Discourse in a Rapidly Changing World

On the heels of Geoff Livingston’s post addressing the roots of civility, it is prudent to address the significant loss of critical thinking and discussion. It appears as though people have forgotten how to have two-way conversations in the land of the Internet. In a digital world without borders, we have generated our own great walls surrounding and protecting those who think like us, look like us, and remind us of ourselves or who we think we may be to the world at large. In an act to share knowledge with the world, the fishbowl has prevented and discouraged divergent opinions and reflective thought.

In this spectacular TEDSalon talk in London 2010, Noreena Hertz raises the issue of how and when to talk to experts (video below). Now, doesn’t this topic get your heart pumping just a bit faster? Perhaps because in the world of social media, the term expert is extremely common? I thought it might. As Hertz, claims with scientific research, we have become too dependent on experts. We crave the expert’s definitiveness and certainty to such a degree, we have created silos for ourselves away from people of opposing views and forgotten how to think and question for ourselves.

While we may not agree with everything everyone says, surrounding ourselves with opposing viewpoints allows us the opportunity to examine for ourselves why we feel so strongly about the issue and perhaps view from a different perspective. We have the opportunity for reflection; an action often skipped in the real-time of social media communication.

All of us are experts in some form. So, let’s stop debating on who is calling whom an expert. It is what it is. Anyone can hang a virtual or physical shingle out front and claim to have knowledge on a subject, but it is up to each one of us to start standing up for what we believe, examine why, and in some cases, upon reflection, choose to go another direction. All experts and workers today will need to embrace critical thinking to survive the future. Robert Reich, author of The Work of Nations, identifies these four areas of critical thought as necessary to master:

  1. Command of Abstractions: recognizing patterns and meanings;
  2. Thinking Within Systems: examining why the problem arises and how it is connected to other problems;
  3. Testing Ideas: judging and interpreting the transmission of information;
  4. Learning to Collaborate and Communicate: articulating, clarifying and then restating for one another how to identify and find answers; seeking and accepting criticism from peers, soliciting help and giving credit to others.

Reich calls this worker a “symbolic analyst.” Perhaps it is time to stop worrying so much about who is an expert (and who is not) and discovering how all of us can become symbolic analysts, surround ourselves with those like-minded individuals, and strive to be a better society. Your thoughts? How are you taking strides to develop the “symbolic analyst” in yourself and others?

Community Manager Response: There is no such thing as status quo

Often, I am asked about my typical day on the job…or what I enjoy about being a part of a community team. As I and my fellow co-workers have posted before, the job is not a walk in the park. There is nothing typical about my day, but it is very tempting to get into a response groove and forget about the changing ecosystem. It appears I was meant to end 2010 learning this lesson the hard way.

Undoubtedly, by now, you have noticed the rise of Q&A site, Quora. It is not LinkedIn, nor Twitter. This site, just like every other, follows the beat of its own drum. The rhythm is the product of a unique community. The beat today will not be the same beat as next week or next month.

After having my response collapsed, I stumbled across this post by Lucretia M Pruitt, Welcome to Quora. Do Yourself a Favor & Slow Down.

And I did just that. Now, take a break and read Lucretia’s post.

Heard it before, right? But how many of us “know” what we are doing and react with a knee jerk response? Admit it, at one time or another, all of us do. As new social channels pop up daily, we scramble to find relevancy or be the first in the comment stream. We have to slow down and assess the environment and the participating community. Being part of the community team is not to prove how informed I think I may be, but to be a resource or a connector when appropriate. My role changes constantly. Adaptability paired with reflective critical thought is more important than what you may have hidden away in your bag of tricks.

Instead of thinking of how many social channels can I participate in, think about how should you be participating in those communities…if you should be there at all. Take this much needed breather to assess how you respond and why. It is expected organizations should be listening, but active engagement expectations are shifting. We are walking a response tight rope.

Does this sound familiar? You walk into a store and immediately a store representative approaches you, “How may I help you?” Irritated, you brusquely reply (if you even acknowledge the person) you are only looking. The representative retreats into the shadows of the clothing racks. You know they are still there, making you even more aggravated until your thoughts are once again consumed with the task at hand, shopping. You spot a black cocktail dress. Just what you were looking for! But wait…they don’t have it in your size! You look around, desperately for the representative, but they are nowhere to be found. You forget they were ready to help you five minutes ago and you waved then away. No, instead, you are even more furious. You rush out the store and tell all your friends about the horrible store experience and rude employees.

