Log Off: Building Bridges in Social Media
High-velocity online conversations require a sophisticated skill set.
Members of the Digg.com community rose up in revolt when management appeared to violate the news site's core principle of user-controlled content by stopping a member from publicizing a code for disabling copy protection built into high-definition DVDs. Ultimately, Digg management relented.
The Los Angeles Times opened its online editorial pages to anyone who wanted to rewrite them. The newspaper's "Wikitorial" site was shut down within a few days after the site was flooded with obscene messages and pictures.
These events underscore how the phenomenon of social media exposes the limits of traditional communications. From blogs to podcasts to wikis to video-sharing sites, social media are transforming corporate communications.
In the world of social media, audiences are collaborators, not just targets. As a result, everyone who wants to influence these dynamic media needs to possess and develop emotional intelligence.
I first became captivated by the idea of multiple "intelligences" when I read Daniel Goleman's 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence. This influential book challenged traditional measures of intelligence, as it showed how important the emotional kind is to success in business and life.
More recently, the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations published a framework outlining the competencies that define emotional intelligence. Researchers identified two classes of competencies: personal, which deal with things like self-awareness and self-regulation; and social, which focus on social awareness and social skills.
The domain of personal competence, according to the framework, has to do with recognizing, regulating and channeling one's emotions. Those are key skills in life, of course--but they play an important role in social media too.
Emotional awareness enables individuals to "realize the links between their feelings and what they think, do and say." Doing so in print is a recipe for compelling, engaging content--the currency of social media.
The social competencies of the emotional intelligence framework are the ones most important for social media. Social awareness--in the workplace and on the Web--is vital.
Along with awareness, social skills are more vital in media and communications today than ever before. Friend counts, site traffic, inbound links and rankings on sites like Technorati make it easy to get an honest read on your social standing online.
Communication is obviously a core skill as well--and an especially challenging one in social media, thanks to the non-linear, multi-party, high-velocity conversations that take place online. Companies that are able to foster open communication--and willing to listen to bad news as well as good--are in the best position to thrive. Consider what happened with Jet Blue this year after a storm on Valentine's Day left many passengers stranded on the tarmac for hours. While bloggers quickly criticized the company, JetBlue made excellent use of social media forums, including posting a written apology on the CEO's blog and a video apology on YouTube.
Ultimately, communicating via social networking sites also requires people to build bridges to others. Boosting a company's standing in the world of social media hinges on being able to cultivate and maintain extensive informal networks. Cross-linking, blogrolls, trackbacks, not to mention forward-to-a-friend, are all mechanisms by which successful participants in social media build bonds with others.