100 Brains: David Armano's advocacy of the 'human factor'

David Armano is a thought leader, a practitioner and a designer of social change. He shares his thoughts on the path to social greatness, the "human factor" and social giving.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

It would be near impossible to work in the digital space and not know of David Armano. He's a thought leader, a practitioner, and a designer of social change. Currently a senior vice president at Edelman Digital, Armano brings to the forefront a unique view of social business and its application. I chose to include Armano in the 100 Brains project for a few reasons. One, he was one of the first to understand the delicate intricacies of using social beyond blatant broadcast. Two, he's an ardent champion of advocacy. Finally, he's a role model to many, even those who have more years under their belts. I spoke with him the path to social greatness, the importance of the "human factor" and his blueprint for social giving.

Q. Please tell me about your journey through social, where you started and what you are doing now?

A. Well, like most people who work in the “social media” space I didn’t start here. But I’ve always been passionate about digital media. I was trained in visual communications at Pratt Institute, a notable design school. From there I started in graphic design, transferred those skills into Web design/user experience, then strategy and thought leadership. My job is to help Edelman and our clients navigate their way through a space which changes almost daily. My job consists of internal education/product development, external client strategy and visibility for the firm. I never thought I’d work for a PR firm, but the focus on relationships makes it a natural fit when it comes to communications and engagement in modern times.

Q. While many of your activities and social endeavors have been influential, I was most moved by last year's drive to raise money for Daniela and her family so that she could save her family's home. How did you get started with that, and has it moved you to do more with social?

A. That experience was a turning point for me and made me a true believer in the power of networks. My wife was the person who brought Daniela into our lives and when we realized that as a single mother of three who lost her home, that she had very few options—that drove the decision to act. Nobody was there to help her. So I turned to my digital friends. And they responded instantly, raising 12K in less than 24 hours and ending up at a total of just under 17K. While I can’t pull something off like that regularly, it’s become a blueprint for others. So it’s a pay it forward kind of thing and we all need to take turns.  If someone asks me to tap my network and they are truly in need, I do what I can.

Q. What are some more creative ways that people can use social media for social change?

A. As I eluded to earlier, the blueprint is out there. Scott Stratton recently helped a young boy who is terminally ill with his Tutus for Tanner initiative. We can leverage people’s natural desire to get noticed to help a cause. Recently, two Edelman colleagues of mine started an initiative which got a bunch of men who work in social media promoting themselves to be on a calendar. While it sounds trivial and to some, narcissistic—the “social men” effort will actually be geared to help raise awareness of the Falling Whistles charitable organization.

Q. Who do you admire most and why? It can be a peer, an athlete, your significant other... anyone who drives you to keep doing what you're doing.

A. I wish Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could merge into one person. I admire them both for different reasons. Bill Gates has become a tireless and generous philanthropist dedicating the rest of his life helping people. Steve Jobs is a master communicator and highly charismatic. Both have influenced society in profound ways which are undeniable.

Q. When you read about social media there are all sorts of opinions. Some of them give big thoughts and a 1,000-foot view and others are practical examples. Which do you think are more impactful and helpful on business?

A. You need both points of view absolutely—they both serve a purpose. But the trick is that not everybody offers the same value. I look at colleagues such as Dave Fleet who we recently hired who understand social media at a practical business level and offers up morsels of information any business can put to action immediately. I also see value in folks like Seth Godin who keep the conversation high level but offer insights which are both unique and timeless.

Q. What is your social media engagement philosophy? Connect to everyone but engage reactively, engage proactively and connect with everyone who requests it, or limit your connections so that you can be sure to maintain good relationships (the quality vs. quantity question)?

A. I connect with those who show the most I genuine interest. My philosophy is advocacy based. If someone keeps talking to me and showing interest in what I’m saying or doing, than they are essentially signaling that they would potentially become an advocate on my behalf. As the Daniela effort proved, advocates can cause measurable outcomes. I engage as much as possible with those who continually show that they want to.

Q. Do you believe that the social networks fully understand how their users leverage them for business? Do you believe they are appropriately modeling their businesses to support that as well as succeed themselves?

A. No, of course not. We are so early in the game but the signs are everywhere. Social media was instrumental to the Obama campaign, and now you see grassroots movements such as the Tea Party tapping into it. The Gap recently felt the impact of it. At it’s basic core, social media empowers individuals. This empowerment is actually disruptive. Amazon capitalized on the empowerment of consumers who no longer had to leave the house to buy stuff. That’s one vertical—commerce. Social media touches many verticals & industries. I believe it’s as big as people say it is, though we are all figuring it out. Even the people with neat and tidy ROI formulas.

Q. Late last year I asked a lot of social brains what they thought would happen in social in 2010. The most predominant answer was "ubiquity." Do you believe that has been reached

A. No, but we are close. Ubiquity to those who live in advanced nations perhaps but the developing nations function differently. I think we have reached a point of global awareness. My parents who do not use social networks and immigrated from Italy aren’t tweeting, but they know what it is.

Q, Finally, what's one thing you want to make sure readers know about the web, social, etc.?

A. I’m a firm believer that the “human factor” is being hugely underestimated in this latest iteration of the Web. Companies seek automation and turn key solutions. Marketing for example is more comfortable building, optimizing and launching stuff than leveraging human interactions which now fuel the Web. I believe that this “human factor” will become more clear as time progresses and organizations of all kinds will realize that they will need to manage change in order to deal with a much more human web.

Social Business "100 Brains" is a series of 100 interviews with some of social media's most compelling "thinkers" and "tinkerers." Each interview aims to showcase each subject's most unique perspectives and talents. Interviews will run until December 31, 2010. Know a top "thinker" or "tinkerer"? Send an email using the form below.

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