It is all relative…all a matter of perspective. Community teams walk this tight rope each day. Of course, the above example was a horribly gross dramatization, but it is reflective of the situation we now face with online response in a maturing space. A brand is expected to listen to existing conversations, is expected to answer to the community, but on the terms of the community. One must always be aware of the frequently evolving beat of each community on relevant channels. Take a break. Slow down, Cowboy. There is no such thing as status quo.

Food Network: Do Not Let Community Control Leave a Bad Taste In Your Mouth

Guess what? I still read print magazines. (GASP-the horror!) One of the few magazines I still subscribe to is Food Network Magazine. Every month, I look forward to this colorful magazine (actually a closet foodie that does not have one domestic bone in my body) because of the exotic recipes and tidbits …not social media advice.

In the April 2010 edition, the Ask Ted column takes on restaurants and bloggers. The Ask Ted question specifically is, “If I don’t like a restaurant meal, should I blog about it?” I applaud FNM for tackling this question and that Ted Allen addresses this social media truth, “Chefs have to confront the reality that anyone can publish withering report cards-instantly, even in the middle of a meal.” However, the column takes a turn for the worst when Allen outlines new-media foodie “rules” of engagement before publishing a review.

The advice given by Allen is actually a set of guidelines…not to be confused with rules. As an interesting side note, in small print at the end of the column and beneath the call-out for questions for Ted is this: Check out the Food Blog Code of Ethics at http://foodethics.wordpress.com/.  Nowhere in the body of text is this source mentioned. This source is a wealth of knowledge and brainy tidbits for the burgeoning social media foodie critic. But once again, this source outlines suggestions, not rules.

There are no rules. Social media is fair game for all to participate at any time and on any subject. Perhaps it is a matter of semantics, but the wording of “rules” scares me into thinking the chefs/restaurants can control the conversation and the magazine can manipulate the actions of the readers because most are ignorant about their online activities. Rather than position this advice as definitive, Internet publishing responsibility and suggestions for how to be a better amateur food critic should have been communicated.

Food Network Magazine, take a virtual page from the Nestle Facebook Fan Page and note that you cannot control the community voice. Embrace the engagement. Use the chatter to highlight evangelists and right the wrongs of those who are disgruntled. 

Social Media is NOT a Relationship Shortcut

This is the first of many posts I have been researching and drafting about etiquette, privacy and how we are maintaining our digital mirror (NOT to be confused with the dreaded personal brand).

Online interaction through a variety of social media channels has introduced me to new faces, points of view and opportunities. Twitter is one of many vehicles I can forge new conversations and acquaintances, but I have never treated social media as my sole resource for contact with the human race. Just because I follow someone does not make me their friend. Or because I have an interesting dialog with another person on a blog or Facebook, we are not instantaneous buddies.

However, the friends versus followers debate is an ongoing discussion and not what I intend to focus on in this post…

What I do want to ask is this: When did it become socially acceptable to leave etiquette behind at the proverbial virtual door?

Having instantaneous contact with someone does not exempt you from using the two simplest (yet, hardest to remember) words, please and thank you.

As a community manager, it is obviously my job to interact with people. It is assumed that I should be understanding, sensitive, patient, a good listener and provide exemplary due diligence to service my community. I came into the community manager position through the public relations cone. Contrary to popular belief, this career path was chosen not because I was a “people person,” but enjoyed communications strategy and being out of the lime light.

Please do not misunderstand this post to be a rant or to call out anyone in particular. I am just curious why we treat (myself included) those people who are providing a customer service as if they do not deserve the nurturing offline relationships require. We demand answers be immediate, judge first and ask questions later, then demand their knowledge be given for free. Nowhere in any of the community building or maintenance advice is it addressed how the community should treat a community manager.

So, let’s flip the discussion.

Is netiquette lost? Can it be taught? Is it wrong for an online community manager to request the same respect from others that is being demanded of them?