Becoming a Leader in Your Online Community

A couple of weeks back, I did a intro to social media workshop to the Engineers at the City of Vancouver with Deb Pickman and John H. Baker of Shift Consulting.

We developed it cooperatively: I shared what I did in my workshops with Deb and John, and John added his expertise as a consultant working with business, and Deb did piles of research.

We talked a lot in the workshop about how the world is changing, and how paradigms are shifting. John came up with this really great graphic about the levels of engagement from the least or minimum level of engagement to becoming what Steve Jagger and Shane Gibson call a Thought Leader.

In the past, it was quite normal for us to not share the inner workings of our business or our art practice. What if someone stole our ideas?? We have been protective and controlled. The problem with that is that people tend not to trust businesses that are tight, protective and controlling. We don’t “like” them. And why should we? There’s nothing warm or human to like.

The lowest level, the entry level, into this new world, then, is disclosure and transparency. It’s being proactive, rather than reactive when something goes wrong. And it’s powerful. We’re human, and we know that other humans make mistakes. Owning up to them and trying to set them right is a very powerful way to gain people’s trust.

Level 2 is broadcasting meaningful information, and what that means is that you are now sharing information with your audience or clientele. Not just about your products or services or artwork, but other stuff, too. Things that you find interesting that you think other people might find interesting. Or, you could share information along an educational or informative bent. For example, if you sell Creme Brulee torches, you could start page that listed different recipes for Creme Brulee, or recipes for other things that you could use the torch for.

When you start to exchange messages, you’re at Level 3. Information now becomes two-way instead of just one-way. You are having conversations with the people in your community, the people that buy and use your product, service, or artwork. You’re asking them what they want, how you can help them. You are responding to them via blogs, Facebook, or Twitter.

Finally, the top level is leading conversations that engage. This is likely where we all aspire to be, for many reasons. “Thought Leaders” are sought after in this world: look at guys like Gary Vaynerchuck, Seth Godin, and others who are thought of as gurus. They have huge followings, books, and speaking engagements, and make a fantastic income. The challenge with being a thought leader is that you have to be creative and talk about stuff that no one else is talking about yet. But if you can do that, fame and fortune could be yours! No problem, hey?

Where do feel like you are at on the continuum?

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 3

  1. Good post Rebecca, and well thought out but I do have a few thoughts.
    I’m not sure there’s actually been a “paradigm shift.” All the steps described are the same things that have always been done, by some people/companies well and by some not so well.

    30 years ago when I worked at Blackberry Books on Granville Island, Lucy Stewart, the owner and the staff did all those steps except the delivery of them was slower and more one-on-one, face-to-face. Not one thing was different.

    What’s different now is not “what” we do but “how” we do it. I think we’re being all giddy with how supposedly fast it can all happen, but I’m not sure the outcomes are all that dramatic. Using examples of superstars (like Godin) and what they have accomplished is good but superstars in any arena were always there.

    In my case, an amazing giant bookstore in New York was the superstar of bookstores and to compare it to little independent Blackberry Books was almost pointless. It’s how the little organizations are using the new tools to deliver those five steps are what interest me. Or, put another way, hoping they can leverage the tools to do better at what they already do.

    I am caught up in all the social media hype and I do think it’s very cool and exciting, but it’s overshadowing the underlying reasons for being in business in the first place.
    Ok, I’m rambling, but you certainly got my brain going with the conversation. 🙂

  2. Well, I’m glad I got your brain going, John. Always cool when that happens.
    I get your point, and it’s a totally valid one.
    One thing I say in my workshops is that our #1 method of marketing has always been word of mouth. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is how we spread word of mouth (and it’s A LOT faster!). So I think your comment fits in with that: thought leaders have always been there, and have always been something to aspire to, but now they have these fantastic platforms that do it easily.

  3. Hi, Rebecca, very interesting post. It got me reflecting… Here are my thoughts!

    Thought Leader: I remember this term first being used at TELUS about ten years ago – definitely a new term then (I think) – in relation to establishing both the network architecture directions for wireless and high-speed internet as well as for actual real-life applications for customers. It’s an awkward expression in some ways but does speak to the ability of certain people or groups being “out in front” somehow (which is, to say, all of us in our own little corner of the proverbial garden).

    One thing I do like about the evolving social media models is around transparency (your level 1), mostly because it enables (forces?) innovation. While strategy is important to any organization (and execution is possibly more important), it’s simply the case that most people are reading the same magazines (or blogs these days) and so the strategies are not that unique.

    Providing more disclosure and transparency kind of shows us that we’re all pretty much on the same general track. However, the true thought leaders are able to take seemingly disparate ideas and meld them into something new and do it quickly because everyone will jump on the same bandwagon in the time it takes for Tweets to circle the globe.

    Level 2: Similar to the issue/opportunity of transparency in level 1, I like the guidance provided by someone (can’t remember who: Chris Brogan perhaps?) that you need to share 90% of your information for free and you’ll get paid for the 10% that you hold back (aha! secrecy is alive and well, just more deviously) or which is probably too complex for someone to digest alone without your expertise (because you’re a thought leader).

    Level 3 and listening is good old-fashioned marketing and product development (e.g., British Airways used to have people whose whole job was to fly around on their planes without the crew knowing about it, not to check up on them but to experience the overall product first-hand and to hear the unadulterated comments of their paying customers).

    These days, using social media tools, we can short-circuit much of that complexity and open up the dialogue. When you’re the CEO, chief cook and bottle washer (oh, and product developer), you get to do the strategic planning, the marketing, the product development, customer care, billing, etc., yourself. How flat an organization is that!

    Yup, I like your levels: transparency leads to information sharing, leads to dialogue and ultimately thought leadership.

    I believe the people who made the most money in the Yukon gold rush were either those people who got to the creeks first or those who provided the infrastructure and support for others scavenging through the smaller bits…

    I’m a scavenger but will perhaps be content with a few little nuggets in my sluice pan.

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