Social Media and Bumper-Sticker Thinking


By Samuel Greengard

Over the last several months, Facebook has devolved into a seemingly endless stream of placards, postcards and electronic bumper stickers. There's nary a cause that doesn't have someone posting a picture along with a few pithy words. "Click 'Like,' if you support our men & women in uniform!" Or, "If you want to kick cancer's ass, click 'Like.'"

Not surprisingly, most of these posts collect lots and lots of "Likes."' What isn't there to like about military veterans and ending cancer? Or focusing society's attention on numerous other vital causes?

In reality, clicking "Like" on Facebook or posting a banal tweet doesn't change anything in the real world. In fact, it's nothing more than a feel-good way to act without doing any heavy lifting—or for that matter, any lifting at all. Don't bother to donate money to help homeless or mentally ill veterans or volunteer at a local cancer facility. After all, you're already doing something important.

And, best of all, in the spirit of today's nano-attention span world, you can click on the next important cause without delay. Heck, if you click "Like" on enough causes, you can start to think of yourself as the Bill or Melinda Gates of Facebook!

Unfortunately, turning everything into a bumper sticker achieves two highly undesirable results: First, it trivializes important causes by reducing them to a meaningless Facebook "Like." The process bypasses the act of reading or learning anything substantive about the underlying issue. Second, over time, clicking an endless stream of "Likes" without doing anything more leads to a culture of unaccountability.

This same dynamic exists in the workplace. Although social media offers a remarkable way to connect workers and help them collaborate and communicate more effectively, businesses also can lapse into a feel-good echo chamber of slogans and people saying the right thing with no underlying passion or commitment. The executive team engineers a pithy mission statement or bumper sticker slogan, and, soon enough, workers begin piling on "Likes" and comments that are about as genuine as a three-dollar bill.

Most of us want to do the right thing. Most of us want to make the world—and the workplace—better. But somewhere between lofty ideals and instant clicks lies the real world, which requires doing some heavy lifting and putting in the effort needed to affect real change.