Category Archives: Social Networks

True networked leadership builds communities that change the world

There is change afoot at This is a blogging site / portal that I’ve watched with great interest since I first decided to research the health of Community in this digital era. has a bold name and a mission to match. That’s a lot of pressure. So a few weeks ago, the organization announced the hiring of a new associate editor, Joshua Levy.

Levy will lead — for lack of a better word — dozens of bloggers who can pool their knowledge and opinions to inspire and facilitate change. Says a Wired piece on the hire (the link is immediately above), “The project [asks] a large number of busy people to contribute small chunks of time to volunteer — just as Wikipedia does.” I found the announcement heartening because it implied a new type of leadership.

That announcement coincided with Barack Obama achieving presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee status, a development that some say signals the death of top-down leadership in national political campaigns. Senator Obama’s campaign followed a horizontal, networked organization, while Senator Clinton’s used a more traditional hierarchical leadership style.

Both developments — as signs of a greater tend — give me hope.

Networked Leadership

Call me an optimist. When I was in my 20s, one of my favorite magazines was Utne Reader. Often called the Reader’s Digest of the alternative press, the Utne not only reported on positive social change but devoted precious resources to encouraging it. Significantly, it reported on the digital revolution, but also took a leadership position in exploring how networks can be used to revolutionize both print and activism. The publication’s prized, four-character ( domain name length is evidence of their early and enthusiastic arrival to the web.

The Utne also recognized the problems that Robert Putnam wrote about in Bowling Alone (the title comes from his observation that nearly every form of civic organization has fallen in membership and participation — whereas more people are bowling than 40 years ago, fewer are bowling in leagues).

The magazine’s response was to encourage neighborhood salons, constructed around the then-burgeoning communitarian movement. Utne realized that our nation’s social capital was shrinking, and attempted a crude (and alas, unsustainable) mail-and-fax infrastructure to support these grassroots salons.

I’m an optimist, but experience has taught me to temper it with realism.

Take the experience of watching the Utne-driven salon movement wither and die. Of course, this was before everyone and his brother seems to have clamored online. Perhaps a “real” network will provide the instant connections (not hindered by the U.S. Postal Mail) that were lacking two decades ago. Evidence of this is the vitality of sites like, and other online social networks that strive to do more with its membership than exchange banalities and wage Mob Warfare.

Exploring The Social Power of Networks

Earlier this month The Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) held its annual conference. Speakers debated, described and otherwise explored an aspect of a community voice that the PDF’s manifesto asserts is growing. Here is an excerpt of that manifesto (emphasis is at the end is mine):

Democracy in America is changing.

A new force, rooted in new tools and practices built on and around the Internet, is rising alongside the old system of capital-intensive broadcast politics.

Today, for almost no money, anyone can be a reporter, a community organizer, an ad-maker, a publisher, a money-raiser, or a leader.

If what they have to say is compelling, it will spread.

The cost of finding like-minded souls, banding together, and speaking to the powerful has dropped to almost zero.

Networked voices are reviving the civic conversation.

By some measures PDF is correct. New York Times editorial writer Nicholas Kristof, in his opinion piece Saving the World in Study Hall, provides some impressive anecdotal evidence that there is hope for us in the Millennial generation (those who were born in the 1980s and ’90s). And I do not doubt that there are individuals and small groups doing amazing things to make this world a better place.

But can this be “scaled?”

There’s a lot of work to be done, and my concern is online efforts are too little and too late.

Also, can this work be quantified, in the same, nearly irrefutable way that Bowling Alone quantified social capital’s depressing decline?

I’d welcome your thoughts.

In the meantime, I do think I have an answer for Bernard Sifry, father of PDF conference co-chair Micah Sifry. His parting question at the event: “How do we build leadership on the internet?” You find leaders who follow Lao Tzu’s advice in his famous Tao Te Ching:

The greatest leaders are never seen, their presence is never felt
Lesser rulers are loved and praised
Lesser still are hated, and obeyed through fear
And the least are despised and ignored

If you would lead people, trust them to do the right thing
When a leader accomplishes something using the tao
He steps back, moves on to something else
And lets the people praise themselves

June is Online Community Month

The headline says it all. On my blog, June is Online Community Month. It is so decreed. And mind you, by community, I don’t mean a particular type of web site, such as the myriad online “communities” described by forums, chat rooms and other real community metaphors. I mean real communities — that raise kids and pay taxes and send loved ones off to war — that are strengthened and propagated by online activity (maybe). In a phrase, I’m talking about computer mediated Community, with a capital C.

