A decade ago social media as we know it today didn’t exist. There was email. There were some early versions of social networking tools and electronic sharing platforms making their way into the world. But they lacked the magic and general appeal that seemed to come with the advent of Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006, and then the proliferation of ning sites attempting to promote and build community. Even technologically unsavvy folx like me could begin to find their way around these tools and step not just into an information exchange but into a sense of community.
Now we are witnessing the mass mobilization of people – interconnected communities of people – through the use of social media in delightful and profound ways. Social media is not just a means of communication anymore, it is a means of mobilizing and shifting the very foundations of societies and issues. In a way, social media is providing a vehicle for leadership in unprecedented ways.
Each individual social medium is a collaborative network and, because the media overlap and are connected to each other, with many individuals linked into more than one, the many forms of social media are also a collaborative network shifting the shape of our world and the patterns of our interactions. Deep personal connections have emanated out of relationships built through social media where the people involved have never actually physically met.
There is enormous power in the collaborative networks that have emerged through social media and amazing success stories. Social media itself and many of the success stories challenge our traditional notions of power, leadership and how stuff gets done.
Some of the characteristics of social media networks that contribute to its amazing power and success are:
- self-organization – people join and participate out of their own sense of interest and passion, participating where and when they choose
- basic framework or structure – the self-organization takes place within a basic structure that provides just enough form for the self-organization to flow well
- freedom – freedom within the basic form to go where you want and engage in only that which catches your attention – the content is determined by the people in the network and anything that doesn’t have its own momentum will just naturally die out without anyone trying to prop it up or unnaturally prolong it; anything that has its own momentum can soar like wild fire around the globe
- weaving of communities – people naturally gravitate to others through common interests; little communities emerge around those common interests
- illumination – social media tools illuminate the connections so we can actually see the webs literally around the globe, discovering who is connected to who and finding new friends or interests through existing networks of friends
- shared leadership – there is no central point of leadership in these collaborative networks – it is shared and rotating based on interest, passion and compelling story at the time – it is not dependent on any one individual, organization or cause to generate connection or action and usually those who contribute to this leadership are not getting paid to provide leadership – they are simply responding to their own sense of passion and direction
What can we learn from the collaborative social media networks that informs our understanding of collaborative leadership at its best? This is one of the questions we will be exploring in the Art of Collaborative Leadership March 16-18, 2011 in Halifax. What if we could harness this power to fundamentally shift how we organize and lead in our organizations and communities to become more resilient and focused while operating within a minimal framework that holds it altogether with enough structure for amazing things to routinely emerge?