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Making Fools of Those Who Disagree

I was reading a blog by Alan Jacobs on that reminded me of what is sorely lacking online...


Perhaps it is just nostalgia for a time before my time, but it seems that at sometime in the past, there were understood societal rules that gentlemen followed. (The Art of Manliness explores these rules for men and their application to today)

When I read C.S Lewis's God in the Dock, I was surprised at the tone that Lewis took with those who he disagreed with. He acknowledged them, respected them, appreciated their willingness to engage with him. While he disagreed, he showed respect for the people he was addressing, never belittling them or turning them into caricatures.

We just don't disagree well online.

I used to think that the reason people were rude online was that they could be anonymous. But that isn't even true anymore. People just shout their disrespectful opinions right from their Facebook and Twitter pages. They try to make fools of those who disagree with them rather than make conversation with them.

Perhaps these are just the growing pains of having a new medium to communicate in with little real social rules around it. Will we come back around to a time where it is honorable to speak with respect... but this time online? What will it take?

Relational Architecture -3- Speaking

Once we are listening to the conversation going on, we can speak.

The rule of speaking in social media is to speak to those you have a relationship with and who want to hear you.

In contrast, the mass market plan was to talk at as many people as possible and hope that someone hears what we are saying.3- Speaking It didn't matter if they wanted to hear from us, if we could speak and force them to listen. If we could interrupt 100,000 people to make 100 sales, then that was okay.

Spam works like this: Send and email to 100,000, hoping 10,000 open it, so that 1,000 click on your link, so that you make 100 sales. The problem with this funnel model is that you annoyed 99,900 people. It is costly in terms of good relationships and respect.

We are increasingly being seen simply as rude for using that type of tactic. We lose trust and reputation. It is like sending a "Get Well Soon" card to everyone you know hoping to be an encouragement to any friend who happens to be sick. Even the right people wonder about our character.

The social media model is to do the funnel work first and then speak only to the 100 who want to buy (or perhaps the 1000 who are genuinely interested). You do through relationship... by listening first, then speaking to those who want to hear you.

So, practically, you can blog or podcast. Let those that are interested in your words tell others until you have an audience of people who actually want to hear you. You can build a community online around a topic or interest, and then you can speak to them about what their interest is. Or you can find a group that already exists online and engage with them. All these things do take time.

Try to filter first, then speak.

Relational Architecture -2- Listening

If you have been trained up reasonably well socially, you know the rule... "Listen more than you speak."

We don't always follow it, but it really is a good rule of thumb to make sure that we are respecting the person in front of us and that we don't come across as a self centered know-it-all.

Listening before we speak helps us to pick up social cues. If we walk into a room an listen for minute, we might find that people are grieving... or we might find they are celebrating. What we find out by listening informs us about how to act appropriately.

We need to learn that skillset again at a business or organizational level. If we are to be real and personal with our customers and constituents, we need to start again with simple listening. While it used tto take quite some effort to listen to our fans, it is now easy. We have tools to do it like we never have had before. Their conversations are public. So let's do it.2- Listening

As a start, you go to Google Alerts and set up a simple alert on your name in quotes. You can "listen" to the whole internet to find when anyone mentions your name. Find out what they are saying.

Grab a Twitter account and follow a few interesting people. Spend ten minutes a day finding out reading what they are up to.

Listening shows respect, builds trust, and helps us to speak intelligently into the right places.

And remember that we are not just listening to the people with the agenda of advertising to them later. We are listening for relationship... for how we can make each others lives better. Are the people that visit your coffee shop talking about you on foursquare? Find out. Do your peers frequent a place online? Does your professional organization? Where are they gathering? What new ideas do that have that you should listen to?

As we architect your social environment online, we need to value the power of listening. Listening let's us know what to do next.

What's a Meme?

Heard a fun show on NPR the other day. It was about "memes".

A meme is an idea that gets spread around really quickly through our culture. The term was invented in 1976. It is now coming to mean thing that spreads like a virus on the internet.

Richard Dawkins, the guy who invented the term, says that the internet is the perfect ecology that was needed for memes.

Cool term... interesting show... check it out here

(So for example, TweetMeme is a tool that helps you tweet things quicker.)

Relational Architecture -1- Identity

The first component of relational architecture is Identity.

For people to relate to us or our organization, we need to be more than a set of facts or services. We need to be personal, we need to have a story, and need to have and easily accessible presence.

Rackspace, a great server hosting company, does a great job at being personal. If you contact them, you get to talk to a person, not just when you call the sales department, but when you call for late night support as well. No need to weave through a maze of button pressing and bad voice recognition (that just gets worse as you raise your voice in frustration). Having a real person to connect with and having a familiar team that recognizes me transforms Rackspace from a machine into a personality. The accessibility of just a few people makes me feel like I can relate to the whole organization.1- Identity

Once I realized that they they were going to interact with me like a person, I wanted to know more about them. Found out that they were moving into an old mall for their offices instead of building a new building... an attempt to reuse instead of build new. I found out that the personal relationship I was experiencing was a company value... that they keep their support teams small and I can always call into the same group when I need help (instead of a call center of thousands). They are personally conscious and environmentally conscious. They have something they are about... a story. By having a story, I have an opportunity to relate my story with theirs. I begin to feel like Rackspace can actually understand my values and we can journey in our stories together.

The last part that they do well is they have a presence that is clear. Their website is easy to find with a simple search. They are available 24/7. While you may not to be available all the time like they are, realize that being personal and having a story, but being hard to find, will prevent you from engaging well.

Having a clear, personal identity is the first piece of building an online presence.

What organizations are out there that make you feel like you are spending time with a friend or a person instead of a corporation? Which ones have the personality of vending machines?

