The Real Value Of Your Network

Massive, impersonal, one-to-many networks are never as valuable as intimate, engaged and interested communities.  More is not better unless users are actually empowered and connected.  Having hundreds of thousands or even millions of passive followers (something individuals now have, putting them at the numbers previously reserved for media and businesses) is not what you should seek to acquire and ignores the real value of building a network.  I’d rather engage a group of 1,000 interested people over a passive following of 100,000 any day of the week.  We would run circles around the larger group.

Have great ideas to share with the world?  Want to improve your industry?  Are you driven to become a thought leader?  You can, but not if you mindlessly chase numbers for the sake of numbers.  Build trust and engagement instead, as those are what actually matter.  This will lead to more useful, interesting and altogether fulfilling results.

Some thoughts to keep in mind:

The captive, monolithic audience is dead

We live in a fragmented media world, and even in the remaining cases of monolithic, captive audiences, realize they are far too normalized to be useful or interesting to engage deeply.  The remaining monolithic audiences simply don’t interact with content or each other at the level more intimate groups do.  Pound for pound, intimate networks are far more influential than larger networks.

In the attention economy, trust matters even more

Make no mistake, the most valuable currency of this century is attention.  But, not all attention is created equal – in fact, only a rare few have managed to acquire trust at scale.  As we undergo a shift in media: from brands to people realize that trusts matters even more.  Attention + trust = influence.  Attention without trust is just noise.  Rackspace understands this intimately as proven by their hiring of Robert Scoble.

Don’t think in terms of specific tools

If you have the right content/ideas/vision and a strategy to connect with people, you’ll be able to cultivate a valuable network interested in helping itself succeed and grow organically.  Tools change with technology, and you should be learning to get the most out of them as we move – but this remains the low-level skill.  The high level skill is always and has always been marketing prowess.  We don’t need social media experts, we need good marketers.

Smaller affords deeper interactions

You always connect more closely with other members of smaller networks because it is a more special connection.  Simply put, there are less of you which makes each connection that much more rare and valued.  Smaller groups fight for each other, defend each other and protect the network.  Intimate settings are breeding grounds for deep connectivity.

Truly original collaborative interactions happen in small pockets

Most original ideas are born from those who actively ignore outside influence and accepted norms.  The majority are afraid of change and the unknown, especially if it is disruptive to how they currently work/live/play.  But, there is the minority who thrive on it.  If you can foster a network that embraces change and the unknown, it will be absolutely irresistible to that passionate minority who embrace it.  And, a benefit of smaller groups is that they’ll almost always be open to change because they will feel like they are the ones leading it together.  Change and originality always almost always happens at the edges and intersections, and to build a network with that in mind is both exciting and valuable.

Intimate networks activate quickly

You can ping a closely knit group and they will rise to action fast.  That was the whole brilliance of how Tide was able to empower influencers to activate their networks and help a cause.

Another example of this is the massive power of the 4chan community.  Their core group certainly doesn’t have the raw numbers of traditional media organizations, nor the numbers of some staggeringly popular individuals.  They don’t need them.  What they have is a group that is ready to jump to action.  The size of their network is irrelevant, what matters is they are activated, connected and determined.  Think what you want about what they actually do – you have to marvel at their ability to organize and collaborate for success.

Intimate settings deliver far more memorable experiences

The vibe at a concert with 20,000 fans of varying degrees of passion for the artist is far different from the vibe at a smaller venue with 500 fans who have listened to the artist’s works hundreds of times.  Everyone has been to both, and only the intimate shows offer an experience you simply cannot replicate.  I’m not just saying this as a music fan – I have played venues ranging from 100 people to thousands, and without question I would rather play the smaller venue every time.  I am sure most other artists would agree.  As an audience member or artist, the connection forged in intimate settings are never the same at scale.

Some followed by massive numbers look to engage their interested users in more intimate settings

Seth Godin created an invite-only network called Triibes.  Jason Calacanis decided to stop blogging altogether and create an email list to build more intimate, private connections with his network.  In both cases, these people were highly-followed, popular individuals but clearly wanted something deeper for their communities they couldn’t get out of their current monolithic platforms.

Conclusion

Don’t chase numbers, and realize the real value of a network is in the depth and trust of the connections forged.  In a world where high numbers are common, trust and focused attention becomes the most valuable assets.

Related posts:

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Your Digital Reputation Is Of Paramount Importance

Social Media Power Users And Influencers: Part 1