Connection without cronyism


In response to my post on the social media country club (perhaps ”fortress” would have been more apt?) many people agreed with the observations I made but also challenged, “what next?”

“We” can do nothing to influence the behavior of others except “unsubscribe,” which probably would not even be noticed.  The only thing I/you can change about the situation is myself/yourself.

I need to hold a mirror up to my own community and figure out what I can change about my role and accountability to create an inclusive and safe environment that promotes connection without cronyism. I know you will come up with much better ideas, but here are my own thoughts on this tough question:

If I were an “A” List blogger, what behaviors would I adopt to try to facilitate dissent, inclusiveness, accessibility, and innovation?

Humility.  First, I would never characterize myself as an “A” list anything.  That’s the beginning of the trouble right there.  This is probably easier said than done when your name is in lights. Remaining humble has to be a mindset and a daily objective.  For me, it is an element of my spiritual journey. When you see yourself in the really big picture, you have to be humble.

Leadership. When I first became a “boss” many years ago, I remember participating in a brainstorming session and learning a week later that all of my raw ideas were in some phase of implementation.  Why?  Because I was in a position of authority and people thought they were carrying out my wishes.  This made me uneasy.  I longed to remain part of the team with my friends.   But that was impossible. The way you act as a leader and the way you act as a follower is different.  Leaders have to lead.

My impression is that some of the social media elite have not come to grips with this.  After all, it’s at odds with the “authenticity” mantra, right?  If you feel “snarky” why not BE “snarky?”  It doesn’t work like that on this elevated level.  You can get away with it when you have 65 followers but you can’t when you are a representative of the discipline and a role model for many … which is what you worked hard to achieve.

For me, I accept being the leader of a blog discussion and conducting the forum in a way that is respectful and inclusive.  I need to try to be mindful that friendship and support are gifts, but undue favoritism is corrosive and disrespectful to those still finding their voice.

Discernment – One high-profile blogger works for a company that retains Chris Brogan.  The person wrote a glowing review of “Trust Agents” on Amazon.  Is this good business, devoted friendship, or a conflict of interest?  You could successfully argue any of these positions, but the fact is that there could be at least an impression of impropriety.  So I think a lesson and best practice  is to avoid even an illusion of cronyism that could deteriorate trust and faith in me as a reliable and accessible leader.

A safety valve – I was really impacted by the fear people expressed in the comment section about disagreeing with the establishment. If I lose my way and start creating my own country club, how will I know?  Who will tell me?  As I become an authority figure to some, how do I help them still feel safe to dissent?  The idea I’m considering is a place on the blog for anonymous feedback that would only go to me. Perhaps that would be a way to establish a mechanism where anybody could say anything and beat me down a peg or two when I need it.  Need to think about that a little more.

OK, enough from the amateur.  What do you think?  What example should you and I set that would be a model for social web leadership?

P.S. I’m ready to lighten things up again. This stuff is too serious.  Tomorrow I’m going to write about KISS.  The band. Seriously.

The social media country club


I finally had time to read the Brogan/Smith book “Trust Agents.”  I thought it was “OK” at best – disjointed, repetitive, and even silly at spots (“much of journalism has a faux objectivism that can’t die fast enough”).   I think it’s a good book for social media newcomers.  But based on the take-your-breath-away reviews from the blogger community, I was expecting much more.

Why was my impression of this non-remarkable book so different than the biggest names in blogging?   Here’s my hypothesis:  The opinions were probably NOT much different than mine – but they just wouldn’t say so.  Why?  The “thought leaders” of social media marketing are a country club fearful of saying anything negative or controversial about another club member.  The real commerce of social media is trading favors and a negative comment breaks the favor chain.

Brogan and Smith express this importance of belonging when they write in their book: “be yourself, which is to say, ‘be one of us’.”   They describe the clannish protectionism of those at the top when they say “(newcomers) don’t realize that we all know each other, that we we recognize the new stranger in our midst …”

I understand the human nature present in this situation.  Someone who wants to make it as a blogger is not going to rock the boat with a powerful individual who can influence their success by turning favors.  We all want to belong. That’s the way the world turns.   So if somebody wants to be a sycophant, why should I care?  Here’s why.  The nicey-nice world of social media blogging creates problems beyond the walls of the country club:

1) Group think. If you are unfamiliar with this term, here’s a good definition.  Among the top social media bloggers, there is little or no substantial debate over ANYTHING.  Sometimes an individual outside the “inner circle” lobs a grenade, which is usually deflected by a member of the inner circle in defense. The result is that essentially everybody expresses and re-expresses the basic opinions of the leaders without serious challenge or innovation.

2) Myth-making.  A few weeks ago I wrote a post about social media myths.  The ideas I chronicled probably seem ridiculous, yet mantras such as “it’s all about community” have become foundational tenets of nearly every blog I read.  As I’ve entered this arena and observed participant behavior, I’ve been astounded by how many people tweet, praise and re-blog anything uttered by the primary thought-leaders, no matter how insipid. It seems Marshall McLuhan was wrong in this case. The medium isn’t the message. In social media, the messenger is the message.

3) Lack of credibility.  Take a close look at the credentials (if you can find any) of nearly any leading social media marketing “expert.”  How many have ever had a real sales job or have been actually accountable for delivering new value in a marketplace by creating, testing and distributing a product on a meaningful scale?   Very few.  Yet these are our marketing “gurus?”  In a communication channel already dominated by porn-peddling, get-rich-quick nimrods, it simply doesn’t help our collective credibility to have our most visible advocates spouting incredibly naieve statements about marketing fundamentals they know little about.

4) An infrastructure of angels. If you get to the point where you are huge on the social media scene, shouldn’t you be able to pull enough strings to constantly surround yourself with enough positive tweets, reviews and testimonials to bury any authentic complaint?  The real strategy of Trust Agents is to build enough goodwill to call in favors forever.

OK, so let’s not talk about what’s going on “out there” any more. Let’s bring it to the here and now, you and me.  What would better serve MY social media strategy … or yours?  To provide an honest opinion that might upset the favor-makers, or to join the country club?