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The real value of a digital network
Someone with 1,000 people who actually care will run circles around someone with 1 million subscribers barely paying attention
Massive, impersonal, one-to-many networks are never as valuable as intimate, engaged and interested communities. More is not better unless users are actually empowered and connected. Having hundreds of thousands or even millions of passive followers (something individuals now have, putting them at the numbers previously reserved for media businesses) is not what you should seek to acquire and ignores the real value of building a network. I’d rather engage a group of 1,000 interested people over a passive following of 100,000 any day of the week. We would run circles around the larger group.
Have great ideas to share with the world? Want to improve your industry? You can, but not if you mindlessly chase numbers for the sake of numbers. Build trust and engagement instead, as those are what actually matter. This will lead to more useful, interesting and altogether fulfilling results.
Some thoughts to keep in mind:
The captive, monolithic audience is dead
We live in a fragmented media world, and even in the remaining cases of monolithic, captive audiences, realize they are far too normalized to be useful or interesting to engage deeply. The remaining monolithic audiences simply don’t interact with content or each other at the level more intimate groups do. Pound for pound, intimate networks are far more influential than larger networks.
In the attention economy, trust matters even more
Make no mistake, the most valuable currency of this century is attention. But, not all attention is created equal – in fact, only a rare few have managed to acquire trust at scale. As we undergo a shift in media: from brands to people realize that trusts matters even more. Attention + trust = influence. Attention without trust is just noise.
Don’t think in terms of specific tools
If you have the right content/ideas/vision and a strategy to connect with people, you’ll be able to cultivate a valuable network interested in helping itself succeed and grow organically. Tools change with technology, and you should be learning to get the most out of them as we move – but this remains the low-level skill. The high level skill is always and has always been marketing prowess. We don’t need social media experts, we need good marketers.
Smaller affords deeper interactions
You always connect more closely with other members of smaller networks because it is a more special connection. Simply put, there are less of you which makes each connection that much more rare and valued. Smaller groups fight for each other, defend each other and protect the network. Intimate settings are breeding grounds for deep connectivity.
Truly original collaborative interactions happen in small pockets
Most original ideas are born from those who actively ignore outside influence and accepted norms. The majority are afraid of change and the unknown, especially if it is disruptive to how they currently work/live/play. But, there is the minority who thrive on it. If you can foster a network that embraces change and the unknown, it will be absolutely irresistible to that passionate minority who embrace it. And, a benefit of smaller groups is that they’ll almost always be open to change because they will feel like they are the ones leading it together. Change and originality always almost always happens at the edges and intersections, and to build a network with that in mind is both exciting and valuable.
Intimate networks activate quickly
Example of this is the massive power of the 4chan community, for better or for worse. Their core group certainly doesn’t have the raw numbers of traditional media organizations, nor the numbers of some staggeringly popular individuals. They don’t need them. What they have is a group that is ready to jump to action. The size of their network is irrelevant, what matters is they are activated, connected and determined. Think what you want about what they actually do – you have to marvel at their ability to organize and collaborate for success.
Intimate settings deliver far more memorable experiences
The vibe at a concert with 20,000 fans of varying degrees of passion for the artist is far different from the vibe at a smaller venue with 500 fans who have listened to the artist’s works hundreds of times. Everyone has been to both, and only the intimate shows offer an experience you simply cannot replicate. I’m not just saying this as a music fan – I have played venues ranging from 100 people to thousands, and without question I would rather play the smaller venue every time. I am sure most other artists would agree. As an audience member or artist, the connection forged in intimate settings are never the same at scale.
How to get there if you’re new
No one gives advice to young people any more, so here’s just a bit, and maybe a reminder for others…
People are tired of those who are overly negative, cynical or jaded. Simply put, the world has enough of that – be the change you want to see, and others will gather around you. Optimism spreads to others just as negativity does. Just don’t go overboard.
The influencers that are making a difference are relentless in their agenda to spread ideas. They are also incredibly consistent. My sense is that they are able to be this way due to unrelenting passion (a secret of the social web).
This is actually not always the case for influential people in our world, however for the people I have been documenting (mostly those in media, marketing and PR industries) I would say this is a requirement.
Refine and fine-tune as you move forward
While professionalism is a common thread, there also appears to be no fear in trying out new things and making changes as-needed. The open nature of the web encourages and rewards this.
You don’t start out on top
I’ve witnessed the rise of many talented people in the last several years who seemed to come out of nowhere. However, to those of us who had followed them from the beginning, we saw them work hard to get to that point. Overnight success is a myth, and if you’re just discovering someone today, in many cases this is because they have worked hard to get to that point.
It’s not about popularity
It’s trendy right now to try to be an influencer on the web. However, just because it is trendy doesn’t mean it is easy to develop real influence, authority and trust – just the opposite. Time always shakes those in it fleetingly out of the mix vs. those who have a genuine interest in whatever they are sharing. Competition actually shouldn’t bother you, because the real value of your network is not about numbers. In fact, if you’re genuinely interested in sharing ideas for intrinsic reasons, even connecting with one person will be rewarding if it is a meaningful connection.
Collaboration is key
The web gives birth to many informal networks, where content sharing happens naturally. Many systems create this by design, in others it happens because of a shared interest or commonality. The point is that sharing, participating and working together with others – both informally and formally – are vital ways to forge connections.
Growth is part of the journey
It’s not about being perfect from the get-go, rather it is about a journey together – publicly within our industries – whatever they may be. Influencers are documenting experiences as they go, something that inspires their networks and creates interest around what they are doing. It’s a total shift from the way things were done before, and many don’t quite grasp why someone would be interested in doing this openly, but those doing so know that the benefits far outweigh any potential negatives. In any industry, the ones who are comfortable sharing their experiences with the world are seen as leaders because of the confidence it implies, the willingness to be transparent with their processes, and generosity of sharing ideas – all qualities of modern leaders (confidence, transparency, generosity).
Build actual community
Eventually, if you work hard enough, a supportive community will form around you that will be interested in playing an active role in what you’re doing (and you’ll want to play a role in what they are doing).
Empower your audience
The best influencers nurture and empower their communities over time. More important than just having an audience, but calling them to action and bringing them into the mix is key to build lasting connections.
Of course, none of the above is really new, but sharing some core tenants of how to operate in building an audience online as I feel they’re lost lately while everyone starts to worship the “hits” of social channels. It’s never been about them. The magic of the internet is not mass, it’s niche.