Social Manifest Co-Founder says #takethatwaybackmachine

Social Media Week

Social Media Week is a leading news platform and worldwide conference that curates and shares the best ideas and insights into social media and technology's impact on business, society, and culture.

By Rick Wion
Co-founder, Social Manifest

As Social Media Week Chicago enters its fourth year, I’m looking forward to experiencing an event that has become a must-do for all of us trying to bring the promise of social to life. This year, I’m also stoked to see how the short history of this revolution is reflecting so much of the remarkable history of human culture.

Weighty words I know, but when I speak of the history of social, I speak of the opportunity for the smartest brains in social to create ever more success by learning how to harness this new technology in-part through drawing on lessons from the past.

While nearly every single person involved in Social Media Week participates because they are excitedly invested in the promise of social to change their lives, their jobs, their companies and the world at-large, the true students of social will look to the past to understand how to make that change happen.

I love learning from history. From the ancient Romans to Gettysburg to the first dotcom bubble, I love devouring historical works and finding the lessons that are still applicable today. Even the most casual observer can see the parallels between the amazing events of social media and the historical context that not only makes these things possible but also the lessons that we should all learn from.

Because while the social revolution is omnipresent and super cool in the here and now, what is often overlooked is the multitude of historical precedents where social behaviors and new technologies provided not only an interesting point-in-time story but also an amazing context to what social is really about. These centuries old case studies additionally illustrate how social is a real revolution to which everyone from the C-suite to modern-day Plebeians should pay close attention.

To demonstrate, I’ll show how three major themes of Social Media Week – influence, innovation and strategy – should be viewed through an historical perspective:


Cicero was the one-man Buzzfeed of ancient Rome. He wrote thousands of letters, responses to letters and related commentary in a time when paper was not even invented, papyrus was expensive, and personal slaves were the delivery mechanism of the day. As Tom Standage states in his thoroughly entertaining and eye opening book Writing on the Wall: “The communications bandwidth of a Roman nobleman was determined by the number of slaves he owned to deliver his letters.”

In modern terms, Cicero was so prolific he would have not only been a top blogger, top viner and top commenter, he would have owned 4chan, and expertly trolled Reddit so much that he could single-handedly break the internet.

Such was his prolificacy and passion that a great deal of it exists more than 2,000 years later. #takethatwaybackmachine


One of the most major innovations in the announcement of the new Apple Watch is that little knob that sticks off to the right of the watch screen. As Tim Cook said, “we took something old and made it new again.”

Apple did something revolutionary within a form factor that is more than a century old. They turned the knob on a watch, typically used to wind the device to keep it accurate, and made it a key part of the interface for users to access literally thousands of experiences. A tool that was formerly designed for one single use is now the key to unlock thousands.

Within seconds of Apple’s announcement, Twitter was flooded with images of Dick Tracy and his two-way wrist radio.

Not at all unexpected, but it also calls back to a fundamental feature of innovation. There are few very new, never-before-thought-of ideas. Most (and arguably the best and most realistic) innovations are merely the next logic step in a sometimes planned but more often not well thought out revolution.

Think about it:

  • Thomas Edison was the human kickstarter of the 19th century
  • The core value of Uber isn’t taking a taxi ride but rather taking the friction out of the process
  • Gutenburg’s invention of the printing press was not about the sharing of new ideas but rather developing a mechanism for faster creation and cheaper distribution

Truly new ideas are rare to the point of legend. In true fact, the coolest ones are simply better, faster and stronger. And no, Kanye didn’t say it first, nor did Daft Punk. It was Oscar Goldman. #IMDBit


If you conducted an exhaustive survey of 500 different organizations from non-profits to the Fortune 500, you would find (at least) 500 different social strategies. Every company surely (hopefully) has a different strategy that is carefully articulated to its particular goals and objectives. However, at their cores, every smart strategy will break down to reflect a decades, even centuries-old strategic framework. In this case, old doesn’t mean obsolete but rather a proven case study that is a nearly infallible recipe for success for not just social but really any business endeavor.

Any successful strategy is the proper deployment of people, tools, and resources. The smartest, winningest strategies make the aforementioned ingredients work together in a successful manner.

To illustrate, the battle of Gettysburg–fought 151 years ago–provides an amazing illustration of smart and flawed strategies that led to near victory for the South but an ultimate win for the North. Here is a short history of the battle through the lens of modern buzzwords:

At Gettsyburg, Confederate General, Robert E. Lee had a decided early adopter advantage in exploiting a new and unexpected territory. However, his prototype movement did not have the supporting infrastructure to leverage said first-mover status into a long-term competitive differentiation. To make matters worse, his generals were following the wrong data and insights. Lee’s subordinates also suffered from a reliance on old tactics in the face of a rapidly changing environment. In the end, the generals from the North were able to combine new technological innovations (in the form of longer range cannons) and a superior workforce (better fed troops directed by colonels more willing to take smart risks) in order to take the day and ultimately preserve the United States as a union.

Thus is the backdrop that we see leading to Social Media Week in Chicago. The best and brightest of Chicago, with technology smarts and an inherent drive to change their worlds.

As Alexander the Great once said, “shit dude…this is gonna be awesome.”

Rick Wion will speak at the Building a Successful Influencer Marketing Campaign session at the Digital Marketing Summit, Wednesday, Sept. 24.

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