Social media has undoubtedly changed the way we share information and our voices, exchange our life stories, lend approval and criticism. There's no arguing that things are different now, and for better or worse, things will continue to evolve, and at a faster rate than ever before. Of course, social media has its critics, and we are still working on translating social into business results as an industry. One thing that's clear is that the unfettered, and oftentimes, unfiltered dialogue has changed the way we talk to each other as friends, family, colleagues, sellers, buyers. The cultural values are changing in favor of openness, honesty sharing, accountability and a greater connectedness.
I think social has done a lot for community building as it's lowered some barriers to entry; communities are more participatory as structure can melt away quickly. They come together and disband to support ad-hoc models of conversation and collaboration. In some ways, communities are multi-platform, as well as platform-agnostic. At the same time, the lowering of barriers has weakened the ties and the loyalty that community members feel towards each other. For example, coming together for a tweetchat or a hashtagged conversation is usually a wonderful experience by which you can build real and lasting relationships with people. However, sometimes these events fall victim to unscrupulous users "hijacking" a hashtag and using it for blatant self-promotion without much concern for the community. Of course, looser connections are partially to blame, as is the fleeting nature of some social channels. As a result, lack of forethought going into tweets generates a consequence-free environment. This consequence-free environment is, of course, erroneous for several reasons ranging from personal branding to professional reputation.
I also think there's another factor at play in addition to looseness of connections and the fleeting nature. I think that each person getting the virtual microphone is feeding into our sense of entitlement. Entitlement is one of those complex constructs that's as good as it is bad. Entitlement helps us be the individualistic society that we are today, and for better or worse, that's the kind of society we are (here in the U.S.). Sense of entitlement helps kids do better in society and career-wise, as evidenced by examples from "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. Entitlement helps feed the attitude "Why not me? I'm just as good as anyone else and my ideas are awesome". This attitude is what helps entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground, and push forward in face of great adversity. It's the fabric of the "can do" attitude that makes the world go 'round.
However, a sense of entitlement is not without faults. It breeds contempt and the "I'm more important than you" attitude that allows for behaviors like hijacking and shameless self promotion. Can we also talk about the practice of self-validation stemming from the number of followers and expectation of better service and free stuff based on such metrics. Sometimes, I feel like a lot of these behaviors are there to feed egos and create "house of cards" careers (ahem.. drive-by-jobs).
I also think we as a community ecosystem perpetuate these behaviors and are all to blame for that kind of behavior, which is focused on the wrong results, wrong behaviors and wrong metrics. We will continue down that path if we:
- Continue to give free stuff to people who have done nothing to deserve it;
- Continue to give far better service to people with more followers and higher Klout scores than people without. I'll go on the record again to state that I love Klout for some business use cases, and service is not one of them;
- Continue to expect (1) and (2) by yelling, screaming and intimidation. On the other end of any Twitter account - business or personal - is a human being. That person is someone's mother and someone's brother;
- Continue to expect retweets and follows and pestering others to get them. A follow and a retweet is a privilege, and it has to be earned first;
- Continue collecting followers;
- Validate ourselves and others by the number of followers and friends we've collected like human trophies.
Before you start huffing and puffing that you have so many followers, ask yourself if Twitter (or social network X) went away tomorrow, would you be able to rebuild your "following" on another network. Because that's really what matters. Well, the answer is, if you are an entitled jacka%$, probably not.
So my challenge to you is to channel your sense of entitlement towards something positive - that indomitable thirst for achievement, innovation, idea exchange. Add value every day, and if you feel entitled to something - whether it's free goods, better service, retweets or follows - make sure it's because you add value to the ecosystem. If you build up the community, it will build you up in turn.