Julien Smith and Social Capital

Julien Smith co-wrote (with Chris Brogan) the bestselling book, Trust Agents.  It’s subtitle is Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust.  Mr. Smith has run several web communities for over a dozen years.  According to his book he helped run early BBSes and was among the first people to start podcasting and make a living from it.trust agents

I state all this to ask a question: If all the above is true, then why do I feel like I just left a seminar on “How to Win Friends and Influence People”?  The answer, I believe, is simple: Consumer technology and social media tools work and are popular because they enhance what people have been doing before Google, Facebook, Twitter or even BBSes were around: They allow people to connect and build communities with other people from around the world (and around the universe if you follow @Astro_Mike who is one of the most popular astronauts on Twitter.).

On Tuesday December 1st, Julien Smith spoke to a full house at the Third Tuesday Toronto event in front of 250 of Toronto’s social media and technology elite who gathered to hear from this best-selling author.  And they did not go home disappointed.

Here are a few takeaways from his presentation:

  1. Embrace the process of experimentation.  Julien gave the example that many of us can relate to:  Touching the stove burner while it’s hot even though we knew we shouldn’t.  The question is why we did it.  The answer is simple: No fear.  The second question is profound by the nature of the answer: Why do we never touch the burner again? Because we stop being curious and stop taking risks.  The point is not to touch burners.  The point is, as consumers of technology and social media, to embrace change; not to be afraid of tools that have the ability to enhance our lives and business.
  2. Facilitate the exchange of social capital.  Build a place where people can gather.  The first example that came into my mind was Facebook.  Mark Zuckerburg created a tool that enabled people to gather from all around the world.  And today, Facebook would be the 4th largest country…if it were a country.  Maybe we can’t all be like Mark.  However, we can make it a point to embrace online conversations.  Creating personal social capital means being involved and not merely sitting in the stands and watching.
  3. Explore a personal “Blue Ocean Strategy” of being different and unique.  Creating a successful and vibrant online community takes a strategy.  Break the pattern that is popular and forge new identity.  Yet, always remember to be a human artist: People tend to trust people and not companies. 
  4. Never be afraid of risk.  The downside is that you will be rejected.  However, by taking risks and developing connections with people we accomplish two things:  First, we increase our happiness as meeting people actually makes us happy!  Second, we develop a better understanding of the world as we continue to take risks.  The upside to this is that we become a pillar in our community (online and offline) whose expertise will be sought.  Not to mention the ability to curry favour from our established connections.
  5. “We don’t need more advertising.  We need more connection and community.”  This quote from Julien wrapped up the evening. It is the inherent strength of people to develop personal connections that is the deciding factor between success and failure in the online world.
As you can tell, Julien is an advocate of not just establishing online connections but supporting and nurturing them.  This is the power that technology, the internet and, more specifically, social media has given to the wider public.