In the current landscape lots of companies are listening to their communities, and some are participating but few are providing the leadership required to cultivate, nurture and shape that community over the long term. The “2010 Social Media Benchmarking Study” from Ketchum and FedEx documents that only 10% of companies are providing real leadership (by their definition).

Understanding how to lead communities will be a key skill that companies need to develop if they want to be successful in the long term with any social strategies. Most companies have the skills and knowledge to lead communities because in the end a successful company is an internal community with leadership, but internal communities or corporate cultures have much more explicit carrots and sticks to shape activity and reward behavior. To lead an external community requires softer skills and a more in depth understanding of what shapes an external communities culture. The word culture is useful here in the context of community because it is short hand for “the way we do things round here”, which interestingly is different for every social network out there. This is one of the shortfalls in how companies approach social media because they view social media as a homogeneous internet culture without understanding the unique cultures and ways of doing things that emerge from social networks.

Participation is the first step in gaining a deeper understanding of the particular community culture. Participation must be done thought with a critical eye on what are the tacit underpinnings of what drives peoples behaviors in the community, if not you will just be another goldfish swept along in the water without seeing the cultural forces that are driving the overarching community culture. This is important for enterprises trying to enter existing social networks as well as startups whose companies are community driven.

Some things to look at when trying to understand the culture of an emerging community or network are:

Rewards and Recognition: what is rewarded in the community and what does the community support or subvert.

Storys, Myths and Heros: what are the success stories, the myths, and who are the heroes. What values do they communicate, how will they influence behavior.

Games and Metagames: what are the explicit games and what are the tacit games.

Motivation: what are the different motivation factors for participation, creativity and leadership within the community.

One of the best way to start being a leader in a community is to begin by identifying and recognizing positive leaders that are emerging within the community. Empowering leaders from the community itself provides strong signals about what you value in the community and provides opportunities for deeper more meaningful participation for members that want to step up.

Are there any examples of social network culture led to failure or success? I think Digg is a good example of culture failure as popularity and timeliness became more important than quality and meaning. Yelp is an example of an organization that led its culture as opposed to being led by it.

I’d be interested in any others.

Image by: fredcavazza

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