I’m reading two outstanding books on social networking: The Hyper-Social Organization by my friend, Francois Gossieaux and his colleague, Ed Moran, and The Network is Your Customer written by David L. Rogers. Both were sent to me as review copies.
As a professional interested in the topic, I was eager to learn what the ‘experts’ had to say, and both books delivered. I found myself eagerly turning pages, and in the midst of learning about the power of today’s networks, I discovered a glimpse into the history of human socialization.
In The Hyper-Social Organization, the authors say, “…we are herding animals and in some cases self-herding.” Interpretation: we’re hardwired to be social.
In The Network is Your Customer, the author writes, “The lesson for businesses is to realize that the highly active customers in an online forum are only the tip of the iceberg. For every customer posting a detailed product review, hundreds more may be reading that review and shaping their opinions.” Interpretation: neighborhood communities are still working, online and offline.
It seems to me that all these new tools are giving us more reason to return to a past that considered personal stories and personal touches more valuable than marketing-speak of any kind. The front porch is an American icon and, as such, the invitation to stop over for a cup a’ tea is more compelling than the invitation to “friend me on Facebook."
Yes, technology has its place -- on our desktops or in our cellphones. But, underneath it all, I sense a growing discontent with the depersonalization of the new “social” -- as if your Facebook page could substitute for you, in a pinch.
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s. I had a solid group of friends from high school and college. We didn’t ‘Facebook,’ and I’m not sure we would have, had the chance been offered to us. We met for lunch or coffee. We strolled the neighborhood with our dogs, sat on front porches, watched the cars go by, drank our iced tea with sugar. We chatted about personal relationships, and dieting, and pets, and jobs. We pretended to listen to our parents because it was respectful, but secretly made fun of them for being stuffy and too restrictive. And, yes, we laughed a lot.
The online equivalent of that is part of our social networking today. Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Twitter, Ning -- all of these gather voices together to for personal conversations, but the value of the personal touch cannot be felt via a keyboard. It has to be experienced. No online experience, no matter how creatively crafted or innovative, can fully replace the chatter on those front porches of so long ago. And so, the answer is to grab attention online, and invite connection offline.
In The Hyper-Social Organization, the authors say, “In a Web 2.0 world, social media allows modern tribes to form in an instant, and because we are driven to be tribal and to learn from our tribes, tribes appear around almost any topic your imagination can conjure up.” Like neighborhoods?
In The Network is Your Customer, Rogers says, “The desire to connect -- by sharing ideas, opinions, and social links -- is at the heart of today’s customer networks.” Like block parties?
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace,” in response to China’s attack on cyberspace in January. That freedom of assembly is a strong personal and human expectation. It began in backyards and on front porches, before it ever became a digital activity. And, it’s rapidly returning there.
The human need to be part of something small and special -- a smaller circle of special friends and family -- is at the heart of everything we do as people. It can be seen in the many meetups and niche conferences we hear about daily. It’s the power to know where someone you ‘like’ is, at any given moment of the day, using Foursquare, but then using that knowledge to meet and greet them, hand to hand, face to face. We may brag about our Twitter followers and friend dozens on Facebook, but in our hearts, it’s our real-life friends who drive us to buy or not to buy, to support charities or not support them.
Our digital tools will continue to connect us to networks and people we may never have known in the previous century. But, the neighborhoods we form in backyards and on front porches as a result of those connections will be the true measure of who we are and what we do as we live and work within the boundary-less “community of man.”
Yvonne DiVita, President of Windsor Media Enterprises, LLC: Books, Blogs and Beyond, is focused on consulting with businesses on how to effectively use new media tools. She blogs at LipSticking, with a focus on the women’s market.