Micah October 18th

The Death of Community

Video may have killed the radio star, but social media killed the community.

Virtual communities have existed since communication developed beyond face to face. Im sure in ancient Rome there were letters flying between people that may have never met, creating a bond that is much like what exists today with tweets and email.

The development of online communities has been discussed since the advent of the graphical Internet. But those discussions grew rapidly when the concept of “friending” began to take shape with companies like Friendster and others. Suddenly, users could move beyond the simple information sharing aspects of the late 1990s-early 2000s web and interact with each other.

The web had become not your mother’s ebay.

Online communities sites began to grow not only in numbers but in usage. MySpace grew out of a desire to share music and other similarities between people. It was literally a place to create “my space” on the web, and share that “space” with others.

Facebook gained steam once it had opened to more people than the members of the Ivy League schools where it began. Built similarly to the standard “facebook” provided by some universities and colleges to its students so they could recognize other people in their class, Facebook leveraged the natural affinity that school attendance brought.

The term “social network”:

The personal or professional set of relationships between individuals. Social networks represent both a collection of ties between people and the strength of those ties. Often used as a measure of social “connectedness”, recognising social networks assists in determining how information moves throughout groups, and how trust can be established and fostered. – Source.

A sociological term to describe a specific type of interaction among groups, was now being used to describe how people interacted through sites like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook.

Online social networks were used to either replace or augment real interpersonal group relationships.

And web 2.0 was born.

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them. (This is what I’ve elsewhere called “harnessing collective intelligence.”) – Tim O’Reilly

Every site that claimed to be “web 2.0” had some social network features.

There were discussions about how the world was becoming flat. How we could interact in ways that we never have before. Much of which, in terms of communication and information flow, were absolutely correct.

Twitter was born out of this continued innovation in communication flow. It was/is a simple app. Let people who cared, know what you were doing at any point in time, and allow them to consume that information in any format they pleased.

Then Twitter was compared to a village. Which was quickly followed by a discussion who should lead that village. Which, of course, was quickly followed by reasons that Twitter is not a village, or needs leadership.

While all this was happening, the business of social media began to grow. More and more experts began to appear. Much like the explosion of search marketing experts in 2004-2006, now there is no marketing or public relations firm that doesnt have a social media component.

Not so surprisingly, all the online social networks started to be touted for their marketing value. Almost no movie or band comes out without a MySpace page. FaceBook groups exist for all types of businesses (even Venture Firms), and Twitter, once the proclaimed village, has “bootcamps” being “taught” with claims :

“…while Twitter serves well as a vibrant social network, it also serves as a legitimate business tool…It allows you to connect with people who you may otherwise never know about, some who may seem unapproachable, and others who will become great business contacts.”

Even, my friend Laura, who originally proclaimed Twitter a village, has built her entire consulting business around Twitter, and other microblogging tools like it:

Pistachio Consulting‘s exclusive focus on microsharing means you get the best expertise available, whether your need is for branding and market engagement or internal employee networks. We deliver briefings, strategy, research and best practices to maximize business effectiveness, along with soup-to-nuts program development and training. Drop us a line and let us help you turn microsharing into macro results.

At some point in 2008, the purpose of online social networks and communities ceased being about interaction and collaboration. Web 2.0, as defined as “harnessing collective intelligence” died.

Suddenly, social networks and networking became solely focused on the ability to market oneself, and much like standard “real world” social groups began to value participants based on their connections rather than the value brought to the group itself.

“Followers” and “Friends” have become currency. For example, Laura touts the 6,500 people that “follow” her on Twitter.

(Just a quick aside – I am not picking on Laura. I have an enormous amount of respect and love for Laura. She is just the first person to truly turn her online connections into her complete business publicly. I wish nothing but the best for her and her business.)

Communities have one characteristic that cannot be manufactured: Trust. Leaders and members are selected by a community because they have earned the collective trust of the group. Members that violate that trust are often ejected from the community. They become pariahs, outsiders.

Are marketers that use social networks and communities eroding any trust they have built with that community? After all, marketing (whether its brand, product or self) is based on emotion, not trust. It based on manipulation, not truth.

In addition, as people begin to use social media primarily for marketing purposes, are they truly looking to be a part of a community, improve that community, or profit from it?