Friends vs. “Friends”

This may seem like splitting hairs, this online Communities versus communities business. But it is huge. It is as different a distinction as a friend is to a “friend” — one forged on Facebook (or some other social network) with the click of a mouse and the exchange of some level of web access.

My decision to devote a series of blog entries to the topic started in the Fall of last year. Ever the optimist, I had assumed that technology was the friend of community — as scary as it sometimes appears to parents of the young and keepers of the status quo. I was planning to research the topic to succinctly lay out of the facts to this view. Then I did some digging, and a lot of reading and discussing, and now I’m not so sure. Sometimes Chicken Little is right, and the sky really is falling.

I will be looking, in this U.S. election year, at political involvement online. And also the involvement of grassroots organizations. And even professional associations. I’ll be getting the help of experts where I can, and readers who are willing to provide their two cents.

Bowling Alone

I’ll also be helped by an extraordinary book that predates Web 2.0, but still has great value, from the perspective of recent history. It will also be used to fairly distribute blame, where blame is due, to technology other than modern, web-enabled networking. I’m talking about the book Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam. The title comes from the phenomenon of an era that seems distant now, when we as a society bowled in leagues together, usually after work. The disintegration of this community-building ritual, along with others great and small, is exhaustively examined.

I’ll be sharing observations and statistics from the book throughout the month, as I look at this question: Has technology eroded our social fabric, or simply provided a new way to weave it?

I’ll start today with this factoid from the book — one that examines the communication technology that scared our parents the way the web does this generation’s. I’m talking about the technology that Newton Minow is 1961 called the “vast wasteland.” His famous speech used that term to describe the specific social decay that comes from a day of television:

When television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you — and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

The One-fingered Salute

Bowling Alone talks about the technology of television a lot, asking if there is evidence that a society glued behind a set is more prone to ignoring the niceties that keep a community civil. Below is one interesting finding that the author used to show that it does.

It compares two self-reported activities: Participating in altruistic community events and flipping the bird to passing motorists. Here is his chart, showing the reverse correlation between contributing to what he calls “social capital” and contributing to road rage. It shows a similar direct correlation between this anti-social activity and highly valuing television. Click for a larger view, fully-legible view. (Ignore the reference to “churchgoing” in the titleby the way. It refers to additional data not shown here. It was included to help those who wish to find the entire dataset in the book’s index.)

Do people who are socially involved and people who highly value television have the same impolite driving habits?

Optimists would say that these trend lines may be coincidental. Every generation has complained about the gradual coarsening of its citizens. Web-savvy optimists, such as myself, would also argue that television can degrade “connectedness” while more modern technology aids it. Keep reading this month for more perspectives on this question, to see if I am one such optimist.

Add your own Twitter tactics and resources to this valuable list

Marketing Sherpa ran an interesting piece on Friday on all things Twitter (thanks for the head’s up, Kevin). Its headline, Get Famous Using Twitter to Market Your Company & Yourself, is a tad grandiose, but the content is some of the densest I’ve read in terms of valuable ideas per word. Especially for marketers new to the medium, it’s an excellent overview and how-to.

What the post left unsaid is the bad news: It’s still difficult-to-impossible to measure real ROI for a Twitter effort. That said, from an SEO and customer service perspective, Twitter is a great tool.

Primarily, Twitter is a terrific way to measure the pulse of consumer sentiment — both cheaply and in real time.

One tool mentioned that was news to me was this one: Twitter Volume, a way to “compare how often different brands/companies/words/phrases are mentioned on Twitter.”

Conversely, a tool I love that wasn’t mentioned is this high-quality search of Tweets: The volume of Tweets returned is among the highest I’ve seen and the recency of the Tweets is also excellent.

Any favorite Twitter-related tactics or tools that weren’t mentioned here, or in the Sherpa piece? Let me know.

Today Google does a cannonball into the social networking pool

Three weeks ago, on a lark, I registered the domain name But until just now, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with it.

