The heart of Social Media

A few months ago, I was engaged in studying cloud computing. I thought the whole concept was pretty interesting. I wrote a post in mid-June about how I thought cloud computing as a concept could translate into the social web. I hypothesized that eventually we would all have a central hub where we would write our posts, our e-newsletters, our status updates, and we’d just select which communities we’d want that information to reach.My thinking was focused on sending information out.

I think my focus was misguided, however. I don’t think that Social Media can sustain or maintain itself if we are all out here sharing information. Listen to all of the noise. See all of the competition. We are all standing in front of a wall that is basically consistent all the way down. Sometimes the wall shifts here and there so that we are talking to different parts, but generally, we all have the same targets in our sights. Those targets are our audience. Those targets are also us. Those targets are people who write blogs, who comment on our blogs, who tweet out our posts, and whose posts we tweet out.

Do we all need to talk to the same wall?

I know that a lot of content in this Social Media world concentrates on community. I’ve certainly talked about community a lot here. But does community mean that we all need to create our own community?

The way I see it, there are huge portions of the wall that have been stamped and stenciled by very large real estate owners. These real estate owners have huge blog communities, huge followings on Twitter, the maximum number of Facebook fans. And all of those people, those subscribers and twitter followers and facebook fans – they are all people who you and I and countless others want to reach too.  We are the audience as well as the authors. And I’m just wondering – does that make sense?

No Man is an Island

If Social Media is a sea, then all of these individual blogs and Twitter accounts and “presences” are islands floating along. In order for someone to gather all of the resources they could want, they have to jump from island to island to island. It’s time consuming. It’s tiring. It takes away from time that could be dedicated to building one’s own island. We don’t get along this way in real life, for the most part. We emphasize putting as much information as possible about a topic into one single place. If you are trying to open a bank account with a bank, you don’t have to go to 7 different branches. If you are trying to buy a television at a store, they aren’t going to make you go to 6 other stores to gather all of the information you want.

Moreover, we don’t live this way as people. When you decide it’s time to move, do you start to build your own house and then your own town, or do you move to a community that is already in place?

Why can’t we do that in Social Media?

It takes a community to make a community

If you were to skim through the people I follow and ask me how I met them, the following would be my answers: I met him through that chat. I met her because we did at least one chat together 3-4 nights a week. I met that person because we started conversing over on Chris Brogan’s blog. I met that person from Blogchat.

I have begun to build a community, but it is really not unique to me. I have visited other communities that already existed. I’ve delivered some delicious tuna casserole, introduced myself, and I’ve been invited in. My connections with multiple people have built bridges, for me, between several different communities that exist independently from each other.

I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, for people like me who are newer to the Social Media world, that this is the better way to go. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t blog or have your own Twitter account. I’m just saying, why try to create your own town when there are already all of these established communities where houses are for sale? I’m saying that the heart of social media is perhaps not content creation or context creation. I’m saying the heart of social media might be evolving into community adoption – mixing it up with people who are regular commenters on a blog or regular participants in certain (or countless) chats.

How does this work?

What if we let go of the concept of possessing or owning our ideas and content? What if we let go of the notion that our content is furniture and our blog is our house, so all of our content has to be there?  Instead of writing a blog on a subject that someone has already blogged about, what if we wrote a meaty, lengthy, thoughtful comment that maybe in the past could have been a blog post, but now it is a submission to a community? We could still generate our own content too, but what if our central hub was everything external to our blog, and our blogs were just spokes on our wheels? What if our community was a cross-section of many other communities, with us as the bridge between them? We would no longer be islands. Our readers, our target audience members, would no longer have to jump from one person’s blog to another. Everyone’s thoughts on that specific subject would be gathered in one place, discussed in one place, ready for evaluation and analysis.

What do you think? Does this make sense?

Image by Gabriella Fabbri. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/duchesssa

14 comments
Paula Goldman
Paula Goldman

Margie, looks like my first reply didn't stick also... Hmmm...@pdgoldman
). But I also wonder about the flip side of this argument. Algorithmically, the way we find other people to follow, read, etc, on Twitter, is somewhat the same way we find sites on search. The more influential/high traffic/well-linked sites or people who link to a site or person, the higher that person comes in search results etc. I don't disagree with you at all. I'm sure we'd both agree, in fact, that it's not either/or.

Margie Clayman
Margie Clayman

Hi Paula,

Actually you left this comment on the more recent blog post :) Nothing is lost!

I responded there but wanted to let you know that I also appreciate this comment here. Great to meet you!

Ken Rosen
Ken Rosen

Hi Margie,
Looks like my first reply didn't stick, so trying again. I think you're hitting two important and separate points here: Community adoption (rather than creation) AND new approaches to engagement.