No really... it is about relationship

I have been struck over and over again this week that social media is really just personal relationship.

Okay, yeah... new tools that make relationship move faster, but it is still basically relationship.

The problem some corporations are having is that they have forgotten how to relate to people. I know... it has been a long time since simply relating to people genuinely had any place in business in America. But I really think it is returning. The corporations who realize this will be successful.

If we treat social media as simply the newest marketing tool, it won't work. If we implement the basics of one on one communication we (hopefully) learned when we grew up, we will get a lot further in business.

Listen more than you speak.

Respect the people you are talking to.

Remember it isn't all about you.

That is why am am in this field. I am looking forward to seeing business (and organizations... and churches) start treating each other like real people again. While I don't think that corporate statements and image campaigns are over just yet, I think that the way the internet is allowing us to talk to each other (even with its limitations) is bringing us back to a more genuine place.

Relational Architecture - Intro

I am starting a series of blogs that explain what I mean by online "Relational Architecture".

Today, I want to talk about why we need to take a fresh look at the way organizations and people relate to each other. Why do we need to newly architect our relationships anyways?

There is a deep sociological change that is happening and we don't know what to do with it. We can sense that the rules of engagement for companies, organizations, and people are moving on us, but we don't understand exactly what these changes are or what they mean.

This certainly isn't the first time in history that the rules changed. During the industrial revolution, we had a similar problem. Weavers, blacksmiths, farmers... they all watched as the big factories were built. What many missed was that these factories were about to change the whole structure of society.

Mass production didn't just make more things and make them faster. It changed the way we all interacted. We began to work at a different place than our home. We took jobs as line workers instead of craftsmen. The role of women changed. We came under the care of companies, rather than worked out our self sufficiency. Modern cities and transportation networks were born. Old models of living and doing business changed. New models took over. Some people understood this change and worked with it. Some people resisited it and were crushed.

We are now experiencing a similar change... a social communication revolution. The "factories" we see on the horizon are Facebook, Twitter, blogging... conversing with people across the globe as one giant community. Just as many underestimated those industrial factories and how they were changing all the rules, so also are people underestimating the changes in the world through social media.

We need to understand what is going on. For the next seven weeks, I am going to explain. I am going to talk about the core components of online relational architecture. I want to lay out a foundation explaining the changes that are going on so that we can make wise decisions on engaging in this new era.

Positional and Personal Authority

Positional Authority is when you have been given a role that allows you to have more power over someone else. A policeman. A judge. A manager. A forum admin.

Personal Authority is when through a genuine connection and respect, people listen to what you have to say.

Whenever we use positional authority in social circles, we risk doing so at the expense of social freedom and growth.

As the admin of a large forum for 7 years, I saw a lot of issues that needed to be dealt with. Angry and hurting people sometimes acted out and disrupted the whole community.

I took care of almost every issue using personal authority instead of positional authority. While I had the power to ban people or words or posts, I very very rarely did that. Instead, the nameless avatars on the forum were approached with an email... a phone call... a face to face talk if possible. I did the hard work of treating people like people.

I found that when people are treated with respect... when they are listened to... they not only listen back, but turn into loyal allies.

When you have issues in social networks that you are hosting, resist focusing on the presenting issue. Instead interact with the people and the issues will resolve themselves. It is harder, but it is worth it.

Pandora and Customer Service

Corporations seem to have a hard time interacting genuinely with people. A friend sent me his this interaction when sending feedback to Pandora. He started with:

This is more of a comment really. I'm getting really annoyed by the endless barrage of Geico advertisements. I understand the use of ads and usually don't mind them enough to pay for Pandora One. But the same ads over and over and over have got me choosing Slacker and Grooveshark to avoid the caveman and gecko. Maybe this is by design, maybe it's a flaw...I just wanted you to know that these ads are barely tolerable the first time and fingernails on the chalkboard irritating every time after that. I'll pay more for car insurance just to make Geico go away! Please send me a variety of advertisements that don't make me want to rip the sound card out of my laptop and smash it into a million pieces.

So, his tone was humorous, a bit sharp, but still engaging. He needed to be heard or at least acknowledged. Pandora's response...?

Thanks for writing and for the feedback on our ads. There's a natural tension between valuable ad space and the listening experience. Our objective is to do our best to balance these. It's something that we'll be working at for a long time to come.

You are always welcome to upgrade to Pandora One at a very modest $36/year to cut out the advertising altogether. You can find this option in the upper right hand corner of the main page. You can find out more about Pandora One here:

We work very hard to deliver the best music discovery experience and hope you will continue to listen and enjoy Pandora.

Thanks again for writing!

It is like they didn't even read his feedback. They offered a "solution" that he specifically said he didn't want, but more importantly, they missed his tone. They offered a prototype response when my friend was offering a chance at a genuine human interaction.

Circles of Integrity - Thinking smaller to change the world

The impact of our lives begins with our heart and works outward into the world from there. The steps in between are a critical foundation if we are to have a real impact in the world.

We begin with a good heart. The smallest seed in the core of who we are. This grows and manifests itself in our internal life... our thoughts, will, and emotions.

When we are internally strong, we begin to change our speech and our actions. Our actions have a small splash at first, mostly with our family and friends. But as this foundation is built, we have a platform for reaching our community... and then the largest circle... our world.

The problem we run into is that we want to change the world more than we want to change ourselves. We get so focused on the bigger circles that we forget that it is all built upon the simple things... our thoughts and speech and how we treat our friends.

If you are not making the impact you want in your community perhaps you need to work on the smaller circles instead of trying to make a bigger impact. I find that I have to continually go back to those small circles and invest there. This is integrity... to have all the circles strong and consistent. It is a foundation that lends weight to our lives.