New Tribes, New Rules
It seems like every day now I meet someone who is trying to make sense of the social web. Most folks seem to understand that something important is happening, but just can’t connect to the value of what they’re seeing.
The social web is a vibrant new culture. Corporations, small business, and individuals are bringing their best to be a part of what’s happening.
47 million websites were added in 2009.
The web is a new culture occurring in a new virtual space.
Talking through a computer or smart phone doesn’t return the same results as talking in person does.
It helps to start out knowing that.
We Have the Problem of Speaking the Same Language
Anyone who’s been a military brat or moved around for their professional life knows that every new location meant learning the rules of the new school and the new community. Somehow that cultural difference is easier to see when we go to a foreign land, where the language has different sounds and a different alphabet. With such obviously linguistic differences we’re more likely to expect differences in values, traditions and how how people choose to connect into business and social groups and tribes.
When I traveled internationally, it took me about three years to identify those same cultural differences in the English speaking countries. We had the disadvantage of speaking the same language. So we often thought we were saying or doing the appropriate thing — We thought the same words meant the same things. We thought we were doing what worked in one place … but found it didn’t work in another.
I once signed a contract with an Australian friend. I thought it described a partnership. As things progressed I realized she thought she had engaged a channel of distribution. Each of us behaved according the premise we believed. Until we figured that out, we were constantly wondering why the other didn’t behave.
Will Your Brand Survive the Culture Shock of the Social Web?
Whenever we meet a new culture, we have the problem of figuring out what’s the same to all humans, what’s just our individuality, and what’s the culture. It’s no wonder that wise folks approach the social web with varying degrees of caution, suspicion, or confusion, fearing missteps or problems. It’s still a bit foreign that people connect via computers and smart phones. For others, it’s a problem of learning a new set of social rules and words that have different meanings in different contexts.
Until we sort those, we can be in a bit of a culture shock. After studying the tradtional symptoms of culture shock, I find that online, culture shock shares these common characteristics. The ones I list here are those that apply to both individuals and brands. With each I’ve added some ways to help you survive the culture shock to thrive on the social web.
- Sadness, loneliness, melancholy; Lack of confidence; Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity; Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused — Does the sheer volume of noise on the Internet overwhelm you and minimize your effort? Does so much noise sometimes make it seem like you or your brand will never get the attention and respect that could be, should be, or once was yours? Find a community where your message makes sense. You’ll be louder and make faster progress.
- Loss of identity; Preoccupation with health — the health of your business. Have you less idea of who you, your brand, and your customers are now than you did when you got here? Do you or your brand find advisors to help you focus on a healthy Internet presence? Do you blame lack of productivity on Internet ADD and then seek out facts to prove it? Do you treat the Internet as a huge time sink? Are you overly occupied with statistics and connections that are meaningless to building your business? Look to what healthy online businesses are doing. Talk to the people who run and advise them. Learn what goals drive them.
- Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little; Unable to solve simple problems — Do you or your business have trouble stepping away from the computer? Do you binge blog and then avoid it? Have you gotten so caught up in the tools and numbers of followers that you no longer know how to fix simple issues without turning them into bigger problems? Do you meet your online customers offline? Develop habits that match the habits of your audience or the people you want to reach. Talk with them, write for them regularly where they are and when they are online. Their feedback will be the support to keep things going. Not every online problem needs to be solved online.
- Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless — Does it overly affect you or your brand when you don’t get enough pageviews or a response from an influencer on Twitter? Are you certain those are good metrics? Do you spend the right amount of time figuring out why? Keep the Internet in perspective. It’s only one piece of a total business plan. Now more than ever, we need to be meeting our customers and friends online and off. Have a true strategy. Choose a mission and goals that support growing your brand and your business. Then choose the tools that will systematically move those goals forward in a realistic and practical way.
- Identifying with the old culture or idealizing the old country — Do you play a defensive game? Do you or your business try to make the web work the same as the offline world? Do you hold on to the old tools and the old office rules because they once made your business successful? Pick up the tools and learn how the culture uses them. Look for how the new ways make your business faster, easier, and more meaningful to you and your customers.
- Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country — Are you or your brand willing to join with a beginner’s mind? Pace yourself to set simple goals, meet one friend, and learn one tool at a time. Cultures, like businesses, are built, learned, and grow over time.
- Developing stereotypes about the new culture — Do you or your brand believe that “the Internet is the Wild West,” “Twitter is narcissism,” “Bloggers work in the PJ’s” or any other stereotypes? Putting people who want to buy from you into boxes with labels is not a great way win their interest and loyalty.
Culture shock is a lot less when you find a friend who can translate what’s happening and introduce you to others who live the culture every day. Don’t let the tools decide how you act, lead with the relationships you make.
As my friend, Chris Brogan says … “it’s always about the people.”
Great countries and great companies have been built by ideas and innovations that develop when two cultures connect. The key is being aware that VALUES ARE THE KEY TO BUILDING VALUE.
Listen, engage, interact, learn, and meet up at the core of the matter where our values align well.
What are the keys to integrating into this new culture of the social web?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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