With apologies to Sir Paul McCartney, a recent Wall Street Journal article Yale on $0 a Day (subscription required) made me think about how a time-tested business principle is being leveraged anew through social media channels.
The premise of the article is that more universities are using the Web to share course materials - from class plans, required readings and lecture notes, to actual audio and video of lectures. While not quite approaching the level of "distance learning" programs that offer degrees, this free-to-the-public content is allowing more individuals to share knowledge in an open source environment. Here's a quick list of some examples.
Traditionally, institutions of higher education have made lectures available to the public by allowing anyone to audit a course. Bounded only by the seating capacity of a lecture hall or classroom, this approach gave auditors the opportunity to participate in everything but the exams, and they would receive no course credit. Now, giving away content via social media makes this same knowledge available to a wider audience than previously possible.
I've been blogging in one capacity or another for nearly four years. In that time, I've found fellow bloggers and podcasters to be some of the most generous and open people when it comes to sharing tips, processes and information. In an ever-shrinking world, this is simply being neighborly; it's the essence of the "social" in social media. Since its founding, the official motto of the Social Media Club has been "If you get it, share it."
As businesses begin to explore how social media can work for them, they would be best served by keeping this premise in mind. Those that are transparent and that willingly share information with their audiences will find that they'll benefit from the customer loyalty that will inevitably be returned to them. In this information-rich era, customers can find information anywhere; companies that are stingy and hoard information will suffer.
UPDATE: Since posting this yesterday, I discovered that IBM is calling for media companies to loosen the grip on content, according to Online Media Daily. IBM would like to see big media cooperate in allowing the legal reuse of content for mash-ups, overdubs and other ways "that celebrate their favorite branded content in new and creative ways."