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Facebook is our Spinning Jenny

Standing on the threshold of a new era, what strategy would you choose?

James Hargreaves invented Spinning Jenny in 1764.

He was a weaver and a carpenter and he put his skills to use to invent an automatic weaving machine to make his own work easier. The result was Spinning Jenny, a machine that sparked what later became the industrial revolution in England.

Imagine for a second that Facebook is the Spinning Jenny of our time, a historical marker of change in a shift that reshapes the way we relate and communicate with each other.

The industrial revolution changed our way of life by restructuring how we form societal groups. We became less dependent on a local community to provide for all of our needs and we were able to become more urban. The digital revolution has brought upon us a shift of similar magnitude — never before in human history has groups formed and dissolved so rapidly and so free from demographical boundaries.

Of course, the industrial revolution wasn’t only due to Spinning Jenny, just as the digital revolution hasn’t been only due to Facebook. James Hargreaves and Mark Zuckerberg just happened to create something that demonstrated to the world the potential of a new technology. Chances are that future historians will use Facebook as a similar symbol for change, just like we refer let the Spinning Jenny illustrate the industrial revolution.

As PR professionals, how can we allow the Spinning Jenny to inspire our thinking and our strategies?

If you in the early days of the industrial revolution happened to be in the textile industry, you would be a fool to ignore Spinning Jenny. You would be a fool not to invest in some sort of automation. And, you must be smart about it; you must make money throughout the transition while investing in new ways to make money.

If you weren’t in the textile industry at this time, maybe you had some “extra” years to prepare before your line of work became industrialised. Some used those years to prepare and to invest, others didn’t. They just couldn’t bring themselves to accept the inevitable.

“The ability to change constantly and effectively is made easier by high-level continuity.”
— Michael Porter

Two questions for you, dear reader and fellow PR professional, to meditate on as I stitch this thought together:

1. Imagine yourself being in business in the early days of the industrial revolution and someone came by and described the Spinning Jenny to you. How would you react? What actions would you take?

2. Despite being such a disruptive invention, you’ll have to go to a museum to find a Spinning Jenny now. What will the world look like when your digital tools are a thousand times more potent than Facebook is today?

Now, go be smart about your Facebook strategy.

Cover photo via Wikipedia.


Avatar of Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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