Influencer culture doesn't serve the community

I like blogging. I still don’t know what it is I like about blogging. But I know I miss it when I don’t have it.

Things are happening. I’ve had a job interview. Another (or maybe that is the same thing) is that I’m still adjusting to life in Germany and wondering what I can contribute here. Another (again, maybe the same thing) is trying to read what is happening online and how I feel about it.

There are people that seem to be born leaders. Whatever they do, they seem to be not just doing it, but also making everyone else look at them do it and follow how they do it. Every life decision followed by a long post on instagram. They were influencers before there were influencers.

That is one end of the spectrum. Then there is all of us who do things but don’t talk about them. Or maybe talk about them to the people we have that kind of relationship with. That’s a rare thing, to be able to talk things through.

So I had a job interview last week. At a local co-working/innovation/creative network hub, for a project manager job to build their organisation and their network, which includes everyone who is anyone locally and in the Baltic region. The projects are all about community development, sustainability, creativity, sharing innovation. Anyone who knows me knows this is my kind of thing, and it was part time, so it was a no-brainer, really. My motivation was to be in a place where I could learn how things work here, so I could figure out where I can contribute. To build a network – theirs and mine.

I didn’t get the job. I’m quite obviously not at the top of my game and there is no way to hide that.

What does surprise me is that neither the closer nor wider network this organisation works with has any sort online presence where you can see what everyone is doing. Social networking – they just don’t do it. Everything works via email round robins, and nobody replies. Which makes sense. You don’t send an email unless you have something bothering you. You don’t just say ‘hi’ or ‘I am happy with this arrangement’ or ‘hey, this is going on with us, and it’s fun’. And making email newsletters is hard work, so nobody who isn’t contractually obliged will do it.

What works better for growing networks seems to be the sort of loose contact we’ve discovered through Twitter. Specifically Twitter, not general social media. The brief messages mean there is no big skill or time involved in being there, you could still focus on the actual work. This brought a democracy which internet forums lacked. Here, the natural leaders (see above) don’t automatically win and the quieter voice is heard. The lack of an algorithm meaning that messages can be seen in the order they are posted – no worry about posting a link to owned content on a blog being hidden because a platform favours its own content. The result, a mix of the work and thoughts of everyone, is a good reflection of the whole. Where you can get to know each other. Where the work can be done out in the open. It markets itself and grows.

Yes, I was tempted to write that whole paragraph in the past tense. But it is all still there. You can still use Twitter to build a network, especially in a setting where most participants will have met each other at some point. No worries about bots or uncivil, angry people hiding behind keyboards. No worries about personal data, because you control the information you put out there.

If a network that is all about creativity, innovation and sharing doesn’t use social media to do their thing, who will?

Of course the job application was a mistake. I could have just asked to see them, we have plenty to talk about. But talking about this online thing is a problem. Even making myself heard here is a problem, since I don’t have ridiculous amounts of followers anywhere. It does take time to explain that that’s not what it’s about. In an age where ‘social media success’ means ‘influencer’, trying to grow incredible numbers of faceless followers in order to monetise them, how do you explain the kind of sharing and networking that makes a community work?

An online network of equals who share what they do and why they do it, with the understanding that there is an audience there of people who are genuinely interested. The members of the network then need to learn to become a good audience, as well as good at sharing.

The problem with the ‘influencer’ culture and everyone looking through that lens: The wider your target audience, the shallower your approach. If your audience is genuinely interested in your work, because you are member of an innovation network, you don’t need to explode the internet by showing body parts, but neither will you grow millions of followers.

Because this is not about millions of followers.

So what I will try to do is keep finding ways of making this make sense, and then attempt to hang out more and once I have made it make sense, help them grow their online network.

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