Posts Tagged ‘sxsw 2010’

Building Presence = Building True  Community

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This is a tiny voice in the wind that’s gonna be heard in the end.

I’ve been thinking about social media and trust a lot lately. Not getting to attend SXSW Interactive this year made me watch the events there vicariously and start to ponder the meaning of it all. I saw Evan Williams, the CEO of Twitter, get slammed for being boring, for not engaging the audience with meaningful content in his keynote event–people AT the event were texting it to their Twitter accounts, his own company’s application! I saw how human and sometimes even completely LOST people at SXSW seemed to be when it came to what was happening to them. I kind of appreciated it. It made more sense of everything that’s currently wrong with social media for me.

This all got me to thinking about the lingering delusions that the social media “elite” seems to have going, and I came up with a solution that seems to me the only way I care to get behind. If it’s social media, then why do so many of the people who “lead” it seem to be so…unsociable? I watch as I and tons of others approach these unapproachable leaders of the social, or step on their toes by seeking their precious approval. Makes any sense whatsoever? It’s one thing when people are objectifying you as…whatever, but these were basically all people just trying to engage the “social media” leader, to engage a supposed authority. Hmmm…

I recently wrote a more lengthy and detailed “how-to” on setting up a social media presence quickly and painlessly, but the how is kind of easy compared to the WHY. So now I’d like to lay out my own thoughts on social media strategy and what it means to “build trust”.

What does “trust” even mean on the internet–or marketing? Why should we worry about trust if the goal is to sell? In short, because the goal of selling is too greedy-hearted to make the incredibly long haul to true success. Okay, maybe this point is easy. But how does one “give up” selling?

Companies do not live. People live. And people work in companies. When the company hits an iceberg, hopefully the people exit the ship and have somewhere good and warm to go. Hopefully they’ll pull together and share resources, take care of each other. When a ship hits an iceberg, people remember what’s important. Well, when a company is riding high on the waves, shouldn’t we still keep people firmly in focus? Aren’t people the point ALL the time? So why doesn’t it feel that way in the cold shadow of some of the more prominent Twitterers, for instance? Are cliques killing the democratic “social web” dream? Individual reps on Twitter are the company, after all. I notice more and more the strategy here, and it’s basically something along the lines of “talk only to those who can make me/my organization shine more.” I GUESS that’s a version of being social, but it’s not exactly the way I want to be social…

In working with clients who sell all kinds of things and services, it has become clear that the ones who break new ground are the ones who envision themselves from another perspective. The way they become engaging is by demonstrating an appreciation for community. They all “gave” to some extent and the feeling of receiving “so much” and without any sales pressure is what didn’t sell everyone, but is what did sell more than they previously sold. I saw it. I helped measure it in some cases.

If you’re a celebrity, let’s face it, you’re here to rally fans, but regardless of who you are or what you do, you’ll need something to engage people with if you’re going to use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and say Digg or Buzz as a rallying point for your social media front. Engagement is in the final analysis, about giving, building community. Building social media presence should therefore really be an act of building rapport and  community.

I propose that community is the only way to love what you do and make it work. Moreover, I propose that community-at-large is the only kind of community worth having in the end, because it has no antithesis, no ultimate opposition, no counter-productive tendencies. Community absorbs minor passing frictions. Community is a church of good values for the sake of good values. I propose not only that community is the point, but that you have to start somewhere, in a smaller community perhaps that will allow you to work as if it’s for everyone, until the day that you stop questioning whether or not what you do is for the good of everyone. I propose that if you can’t see where you fit into the communities that exist around you, then you need to take a step back and reflect on what community means to you. Why do anything where it’s “me against them” or even “us against them” or even “us against that guy over there”? The only kind of community that feels right is the end is the kind that doesn’t omit anyone. When you can see your place in a potential community-at-large situation, then you can help build or even create the kind of meaningful relationships you need to succeed at being a whatever-you-wanna-call-it.

Representing the values of being a good member of the community is going to be my argument for how to conduct the building of trust in the new media arena. Giving what’s needed when its needed most, even if it’s just…space. Demonstrating a lack of greed and an abundance of good intention. And the only way to demonstrate all that…is to go ahead and become it, not just to say it, but to do.

I recommend that companies practice building social media presence by rethinking what they’re actually doing in the first place. By focusing on making their event horizon an engagement with the community-at-large in terms of giving to the community-at-large. I want them to FORGET to take credit and get wrapped up in the giving part. I mean, think about it. Don’t we all secretly wish that all CEOs were evangelists for community-at-large?

This…community-at-large…is the only place where you’ll come to see your role in other people’s lives (including customers and clients) and begin to develop a conversation with them, and with what was formerly your “target audience.” This is where social media and your communications can actually get fun and start to become more like mingling at a cozy gathering of people doing more than quoting famous people and smiling through their teeth with one finger on the “SELL!” button.


Malfunctioning Eddie, the Robot Car Salesman: "At these prices, I must be malfunctioning!"

Social media marketing is remarkably often cold and calculated, stiff–alligator smiles. People know PR when they see it. PR always seems to come off as “we are targeting, conditioning, branding, or otherwise doing various stuff to you”. It may fly in the moment, but people recall, process, grow, mature past such tactics. What we should be doing is communicating with and representing community values of sharing and giving for the sake of sharing and giving. This is where people are happiest and it’s how reputations have always really been made, including the reputations of good companies. If you’re an information-hawker, becoming a socializing giver of great info, innovation, inspiration (how about your own!) and value will in the end make your public image a much more profitable asset–because it’s a reality behind the image.


In the end, community buoys up the good people, and lets the not-so-good rot in their own undoing. People reciprocate kindness, generosity and demonstrated community values. Trust is something basic and elementary built upon experience. It’s not diffcult to be a member of a community. It’s the easiest thing. What’s difficult is holding on to the idea that you are somehow completely separate from all of these “others”. What a herculean act of will THAT is.
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