With Web 2.0, the information highway seems something more akin to a mashup of a 60’s lovefest, 90’s speed dating and postmodern wordplay on crack: share some love, a witty insight and quickly move on to the next interesting community. Repeat. Alot. Using Twitter. Hey, anybody headed to San Francisco? Scratch that – Palo Alto?
It isn’t surprising to me that the business leaders from the Woodstock generation love the idea of social media. Nor is it a surprise to me that Gen Y’ers are all into community. Generational theory (ala Strauss & Howe) would point to the young generation as the next Civics. They’re ALL into community. (Our President gets that and they get that he gets it. He texted us and tweeted us and wooed us into his “love the hard times TOGETHER community”.) So, great. We’re all on the same “Social Media Is Cool” page. Now what?
This is a key question for the leaders in the social media space – those attending the Social Media Academy, those crafting oh-so-new social media plans within companies, and those already peering over the next bleeding social media edge. Leaders determine our direction and impact our sustainability. Leaders do more than flirt, or wink and dash. They know that in social media, as in any love relationship (yes, I’m sticking to my analogy), a community will only last as long as there is trust. As noted in a previous tweet, Robert Putnam (social capital scholar) tells us that no amount of hierarchical discipline or power can substitute for mutual trust in a community. But how do trust-and in turn social media communities–get created with so much information philandering amongst its community members?
Here’s what I know: we learn from MODELING. We watch our parents our friends or coworkers and we “learn” by watching what they do, much more so than what they TELL us to do. Yep, the old adage is true – we do what you do and NOT what you say. That said, Social Media Leaders must be the modelers of trust building.
Recognize that there are quantifiably astounding numbers of NEW folks joining the social media playground everyday. Like the new kids on the block they don’t necessarily know the rules, nor would they necessarily agree to them if they did. Still, a community must have boundaries to survive and the boundaries are shaped and sustained by trusted leaders.
If you are going to lead a community – commit to it. Build deep roots. Love it like it’s the only one. If you are going to build and lead a community, don’t set it up, post a few blog entries, tweet it up and then move on to the next community site when you don’t get the critical mass following you were hoping for. Treat it like a company that requires capital (your time, your ideas, your information and network resources). Treat it like a lover that requires long term wooing. Relationships are messy, but consistency and dedication engender Trust.
That said, if you are a leader in one community and a participant in another – be consistent in your behavior. If you choose to be a participant in another community, commit to it the same way you are to the community you lead. Be a good citizen and actively participate. Help clean up around the neighborhood and pitch in with good ideas and information. Reach out to others to help sustain the community. Use your network resources for the good of all.
Like most things that are new and amorphous, their boundaries tend to expand before they contract and take their organized shape. Social media is going to be messy in this first iteration. Still, humans are programmed toward organization so eventually there will be order. The kind of order, the way communities and social capital in those communities get organized-well, that depends largely on the direction and modeling of leaders that lead them and the like minded citizens that participate. If you’re a philandering, half committed or fickle leader, you’ll attract those kinds of community citizens-and your community will die because no one will trust in its sustainability. If you’re committed and dedicated to a community as a leader, bring your best to the table and you’ll get people who respect your efforts and they will follow, help you build and help the community succeed.
Bottom Line: Unlike the Woodstock of the 60’s, Social Media is here to stay-in what form is going to be determined by the social media leaders like you. Do us proud.