[Loic LeMeur. This is what a Community leader looks like these days. Photo by Shel]
NOTE--This is the 4th in my series of undetermined length on virtual communities. I welcome you joining this discussion. Please use the tag "community conversations" so people can find it.
The 1950s in the US were really not good old days. But in a great many ways they were simpler. Most cities had one newspaper, two radio staions and three TV networks. People had the same information, delivered from the same perspective and few of us would challenge it for another decade. The Interstate Highways system for the most part was unbuilt and there was no commercial jet service. People stayed home more.
Whether we liked them or not, most community members agreed on who the community leaders were. Doctors, the municpal judge, religious leaders, the head of the local Red Cross, and the High School Varsity coaches were among the most prominent. One tier down were lawyers, insurance agents and other professional service providers who would often--like doctors-visit people at home.
These same people were all prominent on the lists of local charitable boards. The best of them were trusted because they helped people with problems--health, legal, family protection, turning kids into athletic scholorship candidates. They were the community members most often quoted in the local media. If they had problems, emergency services got to their homes the most rapidly. If you a problem, chance were you could see them in their homes to discuss the matter privately.
They were also often elected to public office. They lived in some of the nicest homes, drove the biggest and most expensive cars. Other community members followed them into the stores and restaurants they patronized. We wanted the same gardners and roof repair services that these community leaders wanted.
Times changed. The butcher, the baker & candlestick maker gave way to the franchise, chain and big block. The malls replaced downtowns. The lines that defined the communities of mid-20th century America blurred and eroded.
Flash forward to current times. Communities are now forming online. None that most of us use are more than 10 years old, most of them less than five. They are still forming, but growing at great speed.
What is clear is that community leaders are being selected online today for the same reasons they evolved to the highest echelons of influence in the tangible communities of the 50s. The new community influencer is like the doctor or coach of yesterday. They give to their community that which is needed. They give a great deal to their communities and the commnities revere them for that generosity.
We trust their judgement. If they like a new technology, we tend to follow and give a try. If they say they had a great meal in a restaurant, we might give the place a try. The same with places to travel, music or video. They give the most. They bcome the most influental and perhaps the most powerful.
For the modern company, this is a painful flex point. This is not how brands extend themselves. You don't get eyeballs to stick on your stuff by being generous. You don't get to own customers by being generous to them. Mass marketing techniques simply don't work when your dealing with communities of a few hundred or a few dozen members.
But, if you give to this community that which is interesting or useful, then the community will revere you for it. They will tell others and send them your way. Just look at what Loic LeMeur has done with Seesmic. Yes, he has had great traditional ress coverage and that may have helped him with investors. That's not how Seesmic has become the most frequent company named on 2008 hot lists.
It's because Loic has used Twitter almost exclusively to create passionate users as Kathy Sierra would have put it. Unlike others, trying to reach the same community, Loic uses it for all sorts of conversations that are not just shovelware for his company. It puts people on his side.
Loic has joined the tech portion of the Twitter community and he had become a community leader. He has been generous and there is now an entire community wanting to give back to him.
Loic did not foist his brand He contributed to a community that could help his brand and in so doing, the community supports his brand.
I submit there is a huge lesson to be learned there.