One of my favorite Bill Gates stories involves a story told in his 1995 autobiography & tech manifesto “The Road Ahead.” In this fascinating read, Gates makes bold predictions in regards to the future direction of several potential technology innovations.

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Perhaps he was eager to regain the image of ‘visionary’ after Microsoft was deemed slow to react to the impact of the Internet—leading to the subsequent ‘browser wars’ that followed. In any case, “The Road Ahead” offered the opportunity for Gates to address many popular topics of the day, including digital convergence.

Living in a world where digital convergence has become a tangible phenomenon with digital connection via smart-phones available to us all, whenever and wherever; it’s particularly interesting to consider Gates’ vision for digital convergence then versus now.

What was particularly humorous and ironic is the device which Gates predicted the power of convergence would center upon – the wallet!

Honestly, who can blame ‘America’s richest man’ for thinking all the power of global satellite connectivity and mobile applications would align on his wallet? After all, it’s hard to beat the power of Bill Gates’ wallet. It’s the fashion accessory equivalent of Batman’s utility belt! And to be fair to Gates, innovations like Apple Pay are making our cell-phones look more like wallets each day.

Gates’ wallet prediction shows how even one of the world’s most celebrated tech visionaries can sometimes miss the mark when it comes to emerging technologies.

Embracing Social Networking

So, if Gates was a tad tardy to recognize the impact of the Internet, or a little off the mark in regards to the digital convergence device, how is he doing when it comes to embracing social networking, a cultural wave that represents a massive shift in our world, both technically and culturally?

As you would expect, Bill Gates’ social marketing strategy as demonstrated in his social media behavior is far less about attracting followers (Bill Gates having millions of Twitter followers is a given), and far more about leveraging the popularity of his social profiles to promote causes and innovations that he is passionate about.

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The centerpiece of Gates’ social marketing strategy is gatesnotes. On this blog site, the Microsoft guru shines a spotlight on four key areas of interest:

Cynics will always claim that celebrity blogs are less about being social and more about using slick PR tactics to achieve an effective social marketing strategy. However, in the case of gatesnotes, does it really matter what the cynics think when the causes discussed are so worthwhile?

Bill Gates is an extremely well connected, educated and informed philanthropist. Those attributes result in social media behavior that is both educational AND entertaining. Perhaps most importantly, it is almost entirely focused on shining a spotlight on information that can help to make our world a better place.

gates-teacher-toolsFrom Innovations for Poor Farmers to 6 Tools for Teachers, from The Miracle of Vaccines to his attention grabbing review of “The Best Business Book I’ve Ever Read”, the content on gatesnotes is evidence of a concerted social marketing strategy. His strategy is designed to aggregate information on emerging innovations and maximize awareness of these innovations. Gates does this by layering in his own perspectives to help make the stories more appealing to his loyal followers.

A great example of this type of effective social networking is Gates’ review John Brooks’ book, “Business Adventures”. After posting a review citing it as the ‘best business book’ recommended to him by longtime friend and super-rich guy, Warren Buffet, the book soared to the top of best seller lists around the globe.

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This type of social media behavior is similar to that of another affluent and socially conscious philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah leverages the influence and reach of her massive popularity and broadcast platforms with the now famous ‘Oprah’s Book Club.’ Similarly, Gates pursues a social marketing strategy to help guide those connected to him via social networking, towards information that can be both informative and influential in their lives.

Telling friends, families and colleagues about a great book we’ve recently read in the hopes that they’ll enjoy similar insights and enjoyment, is the epitome of social behavior. This is the type of ‘sharing’ that social networking thrives on and it’s great to see influential people like Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey focusing energies on this sort of social media behavior. Not only does it make these super rich celebs seem more relatable and approachable, it is fascinating for us non-billionaire types to find out what sort of content is making its way onto the bedtime reading lists of these celebrated thinkers and personalities.

Speaking of celebrated thinkers and personalities, what about Twitter?

Gates on Twitter: Social Marketing Strategy in Action

Twitter, as we all know, exemplifies the best and worst attributes of social media.

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At its worst, Twitter facilitates a prom queen approach to global popularity where Katy Perry reigns with the most Twitter followers in the world. The silver lining here is that Katy takes the crown from the former prom king, Justin Bieber. Tough times for the Biebs!

Of equal concern is Twitter’s 140 character limitations. Critics of the platform insist this limitation on length is fostering a ‘dumbing down’ of global social media behavior. They say it is leading us towards a ten second sound-byte culture where deeper issues cannot be discussed in the depth and detail they require.

But that opinion misses the point of what Twitter actually is.

Twitter is really a global conversation where everyone has a voice and an opportunity to participate. Yes, it can be superficial, as some conversations can be. But Twitter is also a place where the average person can rub shoulders with super celebs on the most discussed topics of the day. And yes, if you say something clever, controversial or funny enough within your 140 character window of opportunity, you may even get re-tweeted by one of the celebs. Doing so puts you on the radar screen of the world. Global reputations have been established and new businesses launched with this type of exposure alone!

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Visit Bill Gates’ official Twitter Feed and you’ll see firsthand how a man with over 18 million followers uses the reach of this platform to share information on some of the most important issues impacting our world.

Did you know that we’ve officially passed the tipping point in the fight against AIDs where more people receive treatment than become infected? I do, thanks to Bill Gates’ twitter feed.

Or maybe you’d be surprised to find out that the deadliest animal in the world is the mosquito? Another fascinating fact revealed to Bill Gates followers, which sparked a discussion on Malaria.

In linking his Malaria tweet back to his original book review blogpost on gatenotes, Gates demonstrates best practices for an effective social marketing strategy in the Twitterverse. Play to the strengths of the 140 character medium by starting the conversation with an interesting tidbit. If that morsel is tantalizing enough, you can ‘pull’ your audience towards your own social platforms where additional content stimulates a deeper conversation. By social networking in this fashion, you use the reach and trust of the Twitter brand to shift traffic towards your own social media assets. With this process you also reinforce the influence and credibility of your own personal brand.

Social Media Behavior – A Double Edged Sword

Bill Gates has 18 million+ followers on Twitter and satisfies that audience with considerable activity (over 1400 tweets to date). Gates is similarly popular and active on Facebook where 13 million+ Facebook ‘friends’ like what the Microsoft Founder shares with the world at large.

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With that kind of social media popularity and activity, it’s hard to say that Bill Gates is not ‘social’ or that he fails to utilize the power of social networking.

But there is one area in which Gates can be described as ‘not social’ and in all fairness to the man, it is likely for the most obvious reasons.

Sift through the content on gatenotes or Bill Gates’ twitter feed and you’ll find a treasure trove of information, ideas and innovations shared by Gates. You’ll also find hundreds of lively conversations and interactions that start as a result of Gates’ initial posts. What you won’t find on a regular basis is Gates himself being involved in those follow-up conversations. In fact, these global conversations are where social networking transforms from a one-way broadcast into a true conversation between people of all classes and cultures.

So while Gates shares his ideas and content via social networking, he rarely engages in deeper conversations. The reason is quite likely because the critical failing of social media behavior remains the ongoing issues associated with cyber bullying and disrespectful & negative commentary that often arises.

We see it on a daily basis. People say things to each other on the internet that they would never say to each other face-to-face.

Let’s hope that as social networking evolves, so too does our social media behavior. If it does, then we will have a world where we can truly enjoy meaningful, global conversations with intelligent and influential people like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Katy Perry—and yes, even Justin Bieber.

How social do YOU think Bill Gates is? Let us know in the comments!

Feature photo credit: ‘Bill Gates at CES’ / Domain Barnyard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 / background modified