Then, just moments ago, I learned that Google has entered the social network arena in a way that only a market behemoth can. Friend Connect will allow any site to have social network functionality. This tells me two things:

  1. Google sees an opportunity in social media marketing (SMM)
  2. It’s time for me to invite my friends and relatives to submit their favorite rum drinks

Of course, only point #1 is of real relevance to my fellow marketing technologists. There has been plenty of talk lately about how social networks are still groping for a viable revenue model. I suspect Google will lead the way to the banquet.

An example

The only question will then be: Must other social networks resign themselves to the crumbs that Google leaves behind?

StumbleUpon gets to the crux of my problem

Sometimes I regret finding so many things interesting.

You see, I grew up in a part of the country that was extremely remote and sparsely populated, with little cultural diversity, in an era before cable, VCRs, and of course the internet. The majority of my teachers, bless them, were clearly there for the hunting and the summers off. In other words, intellectual stimulation was not a feature of my childhood.

Home Sweet Home

Years later, after some lucky breaks and the support and guidance of some extraordinary people, I find myself doing work that is rewarding and stimulating. Especially stimulating. The internet has given me the freedom to explore everything that intrigues me.

All of this became apparent as I updated my StumbleUpon profile.

It’s as though a genie had poofed out of a lamp and given me the ability to visit the best web sites available on any subject. And unlike the genie from One Thousand and One Nights, I’m given not three wishes but 127.

There is the rub!

And this is just the start

I started with major interests, and realized that I’d checked more categories than I’d left blank. As I dug deeper into each, I was stopped at 127 interests, with the depths of many categories left unplumbed. The word cloud above shows the major selections only.

My first bosses were a pair of brilliant advertising entrepreneurs. One had a degree in history, the other, journalism. Together they showed me the power a person grounded in the Humanities could have in the business world.

They too were cultural omnivores.

I thought of them this evening as I ticked off the many areas of study I wished I had an entire lifetime to explore.

Tonight I might skip sleep. Again. I may just stay up and drink deeply from the well of StumbleUpon, a magical servant who feeds that little boy whose thirst for knowledge insists on being quenched.

Webby winners include new personal finance site

Yesterday I described how effectively used persuasion architecture modes of purchasing to acquire new users. Mint.comLater that day the site acquired its first Webby Award. Here’s a rundown from Mashable of other notable winners, including one that should have gotten Best Use of Snail Mail In Its Web Design:

Two new uses of Twitter — one smart marketing, one pure fun

After Comcast’s recent embarrassment of a hilarious YouTube video documenting a cable installation worker sleeping on the job, they’ve realized that good social media management equals good reputation management. That’s my take on why they’ve hired a customer service person to monitor Twitter for consumer complaints.

It almost convinces you that Twitter is more than just a toy.


Check out Twistori, a brilliant Twitter-fueled demonstration of current social zeitgeist. Perhaps this Comcast customer service person should just troll the site’s I Hate feed for mentions of his employer.

Real world lessons in social media marketing (SMM)

There are many conferences in a year I wish I could attend, but few lately seem as valuable as the latest Search Media Expo (SMX). (Don’t you agree, Erin?).

Then sometimes you get lucky, and stumble across a fellow student’s “really good notes” from the “lecture” you missed. Take for example a post on social media marketing (SMM) by Scott Clark. Here are a few favorites:

  • SMM cannot be sold as a one-off service or “by the campaign.” Too many external variables mean you have to execute many campaigns over time to hedge your bets. To sell as a one-off service is to invite failure and client ill-will.
  • Explaining SMM to clients is going to be very, very difficult. But those who have an inherent curiosity and willingness to participate will earn a strong competitive advantage.
  • To succeed in social network marketing, plugged-in individuals who know the “tribe’s habits” will win. 20-year PR veterans need not apply if they are still in the mindset of the press release or are unwilling to spend time participating before promoting. Plenty of people have got in trouble.
  • There are a lot of really smart people in SMM. Compared to other forms of marketing, the growth and opportunity aligns with trends towards authenticity, word-of-mouth, and making up for short consumer attention spans.
  • SEO/SMM are joined at the hip for many things and a link building effort can stack up dozens if not hundreds of authority links — but direct-click traffic itself, independent of the SEO/link advantages, can be significant.

