I’ve been back in my hometown for a year now. Health-wise things have calmed down, so I have been to a few more events and even social happenings.
And everywhere the same strange thing: Completely centralised networks. Of course the information system of whole town is one, with the traditional media in the centre. The result being that every bit of information about what is happening locally comes from the same central place so gets resisted the same.
But also, and more surprisingly: Every organisation that has networking in its name is a centralised network. So I talk to many people at many events about connecting with hashtags. Of course, why a hashtag being pushed by organisations and organisers and explained and publicised at events is in any way related to the creation of a distributed network is not immediately clear.
So I keep thinking of a concise way to explain this connection, what I mean with a distributed network and why this is important.
Let’s talk about the thing I had the highest hopes for. The Warnow Valley is based in the creative quarter Projekt:Raum, co-working space and base for, among others, Kreative MV and FINT, who run projects about creativity and innovation, also in rural parts of this state, with EU backing. FINT actually have a project with the city to improve civic participation. That is amazing, and important. I actually went so far as to apply for a job in project management there, that’s how impressed I was.
Waiting at the interview I browsed the book shelves and saw a book about Influencers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it rang alarm bells, but I think it did make me sad. That view of the online world goes squarely against what this type of organisation should be interested in, something that would create a full online reflection of what’s going on in their network.
Here is a surprise: Most people don’t want to be anything like the people who think they should be influencers and have huge numbers of online followers. Having a broad appeal means going shallow. Showing skin, money, a thin figure, a nice smile, nice clothes. Creating an ‘imagefilm’ devoid of any substance, even if you are the university.
To counteract this view of what social media is about, we need to get to work. People who do important work need to be shown that others are interested in their work, their intentions and their thoughts. In this case, we want substance. Go deep. If you are a member of this network, I definitely would be interested in as much as you can manage to share. You want to change something. What are your thoughts? Your creative outputs? What is your process? I want to know all these things. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t.
In such a distributed network, having social media accounts and using them does so much more than social media marketing. Your online personality is there to genuinely connect you with other humans. Far from being ‘marketing’, you also experience others through it. Being part of a creative network, sharing thoughts and intentions as well as visual output, everyone’s work gets many more dimensions.
Having an online voice also means constantly learning. Often we think this is communications, and there are professionals to do it. While in this case, we should work on communicating our thoughts and work with as little filter as possible, as directly and often as possible. Of course we all understand that not everything belongs online. We are all grown-ups. We can act responsibly.
And why should an organisation do the hard work to build an active online community, to support people in their learning process, to build a distributed network? Because then it fulfils its central role of creating lasting relationships between its members, which means it works better. And the marketing? Just point at your work online.
Yes, all of this is a slow work. Again, there are professionals who do this, community managers, community builders. It starts with setting a good example, and with giving people a reason to develop this new habit. Events are a good place to start, because everyone has the opportunity to have an instant experience of the usefulness of connecting online and doing more with more people than you could have hoped to go around and chat with.
It also starts with removing everything people think they know about social media – that they are all young airheads who get paid to sell diet teas.
I don’t know why the good bits I know, that have made Twitter change my life, have never arrived here. Maybe they didn’t scale. But then we get to Twitter as a company not pushing the good bits, then we get to Twitter the business hiring old-school PR and marketing people over community people, and that’s stuff I’ve long ago stopped caring about.
What’s next for me?
Talking about it and blogging hasn’t gotten me anywhere so far in getting anyone to see what I am talking about. Well, that’s not entirely true. But gotten anywhere, as in, have a conversation that changed anything, I have not. I have a few events coming up, organised by people I’ve already tried to talk to, so I don’t have much hope in doing anything there.
One of them is MVpreneurday, where I tried to contribute something on the hashtag last year, because of course it was on a day where I had an appointment and couldn’t be there. Then a few months later I met the person who was asked to ‘write the tweets’ and who I had communicated with. Who gets it, because she is a freelancer who has a lot of good ideas and integrity, but also does not have the clout to change the viewpoint of the bosses. On that note, a women entrepreneur event is tacked on to that event, so I hope to go this time. (Of course at an entrepreneur event I will also be looking for projects that have some social responsibility, so that’ll no doubt be fun, here, where cold, hard capitalism is still new and exciting…)
I was thinking of working on making my ‘message’ concise enough to print on a card. “Here is a hashtag, connect with it, for these reasons.” I don’t know if that makes sense. Why have a guerrilla approach? If I couldn’t convince the organisers, who are clearly the ones who know what they are doing here, why would anyone else take me seriously?
I am also working on creating my own local network of good people I meet. That needs a tag. #rostockblogs maybe. I have found a blogger (who doesn’t blog for money), so that gives me hope.
Am I slightly obsessed with this? Maybe. But then I see the effects of not having a distributed network and it is slightly soul-destroying. This town needs it. There are good things happening, but the good things don’t get the support they deserve, because they are talked about on the same channels as the MediaMarkt sale and Senator Dr. Müller-von Wrycz Rekowski planting another tree. Great public art projects sink, because people don’t feel a sense of participation.
For me, it is about connection. Feeling part of something, doing things together, recognising that we want similar things, working on them. It is so cold here and it could be so nice. There has to be a way to connect more and better.