible future.

And from my own perspective this represents a huge opportunity for the world of business. At a simplistic level, last century NGOs and charities had great intentions, but not always great execution. Business had great execution, but not always great intentions.

This century can be about, and needs to be about, great intentions and great execution.

David Jones was writing as part of Virgin Media's #OurDigitalFuture campaign.


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