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.

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  • Hmmmm. Again… very interesting. Although I tend to agree with the list of admirable qualities you have here, I wonder if this isn’t a blanket post that could apply to all industries, religions, sectors and more.

    I appreciate we’re in a Social space and calling out Social like discussions here but I’m not sure we can regulate the people as much as we can regulate the industry?

    Look over the fence at the ad agency world. Take any top ten agency and zoom in on their creative dept, senior exec or owner for that matter and you could apply all of the above along with your earlier post to the majority. And let’s not pull out the religios leader card here or you’ll never get to KISS.

    Are we suggesting that people should be pure, clean, upstanding citizens in order to be a leader in this space or are we trying to ensure we’re contributing to a robust industry with a stable infrastructure in place?

    I know.. I keep going back and forth. I guess I’m trying to determine if we have the right to enforce or legislate individual behavior.

    I feel compelled to go back to all of us shouldering the responsibility to think for ourselves, ask the right questions and when needed, hit that unsubscribe button.

  • Leadership is a tricky thing in that most people in leadership positions don’t know how to lead in a way that fosters community and camaraderie while still supporting dissent and questions that move things forward.

    For me, I have a hard time dissenting because I constantly feel like I’m fumbling in this space. I’m NOT a thought leader so I’m always in a state or learning and absorbing, so when someone connects a dot for me that’s when I’m tempted to pop in.

    Dissenting can be scary in a place like the Internet because it’s full of walls and protection. People can easily hand out maliciousness and harsh criticism without immediate or direct repercussion, so that kind of behavior is done quickly and often. Living in a real world where there’s a relatively civil code of conduct, the meanness around here can be disarming, and not in a good way.

    As a leader of your own community here I think it’s important to openly question your own ideas and thoughts, ask the tough questions that make people pick a side, and validate dissent. You have to create an environment that makes people feel safe speaking up. It’s tough to do around here, and there’s a good chance we’ll never be able to provide the feeling of safety most people need to openly stand opposed to a theory, methodology, or movement.

  • Did out know Gene Simmons did a TV programme in the Uk a sort of Rock School where he went to a school and energised a group of sullen and troubled teenagers to become part of a band. The process transformed the lives of some of these kids for the better, gave them hope and confidence. That was truly inspiring leadership.

  • Mark

    @shannon I guess I’m not really suggesting that anybody do anything except examine their own attitudes and behaviors as a way to influence the bigger picture. At least that’s what I came up with! What else can a person really do?

    @Teresa You don’t seem to be fumbling to me! Your comments have been thought-provoking and well-written. You’ve added value to the discussion and your perspective has influenced me. I’m so glad you took the risk to comment.

  • ‘dissent’ should be coupled with the intent of engendering healthy debate—much like proposing an alternative solution, workaround or POV..the goal is *not* sensationalize the issue but address it with productive discourse.

    your points on humility and leadership resonate with me. the ‘spriritual’ aspect you draw (not religious) associated with humility, while something to which we should all aspire, IMO tends to be a case-by-case scenario. not everyone is naturally predisposed to this notion. nonetheless, i do agree that, while abstract and often misunderstood, a sense of spiritual journey is very much akin to the guiding principles of humility, from which good leaders and true team players can measure effective, healthy interactions with others (much like a type of check-n-balance).

    your blogs provoke great thought, Mark. and from what i have seen so far, the ‘rawness’ in its approach reveals a level of integrity which inspires others to reflect accordingly and share. do keep it up.

  • Josh

    Hello Mark,

    This has been a great series. I think one of the challenges to this discussion is that we probably all have different people that we consider to be the leaders so we probably come at it with different perspectives.

    I see these qualities in many of the leading social media experts, particularly with the promotion of trust agents Chris Brogan always wrote a “thank you” on his blog when Trust Agents hit a certain milestone encouraging that it is only possible because of the community and how humbling it is to realize that the community is much much bigger then he is.

    In regards to leadership, I would say that perhaps its a learning curve rather then not taking responsability, what I mean is, was it wrong for you have a brainstorming session and assume everyone knew they were raw ideas? No until you did it you could not have guessed the outcome. Thanks to the likes of social media people are often moving into big leadership roles at a much younger age with less experience as you mentioned in the earlier post, this often means their mistakes and learning experiences are plastered all over the web rather then behind closed doors.