Like you, my early contacts ("early" for me means last 90 days!) came from chats--people (like you!) who care enough about a topic important to me that they arrange their busy schedule to participate. When geography and time zone barely affect with whom one can engage, shared interest is the key. We need proxies to help us find birds of a feather. In a sense, this is the classic target marketing challenge: how do you segment groups based on invisible, psychographic factors? After all, visible factors like revenue, location, ethnicity, etc. are so much easier. Knowing people's interests via chats, Twitter, StumbleUpon, or Audible book lists is a new tool for finding global true friends.

I believe your other point about engaging by visiting the locations in which your new friends with common interests reside--whether their own blogs or shared spaces like chats--can be seen as the tactic that follows acceptance the switch from community creation to community adoption. And like any tactic, it will change as the environment and your selected communities evolve. In that sense, it raises a new sort of question we might each be asking ourselves regularly over time.

Cheers...and Happy Thanksgiving.

Ken

Performance Works
Blog: www.PerTalks.com (Performance Talks)

Margie Clayman
Margie Clayman

Thanks Ken...sorry your comment disappeared on you. Bothersome. =/

I think that community adoption could make a big difference for a lot of people. If you look at folks like you and me, who have been doing this under a year - we've come into it thinking that we had to create our own communities and become the sun to that new solar system. If we can let new people know that actually, we can wrap them in and get them involved in these existing communities, two things would happen. First, people would be indoctrinated into best practice and the "feel good" aspect of Social Media a lot faster. And frankly, if you are able to ease the introduction of someone into this space, you will be forever an influencer to them. You will be that person or that community who said, "Oh, don't worry, we'll talk to you," during those turbulent days when it seems no one will ever respond to your tweets.

This is how I envision Social Media evolving, or at least it's one possibility, and it's what I'm kind of working towards.

What do you think?

Tommy Walker
Tommy Walker

Margie I think you've hit it right on the head! (and I also think you've made it come full circle)

How you're talking about community has existed in some form or another since "blogging" began. People would comment on other people's live journals, interact with each other in forums, sent links to each other via IM, would have special chat rooms etc.

The only difference now is that there is a just a TON of noise. And people instinctively are doing what they've always done, creating offshoots to separate from the noise.

And just like a star, a community will grow and become more powerful and eventually will implode under it's own mass. This is the way of the universe. Big time bloggers are the ones who have been able to survive the growth and implosion of multiple systems.

Take Brian Clark, Chris Brogan, and Darren Rowse for example... Now they have HUGE blogs (some of the most trafficked in this little community so it seems) But back in the day they didn't have Twitter. They had forums and bulletin boards. They had comments and a basic knowledge of how the search engines worked. They knew they could interact with people in different specialized forums, and write in more detail about some of the topics they talked about on their own blog. By using basic SEO techniques, they would then be found by other people who were looking for information on the same topic.

Eventually these systems evolved. Everything became more fast paced. Twitter. Facebook and the bajillion other social networking sites out there. Yet what do we see happening? People use hashtags to create niche chats, or start a groups, or create directories or join membership sites to find each other. Because that's what we as people are made to do. Connect.

Margie Clayman
Margie Clayman

Yep, I 100% agree. Everyone is trying to take a small chunk of what's going on and make it their own. It's like the pioneers of the 19th century. All of that land was there west of the Mississippi (I mean, ignoring the fact that tons and tons of Native Americans were out there). Everyone heard that the land was great. It would make them rich. So everyone went out there at the same time. Everyone tried to settle land. They wanted their own 200 acres. But what happened to a lot of people? The isolation got to them. They got into trouble and no one was around to help them.

Where people settled towns together, things went a little better. You could still have your farmland out beyond the town's boundaries, but there were people to help you wile away the long lonely hours of winter. There were people to help you if your family got sick.

I think folks like Chris and Brian and Darren sort of came into a community like those pioneer towns. They were going through similar experiences in terms of growing, in terms of becoming leaders in this space, so they could support each other while each did very different things. I think right now we are all very competitive and we are all trying to be "the next." I'm not sure that's really going to be successful. I think the wave of the future is going to be the #usguys phenomenon. Lots of people working together to promote each other without any expectations, except that everyone's success will mean success for the community at large.

Suzanne Vara
Suzanne Vara

Ok a different thought here - how about thinking about social media as an iceberg. A big gigantic iceberg. Now, we know that pieces break off of icebergs; some big and some small but they were from the same iceberg. Sometimes those pieces can follow the same path and end up in the same area and sometimes not. The point here is that we folks that engage in social media are the iceberg, the leaders are the bigger parts and slowly we all do break off. If not, we would not have any differentiation or home base.