Beyond the marketers, people are assuming that the constructed stature provided them online can be extended offline. There are “Internet famous” people. They write books. They are swarmed at conferences. They are given plenty of products in the hope that they blog or tweet or speak about them. Companies court them. They are the social media elite.

Yet, outside of social media, they are relevantly unknown. They have no additional social status because of their online activities. They are not leaders because they have 3,000 followers on Twitter.

And, because they dont get the same accolades in the real world as they do online, their participation in their physical communities languishes, and the community suffers.

Or, the opposite occurs. Because this social media elite believe that they have stature offline, when it is not given, when the trust isnt extended, the assumption becomes that their community has rejected them, and they separate from their community. Travel to places where they feel comfortable (social media conferences for example) increases, they attend less community events (unless they are headlining or organizing), and their blog posts (since all social media elite blog), tend to be “educational” or “national” in nature.

The end affect is the same. The community suffers.

Social media, in its use of false measures of importance and lack of reliance on trust, has destroyed community.

MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, even Twitter are no longer online communities. The online community as we know it is dead.

I dont have any solutions to offer. After all, it should be said as well, that I dont consider myself a social media expert. I have never hidden my intent in my use of social media to be an extension and promotion of me. I have no “personal brand.” I just have Micah. I like participating in communities both online and off. I like to be part of a larger group, and I like to be me, and it makes me just as culpable.

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There is a concept that I subscribe to, that every day, is proven right.

Give without expectation.

Every day, I try to do something where I give something (time, money, expertise, humor, whatever) with no expectation of something in return.

The reactions are interesting.

Some people dont believe it.

Others dont trust it.

Most people appreciate what I have to give.

But, for me, its somewhat of a selfish act. It makes me feel good.

Over the past week, I have researched and written about online ways for people to give. I even asked people in lieu of giving me a gift or wishing me birthday wishes, to check out SocialVibe or DonorsChoose. Two online giving vehicles that I am rather involved with.

The response was amazing. So many people decided to get involved with one of the two sites. I was humbled and amazed.

Many people dont know that I was a fundraiser for 7 years early in my career. I love the act of raising money for causes that I believe in, like education, empowering young people, art, etc.

The last week has rekindled that feeling of doing something that makes a difference.

Doing something that allows me to give without expectation.

Where does social media fit into all of this?

I dont really know. I do know that so much of what we talk about in social media is connections and community.

But, what if we want to mobilize that community? If we want that community to rally behind a cause or a need? Would it rally?

And how does one filter all the requests? In the past month, I have been asked to be involved in no less than 5 causes. Some I believe in, others I dont really.

Am I being part of the community, if I turn down requests for involvement?

Given that so much of what we do (Twitter about blog posts, hype up our friendfeed feeds, tag our flickr feeds, etc.) to about self-promotion, about taking, how does giving without expectation fit in all of this?

I dont know. But I do know that our community should figure it out.

Or else at some point in the near future, social media will have little value outside of self-promotion.

Micah August 28th

Be Available

I was tagged in a “meme” post by Chris Brogan which is quite a seminal event for me. You see, I am new to this whole social media thing. Just about a year ago, I started blogging. It was a little blog (it is still a little blog), but it was mine.

About 8 months ago, I discovered twitter. Imagine a place for people with a million thoughts running through their heads at any given moment, where I could pull one out at random and drop them on a website for all to see. It was fantastic for me.

About 6 months ago, I went to SXSW. I met many of the people I had interacted with online in the BlogHaus and the parties and the conference. I loved every minute of it.

As I left SXSW, I thought to myself, what are the top Social Media people doing different than me? And it hit me like a freight train.

Be Available.

Thats it.

So, Im available. Available by email: micah [at] currentwisdom [dot] com. Available by phone (720) 231-7120. Available anytime. And, even more importantly, me (the things that make me, me) are available on this blog.

I hope to meet everyone I interact with online, offline. But I wont be able to unless you do one thing:

Be Available.

Now, Chris has asked that we tag three people to give their thoughts on Social Media Best Practices: So, I would love to hear from Aaron Brazell (who teaches me something new every day), Tara Hunt (who scares me and inspires me at the same time) Jeremy Tanner (who wears a kilt. C’mon, how could I not tag someone who wears a kilt?)

And finally, a link to Mitch Joel over at Six Pixels of Separation who got this whole thing started.