What Bono Teaches Me About Social Media

About a week ago, I went to the U2 show here in Washington. I had a great time for many reasons: I’ve been a fan of U2 since the early 80s, I was with wonderful friends at the show, and it was a beautiful, chilly fall evening – perfect for listening to live music.

But my favorite parts of the evening actually had little to do with the music, at least directly. They had to do with the very reasons I like Bono and U2: moments of interaction that felt authentic.

It started early in the show, with the dynamic between Bono and The Edge. After the first song, the stage was dark, and Bono said, “Where are you, The Edge?” Now, the tone of voice is a hard thing to convey, simply by restating the words. It reminded me of how my little brother might have called out to me during “hide and seek” as kids, gleeful, on that borderline before patience wears thin, and discovery is still forthcoming. It was totally heartwarming, and repeatable – in fact, for days, my friends and I repeated to each other, “Where are you, The Edge?”

Then Bono compared the band to a nation state, introducing each member as a distinct piece of the government (as in, “President The Edge”). Grins all around from the band members; smiling and “can you believe this guy?” eye-rolling, in response.

And, as anyone who has been to a U2 show knows, Bono also used the stage as a pulpit, to share concerns about the world; everything from jailed Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi (for whom the band wrote “Walk On”) to the One campaign (Bono’s crusade to rally help for AIDS in Africa, a cause for which he has made nice with political leaders, from Jesse Helms to Nancy Pelosi).

So what does this say about social media?

Bono’s a rock star. He could use his notoriety in any way he chooses. We don’t trust him because he’s a rock star. We trust him because he’s consistent.

And consistency doesn’t mean being less than three dimensional; Bono doesn’t bore me. What I mean is, the guy who cares about AIDS in Africa doesn’t seem disparate from the guy who likes his band member enough to talk delightedly about him, which doesn’t feel like such a great leap from a guy who would want a Burmese leader democratically elected to be freed from house arrest, which in turn doesn’t feel that off from a guy who writes music about social justice, and love, and beauty. Or from a guy who gets in trouble with his band for fraternizing with Tony Blair, but whose band members love him like a brother anyway.

Fostering trust, consistency, and multi-dimensionality is what it’s all about in social media. Authenticity. Start here.