In business we do need to have our home base or our website/blog. If we all went to one site then that is not much different than a yellow pages directory. Everyone is there but not many are paid attention to. Communities are built from others and there are people that branch out and form a community from others. There are only so many of us to go around.

We have the blogs on one site already and it is convenient but realistically how many blogs can we read a day? In order for the communities themselves survive, we have to have an opportunity to show what makes us different, marketable and hire-able (not a word but it fits here). All being in one place does not promote that.

Just some random thoughts.

Margie Clayman
Margie Clayman

Well, like I said, I'm not saying that we should all give up our blogs. I think it's still important to try and start our own conversations, certainly. I'm just saying that if you read a really good blog post by someone else, and you get that feeling of "Oh...I want to write a blog post in response to this!" Take a moment and see what's going on in the comment section first. See if other people in that community are verbalizing thoughts similar to yours or completely different from yours. How did they get to those points? Share some of your thoughts there instead of writing a post on your site about a similar subject, which then necessitates everyone jumping over to your blog and away from the conversation they're already in.

I think this methodology could still differentiate you from the masses, by the way. If you articulate your opinions well in a comment section, people will assume you can do the same thing where you run the roost. They'll find you interesting in a context that doesn't involve your face or your pushes or links to your whatever.

Make sense?

Karen E. Lund
Karen E. Lund

Gee, Marjorie, I met you though a Tweet Chat and I can't even remember which one. TweetDiner or BlogChat? Yes, it's how I've found the most interesting people and organizations I follow on Twitter.

I agree with your suggestion that everything we share could be part of one central hub, but there's the question of which hub that will be. There's no one platform that can handle it now--unless you want to look on the Internet as that platform, in which case it already exists.

Not only are there multiple blogs, there are multiple blog platforms. WordPress, Blogger/Blogspot, TypePad...? People can't seem to agree on just one, and I don't foresee that changing any time soon. The nice thing about Twitter (in particular) is that it can act as a sort of bridge among various blogs, websites and other platforms. A tweet can draw a WordPress blogger to a TypePad site he or she might not otherwise have found. Or even another WordPress blog that somehow didn't appear among WordPress's top recommendations?

So I like the community idea. I believe it already exists, in a sense, but not as fully developed as what you are proposing. My question is: how would this be implemented technologically and how would you (we) get everyone to adopt it and end the fragmentation? That, I'm afraid, is a tall order.

But you do have me thinking that the current fragmentation is unwieldy and unsustainable, and there may be a shake-out coming that reduces the number of technological communities, making the human communities more navigable. When and how? Probably too soon to say.

Margie Clayman
Margie Clayman

Hi Karen,

Pretty sure I met you via Tweetdiner :)

In terms of platform, I wasn't really thinking about technology, although you raise some excellent points there. I am more thinking that the platform is kind of a nebulous, foggy "community" that exists wherever you carve it out. If you comment often on someone's blog post, you are a part of that community. If you chat a lot in a specific Twitter chat, then you as a person are linking that chat's community with the blog commenting community. You are picking people from those different places whom you wish to network with more regularly, and you are hashing out your own unique community that way.

You are probably right that it would take a major revolution to get people to reserve their best content on a topic for a community rather than for their own blog. However, I think it could happen. I think people could be convinced that instead of trying to hack out a unique community by pulling people from other communities, we could all join together in existing communities and build a niche for ourselves there.

Make sense at all?

Ric Dragon
Ric Dragon

I agree with your conclusion about the pushing of content to multiple platforms. At Dragonsearch, we do social media for clients AND, of course, we each engage in it for ourselves. But one can always get a whiff of "published" content. I've come to the same conclusion- whether for self or client-best to get out there and jump into those conversations.

Now, regarding these Twitter chats- Marjorie, you really have been a leader. I don't know of anyone who has jumped in to so many to such depth. When I first discovered Twitter chats for myself, I found you there at each one. Heck- when I forget what's going on- I just check your stream!

Margie Clayman
Margie Clayman

You bring up an interesting point which I wonder if you'd push back on - can a company afford to go out and mix it up, or is there more pressure on a company to have a home base, whether a website or a blog or both? Is this something that would only work for an individual or a person working solo as a company?

As for the chats, thank you very much. I am really REALLY glad I got into chats. I think it made all the difference in the world for me, and I believe strongly it can for other people as well. Glad I met you via that route :)

Cate
Cate

Love It! .... Community Connection Bridges ........... over the river and through the woods ... to the next Community we go ...... the ....... :)