    In regards to discernment I think that this will always be a struggle because part of building a community is letting go of control, and there will always be people that do things that you wish they didn’t.

    In terms of safe back channels I think that many have them and this is probably a reason that you see more positive feedback then negative. I know that Robert Scoble (at least at one point) had his personal cell number on his blog and encouraged people to talk to him. I have no relationship with Chris Brogan (I do Subscribe to his blog, email newsletter, and twitter feed) and I sent him feedback via email partially because I thought it would be useful and partially because I wanted to know if really was as approachable as he leads on, and he responded with a well written email (IE it applied to what I said rather then a generic thanks for the feedback) the same day.

    I think you have posed some great points to think about, and I suggest a possible way to make those improvements is to look to those who are already doing it.



  • Some really interesting thoughts in your post and follow-up discussion that have piqued my interest.

    Acting as a neutral arbiter to promote discussion is very tricky stuff. In leadership/managerial roles, I make myself completely accessible and am grateful for any/all input. I thank everyone for their contribution, sharing and opinions and I always make it clear that there are no guarantees their input/feedback will evolve into anything more than conversation and/or information exchange.

    I treat everyone as equals, though this is something that requires careful consideration as it may lead to abuses which can spin madly out control when it comes to maintaining order, productivity and diligence, but implanting core values like those you suggest is an excellent way to achieve high moral in the workplace.

    And whether you are trying to carry out these approaches in physical or virtual environments, I imagine that strategy and tact is everything.

    On the points about humility and discernment – I believe you hit the nail on the head. Though what you and I think doesn’t always matter with A-listers, and would expect the crowd of rockstar influencers (and their followers) to look at this kind of advice in a suspicious, cynical and distrustful manner. Why? Partly because they’ve probably been thwarted into rockstar status without relying on them much if at all, and their lack of humility and discernment is likely more a characterization of experiences absent of these core values (ever heard of the saying: a liar doesn’t believe in anyone else).

    To reiterate, some very tricky, yet compelling words of wisdom. Thanks for advancing this discussion Mark.


  • I encourage a series on the exploration of leadership, Mark. I’m aware of my leadership qualities in my profession, but perhaps it’s due to natural gifts and not innovation? Who defines that?

    Twitter, for example, creates false leaders — those with 40K followers and above. When they don’t respond to my questions, are they really influentials?

    Lots of press lately on the ‘tudes we’re seeing as result of social media, economy, etc. Cruelty, lack of common courtesy, offensive gestures/behaviors and the like breed contempt for social media neighbors, too.

    What fine line should leaders walk? Should politics, religion and other provoking topics be left in respective safe zones?

    Bloggers are opinion shapers who deliver opportunity for pro/con and consensus. Regardless of how you define leadership, it’s a blogger’s obligation to provoke and instill an editorialized community (like the op-ed/editorial pages of print journalists).

  • Mark – effective leadership takes many forms. On the battlefield, the company officers and squad sergeants have to say, “follow me,” then literally lead their troops forward into the battle. The division and group commanders, on the other hand, have to simply tell their subordinates, “Here is the strategy. Go. You have the training and the skill to achieve the mission. We have confidence in you,” then stay behind and wait. Their strategy must inform the tactics, but the tactics by themselves will not succeed without the strategy.

    There is a time for discussion and a time for action, and debating the course when already committed to battle is suicide.

    As I have written here before, social media is still the undiscovered country. There are examples and anecdotes, but no long-term studies on effectiveness, nor even current research evaluating the strategies in place today.

    The discussion is ongoing for many, but the battle is engaged for others (in particular, those who have created businesses to take advantage of social media tools.) Those in the battle don’t seem to want to discuss the strategy — hence, social media measurement tactics that simply stop at outputs and never get to outcomes.

    You are as qualified as anyone to ask questions, offer opinions and engage others in discussion — that’s purportedly one important reason social media exists. I realize I seem quite academic in these spaces (perhaps revealing my aspirations, in general), so the comments and discussion from the trenches (sorry for all the military similes) are extremely valuable for me.

    Don’t stop. And, don’t apologize. This is what this medium is for.


  • Mark

    First, thanks for proving me right once again — the comments are far better than the original post.

    Second, I’m grateful that you seem to be taking the comments as the way they were meant, a personal reflection, not a “to-do” list.

    One of the biggest frustrations with blogging is that people tend to scan and make an impression instead of reading carefully and getting the full picture. Most of my blogs are written with this in mind — people are busy, and I want to make things easy for them!

