Seed your network with the influential leaders first
Traditionally when we built services that were used by one person at a time with no interactions with other people, there was a significant need to specifically label every link, title, and button. Develop wizard workflows, provide help, support, ext.
Few examples are online invoicing or project management systems, etc. These services often did a specific task and didn't change as much over time. In fact every change is very costly in such systems and there is often a classical product development by design in place.
Social Web has differences. First of all it changes and evolves at a much more rapid pace. Any strategy or design that slows down that process is a bad business and architectural decision. A good example is when facebook experienced the twitter effect and since then their story feeds, profiles pages, etc. were becoming more and more generic, however their primary goal is still keeping friends and family members informed about each other and whatever that will come out of that ... ie. social search!
As for the average user goes, within a social web they rely on their leaders and influential people to learn how to use the service. Leaders are the people who GET what the technology is all about and constantly find new ways to use it, then this knowledge is passively passed to the average users who follow them. In a social web environment software has to stay as generic as possible in order to be able to change in as little time as possible. It is about the survival of the fittest in a system that is developed by evolution.
To give you another example: many concepts such as RT, @username, or #hashtag were invented by the influential twitter users, then their followers learned how to user those concepts, and then twitter developers built those as features into the system.
If you look at the early days of services such as flickr, facebook, twitter they all build their first several million users undermining all kinds of principals that every classical product designer would have disagreed with. They also lacked many features. The early adopters played the role of influential leaders on those social networks and as people improvised all kinds of new ways to use these generic systems, the developers picked on the most commonly used patterns and built them as features into the system. That is how they remained resourceful and did not invest in building features based on assumptions.
When you are building systems that are used by isolated users, it is very important to specifically label everything and provide all kinds of clues and cues to help the average user. On a social web, it is important to seed the community with the influential leaders first so the average users have a foundation to rely on. Even today many people still dont' understand what facebook or twitter are all about, but they still manage to use those services by following and learning from their friends and leaders.
Starting and seeding a social network with the average users is a bad idea, because there will be no leadership pulses in the community to help them self organize and adopt your services.
so simple and yet this post could easily be over looked by so many. I need to "like" this :) Now I am getting the reasons by behind these naming schemes and so on.... lead the way
So what are some ways to find or attract leaders? Should we actively seek them out and invite them or should we market the site in a way that will attract them? I know that many of my potential users are not familiar with Twitter, however, the ones that do use twitter would be able to demonstrate "following". Would that mean that a twitter marketing campaign would be more effective in finding leaders than a fb campaign? I'm thinking out loud here but this is such a great point that I need to incorporate it into my strategic plan....
@James it is very unorthodox and perhaps against anything that a marketing or project manager would recommend, but if you look at many of the services and technologies that changed the course of Internet such as twitter, facebook, flickr, blogs, or wikipedia none of them started with the average user in mind. No average user could comprehend those concepts, many still don't. Those projects all started by a set of determined influential people who become leaders to many followers. Average users often live in the past and barely in the present, but they are always looking for leadership figures to follow. That is why starting a social network with the average users will almost always fail, because no pulses of leadership has been seeded in the network.
This pattern is prevalent in nature too. Our hearts are made out of a social network of heart cells. A few clusters of heart cells initiate the pulse that propagates to the entire heart that's how you get a nice rhythmic heart beat. Once those cells quit, heart cells will each generate pulses sporadically out of synch and that is when you need a pacemaker to keep the heart beating.
In our brains (social network of neuron cells) there are certain regions that initiate the thought and motor process. Many other cells synchronizes and propagate the pulses and fire in synch. When an epidemic breaks out (going viral) that is when you suddenly feel you've come up with a new idea. It is the same mechanism when a video goes viral on a social network like facebook.
Communities follow the same concept too. They synchronize their pulses with the most influential people who earn the leadership of their followers within the community. They are often the highly connected people who initiate an idea or cultural movement.
When you understand the dynamics of how social networks work, you can apply them to different context.
@Jennifer that is exactly what I was pointing out. Focus on meeting the needs of influential leaders first and set a common goal with them to work together and make it happen. That way you will create a much larger gravity to attract the followers. Through the process many followers become leaders to their own followers and so on. That is how the network grows and nurtures itself. The good news is that the number of leaders is always much smaller than the total people in the network and that is even more resourceful when you focus on their needs first.
Could help it - made your @Rastin commentary into a short interview http://wp.me/p1EXE2-y and posted on my blog. Hope you don't mind - let me know if that is ok.
I think it is spot on about the leaders, but also about how this provides huge leadership lessons for companies and communities (and politics).
@Jennifer regarding how to find leaders - my view is that leaders 'become' if you help them. My process for this is face to face, there is something uncanny about how emotional energy creates such huge difference in the presence of people.
My experience is in large scale change projects - if one gets the people involved, naturally leaders emerge, are accepted by others, roles are changing, leaders rotate - everything works.
If one finds that too much 'change management' is required -well... - one must acknowledged one jumped too many steps.
Parallel here would be to hurry too much and fill your ideas with passive users living off your own energy... you'll tire before you succeed. Trying to make everyone happy wit perfect services for example.
Antoine Saint Exupery said "if you want people to build ships don't teach them the woodworking, the tools, and so on.. teach them to yearn for the open ocean"
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