Next Step for Organizations in Social is Leadership

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 who’s 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 hero’s. 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 it’s culture as opposed to being led by it.

I’d be interested in any others.

This entry was posted in Marketing. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Chris Jablonski
    Posted November 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Great piece Karl. My only thought is that the leadership challenge may persist as growing “mass expertization” will make it hard for non-community driven companies to differentiate themselves, provide real value, and influence external established communities.

  2. My Site (click to edit)
    Posted November 30, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Chris. I think that the model of learning through participation will work for existing communities. In the end it comes down to identifying and recognizing leaders and supporting them, pretty standard management practice I think

  3. Social Media in Orgs
    Posted December 6, 2010 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    This reflection is a nice extension of the results reported by Ketchum/FedEx. Your ideas reinforce the importance of leveraging social media to listen, which can get lost in all the recommendations for creating and sharing content. I think it’s also important to remember that the culture of an external community can be nurtured and encouraged, but not forced. And finally, we should be careful not to assume that large size and rapid growth are the primary hallmarks of a strong community. Quality is more important than quantity, and the normal growth curve for most communities is likely to be flat rather than steep.

    I’ve included this item in a Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) S.M.A.R.T. News Digest focused on “social leadership.” Here’s a link to it:


    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, SMinOrgs Community

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe without commenting