• June 9, 2010
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Your Community Is Almost Entirely Mute

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As you read this, spring’s about to breathe its last for 2010, and school’s out for summer (cue Alice Cooper). It puts me in mind of my youth as the calendar crept slowly toward vacation each year. Chances are my feelings on the subject were somewhat more intense than yours—I had some serious bouts of schoolophobia as a lad, despite academic success—but it was always mixed with sadness, for I was going to lose touch with friends.

Not all of my friends, and not completely, and not forever, but there would be a significant gap in my socializing until classes resumed in September. Also, I didn’t like to use the telephone—I don’t exactly love to today, either—and only a handful of my friends lived in my particular neighborhood. Some would go on vacation with their parents, or be packed off to summer camp so their parents could relax without leaving the house.

Kids today have smartphones, computers, and more social networking options than I can easily count. They never need to lose touch unless they choose to. They can even stay in touch with their teachers—several of my teacher friends report this is not uncommon—and that likely helps prevent May’s finely honed brain matter from regressing into September’s bowl of boiled cauliflower.

Even so, I have to wonder if I would have turned out any differently if I’d had access back then to the ever-present communication options available today. Communities and social networks are driven by those who choose to be active in them, whether we’re talking about traditional or technology-enabled versions. The 90:9:1 split of lurkers, occasional contributors, and compulsive communicators—known as the 1 percent rule—seems a useful generalization, according to research by Michael Wu, the principal scientist of analytics at Lithium Technologies. The report, published in mid-March, supports the 9 and the 1, anyway, though it doesn’t consider the 90 percent who are passive community members. On average, the top 10 percent of contributors (hypercontributors) are responsible for 56 percent of social network content, while the other 90 percent (occasional contributors) kick in the other 44 percent.

Most of us are lazy leeches, and even those of us who aren’t get outstripped by rabid post-monkeys. You know them—the people who get you hooked on social networking with their boundless enthusiasm, but who eventually end up on your Ignore list because they Never.Shut.Up.

Me? I have to place myself among the lurkers, with occasional bursts of minor contribution when something catches my eye. There have been entire weeks when I haven’t looked at Twitter because I just couldn’t be bothered. For the most part, I only check my LinkedIn profile and groups when I need something from them. Hell, I’ve never even been to a high school reunion. (Not entirely my fault, since my class doesn’t seem to have ever had an official one, but still….)

Now the funny part, which you’ve probably figured out already: This hermit (whose work you’re reading) is a social media and social CRM evangelist. Never mind that I’m so reclusive I may not see the sun for weeks on end—I love how this combination of technology and behavior brings people together with other people, and with the businesses that serve them. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that customers of big business are putting their experiences out there for all to see, thereby holding those businesses accountable. In short, I’m a hypocrite (and, at 5'3", a short hypocrite to boot).

How do I reconcile my personal nature with my professional calling? Simple: I don’t, because I don’t need to. It takes all kinds to make a society or a social network, and I’m comfortable here on the edge, staying quiet so I can hear what’s going on and share it with you as needed. 

Marshall Lager is a gregarious troglodyte who writes about social CRM so that his business, Third Idea Consulting, doesn’t get reclassified as a hobby for tax purposes. Contact him at marshall@3rd-idea.com or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/Lager), and he might get back to you.

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