The Social Age is lived out in our communities: the varied spaces, both on and offline, where we learn things, share things, subvert the establishment and generate momentum. Or sometimes just hang out. I’m preparing for a Masterclass in Social Leadership that i’m delivering tomorrow and revisited this case study: it’s a story about choosing a record.
You may think that this is as easy as walking into a record shop, but it’s not. In the process of choosing and buying the record, i engaged in many different communities, each for a different purpose. There’s the record shop itself and the people who work there, then the attached cafe. There’s the band website and wikipedia page, Facebook and Twitter and a range of specialists i can speak to. Then, of course, there’s the experience of seeing them play live. But what are these spaces for, how do we use them?
Some, like the shop itself, are formal, curated spaces. Someone owns the space and chooses how to decorate it, what to stock and how that stock is laid out. Go to a shop like Rough Trade in Brick Lane, London, and you’ll find a lot of small label bands alongside obscure Indie imports. Need a hand choosing? Speak to the staff (or read the small handwritten label reviews that litter the shelf edges).
The staff themselves are experts, each having a favourite genre and style, each holding a reputation based on their knowledge and storytelling skills. Sound familiar? Social reputation sits within Social Leadership as the foundation of authority. If one of the staff members has great knowledge, but is a poor communicator, they can easily build reputation (see Storytelling in Social Leadership). But, assuming they know their beans, the staff provide a great layer of contextual knowledge and interpretation e.g. ‘if you like this, you’ll like that‘. It’s personal and based upon shared stories. Sharing, again, sitting right at the start of the Social Leadership model and being a core and differentiating Social Age skill.
But there’s more: even within the formal four walls of the record store, there’s a different type of space. A cafe. The cafe is a semi formal space, owned by the record store, but curated differently. Here the walls are covered in band fliers and posters, handwritten notes asking for guitarists and offering gig tickets for sale. It’s an ad hoc space that makes connections. You bump into interesting people here and share stories. Or just sit and drink your coffee whilst the world goes by. Sometimes i sit and work there on the free WiFi.
Often my trigger for buying new music comes from reading a review or seeing a band live at a festival. Reviews are, broadly, independent and democratised. I’ve written a few myself. They are very personal, but highly responsive to the latest performance of the band: a narrative written over time. Gigs themselves are informal (usually, at least for the types of music i like), but still curated (like the record store). Someone choreographs the performance, from the lighting rig to the costume, choice of amplifier and backdrop. See Spinal Tap for elaboration on this point…
If i’m interested in a particular band, i can check out their website (highly formal, curated by the band or their management) or Wikipedia (informal, co-created by the community, owned by the community and self moderating) for two different viewpoints. Finally, i often consult: to friends (like Pete or Paul who have exemplary taste: high social authority), experts (like Laura, my music journalist friend, high social and formal authority) or i just share what i’m thinking of buying on Facebook or Twitter and see what the community thinks.
I trust the opinion of some experts more than others and people in my friend group (social space, like Facebook) have high authenticity (although i may discount their feedback if their expertise is located in a different genre). Social authority is highly contextual, so Cath, who is a folk musician, will give me great leads for new acoustic music, but is useless when it comes to rock.
One decision, which album to buy, but i engage in eleven different spaces, eleven different types of community, to make one decision.
In the Social Age, we rely on our communities. They make us stronger.
Try this exercise yourself, but for something you do at work and see the results. Where are your communities?