For all the reasons above, this one is my favorite. He states that for the most part, “Advertising agencies don’t get it.” Got it.

Thanks, Scott, for summarizing so well.

Of social media, exploding churches and imploding airlines

In Hawaii, Aloha can mean both hello and good bye, but for Aloha Airlines recently, it meant only bankruptcy. Likewise for ATA, Skybus, Skyway, and most recently Frontier. For those holding useless tickets, the news spelled delays, hassles and lost money. Naturally, the public outcry was covered by television news and various bloggers. But for my news, I didn’t have to go farther than Twitter. Using keyword search, I could tune into the griping and gnashing of teeth in real time. Twitter gave me “News I can use,” and I didn’t even have to look at a newscaster haircut.

Twitter also reported something that local news simply cannot: Are any of my friends directly affected? The answer was No, to the airline implosions, but two Twittering friends were delayed by the American Airlines wiring harness problems.

Map showing church

Another colleague inadvertently acted as Breaking News reporter, when he reassured his Twitter audience that his office is a safe distance from the “exploded church.” Here is what raster reported on the day that a hundred-year-old church in his city blew up due to a leaking gas line:

don’t worry about us, we are not that close to the church that exploded: map

As you can see from the map he supplied, raster did a great job of showing why he was unharmed, but also, what had just happened. That night, when I watched the local news, I was already well aware of what happened.

What Twitter will evolve into is anyone’s guess. But where it is right now is a place I could never have imagined: Squarely between me and local journalism.

Making things up as you go, and why I love my job

When I speak to groups of college students, I can’t help sounding a little frenetic. Concepts and cases spill out of my mouth, and I never fail to leave the classroom elated. Just as surely, a few audience members appear — as they file out — to be feeling the same way. (It could simply be because I stopped yammering!)

I try to wrap up each presentation, whether it’s on database marketing, or web marketing, or new media, with a story from my childhood. A topic that fascinated me was the advent of television. I would read the memoirs of TV pioneers. (My favorite was Dick Cavett’s. He continues to spin great yarns in his blog. A notable recent blog was on his encounters with William F Buckley, Jr., on the screen and off.)

Back when Cavett was a struggling comedy writer, he suddenly found himself replacing Jack Parr on the fledgling Tonight Show, which topped the ratings in its time slot as the first nationally-broadcast talk show. The rest is history. It is also history steeped in the possibilities of a humming, glowing box that was new to households everywhere.

I tell the students how fortunate they are to be born in a time when other revolutionary technologies are emerging (which, together, become a sort of digital connectedness). They, and I, are part of a exciting adventure. This came to mind as I read this, by MediaPost’s Search Insider columnist Gord Hotchkiss (registration required):

We’re building a new world up as we go. More correctly, a new world is emerging organically from the efforts and thoughts of millions of people. It’s a world defined in an ethereal middle space, a world of mind-spawned musings and accomplishments, shared and propelled one packet at a time. We’re not discovering anything, we’re building something entirely new. At any given moment, hundreds of millions of us are making it up as we go along. It’s a Darwinian experiment on a grand, grand scale.

Can you describe to me a better job than being a part of that?

Looking for ways to promote your cause? Look no further than this Conversation Bum Rush

As marketing technologists, we are like entomologists in a thriving new ecosystem. Everywhere you look there are new species of creatures flitting about, evolving — it seems — right before our eyes. They may use similar techniques for survival and reproduction, but the combinations employed vary slightly from one to the next, and by observing the most successful species, you can learn much about surviving yourself in this teeming Web 2.0 forest.

Now don your pith helmets, and behold the authors of a book on social media. You will not encounter a more highly adaptive critter. How do they thrive?

Well, you wouldn’t expect them to typically run ads in the New York Times, or on the sides of cabs, for that matter. To promote the latest edition of their book, they are practicing what they preach. And they will succeed.

Watch and learn.

Join the Age of Conversation Bum Rush on March 29thOn March 29, join a social media movement (and help a good cause) by purchasing the latest Age of Conversation. And for an excellent blueprint for promoting the book, read Chris Wilson’s blog entry on the campaign (by way of David Berkowitz). The tactics Chris outlines are how the most successful social media “creatures” are surviving in this thrilling — and dangerous — new media jungle.

Watch and learn.

And, come the end of March, buy the book!