    But this one really needs to be read carefully or it would totally be taken the wrong way. I knew I was taking a risk. Thanks for taking the time to read it and provide such thought-provoking insights. By the end of the day I think I will have quite a list of ideas to use moving forward.

  • I just blogged about your last post, and here you go again, making me think.

    I think there are checks and balances in the SM community and we do tend to speak out, discuss and debate issues, as evidenced by the comments on your last post. To me the best behavior to adopt is the easiest, cheesiest, scariest of all: be yourself.

    Regarding the anonymous feedback idea, and I am paraphrasing here, is justice served in secrecy justice? Right now people are comfortable hiding behind avatars and forum handles, free to write the most glowing or damning reviews on Amazon, Epinions, TripAdvisor, without revealing our secret identities. With Facebook connect stripping the mask away, will that change?

    Thanks for holding up the mirror, making me take another look.

  • Mark

    @Davina Personally, I can take accountability for my ideas and feedback, but I realize others may be intimidated, unsure or just shy. Anonymity can be a way to hide and some people may use it that way. For others, it might be way to give me tough feedback in a safe environment. We”l just have to see how it goes. It may not be used at all! : )

    Having just moved to this new WordPress platform this week, I’m experiencing many technical problems, including a loss of email service. So I think I will let the thing stabilize for a week or so before trying anything new!

  • Well, you’ve done it again! The only way an industry evolves is through the sharing of ideas. A good leader is someone who can instigate the sharing and then help pull it all together so people can move forward with the wealth gained.
    What is most obvious to me is that on many blogs, the comments are fairly thin and lack depth. In your case, the exact opposite is happening. You are planting the seeds for passionate debate. You are leading many who visit here to places they want to go, but did not have the vehicle to get there.

  • Mark

    Yesterday 99 tweets, today, 9. What is the lesson learned here class? : )

    Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

  • Like the social mediasphere, copywriting has no shortage of experts mixing their free advice with paid content. When I was just starting out ten years ago, I sampled some of the “secrets” these guys were selling. But as I established my own practice, those secrets started to sound repetitive, and then downright calcified.

    Like you, my point isn’t to bash the experts. But rather to ask what gets lost when expertise is sold, rather than held out for inspection.

    Your four points provide some good answers. Take humility, for example.

    I engage on blogs, Twitter and Linkedin because in composing answers to ideas and queries often helps me reflect on my own basic assumptions and to challenge them. Responding keeps me from operating on autopilot. It helps me think, and do my job better.

    However, once I start responding in order to raise my visibility and promote myself, I’m on dangerous ground. Not only am I failing to challenge my assumptions, but I’m less motivated to challenge yours.

    My definition of an expert is someone knowledgeable enough to know which questions are intelligent enough to ask – not which answers are smart enough to sell.

  • Mark,

    I read this post a while back. Someone on my blog suggested it. I thought it was a good post, but had nothing to add. Now I do.

    I recently wrote a post about Digital ROI. My point was that although the ROI issue seems to be raging in the Digital World, it is really not much of an issue anywhere else.

    Digital remains a small (but important) part of the marketing world and most companies are far more concerned with overall ROI than ROI for any specific channel or promotional action.

    Whoa!!! Those Social Media people can be touchy!

    Besides some comments on the site (which weren’t the worst I’ve seen)they were really going strong on twitter.

    What was interesting is how they mutually reinforce the idea that nobody understands them and encourage each other to evangelize.

    They never really want to know what Social Media’s role is within the process, they just assume that Social Media is central and everybody will have to adapt to them.

    You can see the post here:

    – Greg

  • Mark

    Thanks so much for introducing yourself. Your blog post and the ensuing debate is interesting and I encourage {grow} readers to check it out. I also weighed in with a comment.

    When I first started studying this channel, I probably would agree with you more than I do today around the single-mindedness and rationality-free enthusiasm about social media re-creating the world as we know it. I have definitely seen more humility and common-sense creeping into the country club blogs in the last 2-3 months. I believe a lot of that has come from the new voices coming on the scene adding a fresh dose of “hey, wait a minute here!”

    Still, the group-think and cronyism presented by the top bloggers is disheartening to me when they actively try to stomp out dissent. Their perspective is often incredibly narrow and insulated and then it gets repeated through thousands of RT’s, drowning out fresh ideas.

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