IMG_3203I have been thinking, for some time, about the different aspects of social media and how they can apply to the day-to-day challenges of leadership and the opportunities of business.

In particular, I want to understand where social media can impact customer oriented thinking.

Interestingly, for me, social media almost seems like a perfect storm of convergence. For example, just look at how:

  • Technologies are getting easier to use – blogs make it easy for executives and non-technically savvy leaders to publish their thoughts and ideas on the internet
  • People are attracted to ideas and connections – like moths to the flame, we all find topics that we are passionate about and engage in spirited conversation with others who share our passions
  • Conversation and opinion rule – the conversations and opinions of customers are not only important online – they drive web traffic, promote products, deliver feedback, do a great job of marketing our offerings, and they can “encourage” a strong customer service ethic given their public nature
  • Behaviors are shifting – we are becoming more used to “participating” in the online communities that form using social media

But while social media applies easily to the marketing arm of your business – it strikes me that there are many ways to align social media and business value beyond just the marketing funnel. One such method would be to look at the complex models that govern the kibbutz. Let’s compare the elements and qualities of kibbutz and social media:

Kibbutz Social media
A form of unique rural community An online space which allows for the creation and curation of unique or niche communities
A socioeconomic system based on the principle of joint ownership of property, equality and cooperation of production, consumption and education A social system which is challenging notions of ownership, provides equal opportunity for participation, places the means of production in the hands of its participants and has the potential to transform the consumption and creation of knowledge
A home for those who have chosen it Provides a sense of belonging and connectedness – an online home – for those who embrace it

The kibbutz has been able to survive – and in some cases to thrive – because it was culturally self-reinforcing. The experience of working and living on a kibbutz is a meta-experience – after all, “For the founders, tilling the soil of their ancient homeland and transforming city dwellers into farmers was an ideology, not just a way to earn a livelihood.”

A brief look at blogs and at sites like Twitter provide more than a snapshot of some aspects of a similar meta-experience. Participation in social media is evangelized by those who “get it”. It is encouraged and advocated as a force which is changing the nature of the very way that we live, work and play (see my points above). But where the kibbutz was strongly predicated on aligning social activity with economic progress, we are only just starting to see this focus in the realm of social media. This will come but there is more work to be done. Perhaps we could start by following Olivier Blanchard’s better business doctrine and simply “giving a s#*t”.

But the kibbutz model of social media goes beyond this also. It covers:

  • Social: the relationships that we have are all personal. And with a personal relationship comes a form of interdependence. It is part of the fabric of our lives.
  • Economic: our social relationships also tie us to economic realities. In business as in life, we choose where to lay our affinities and how to act upon them. Increasingly we will choose to work with those we like and trust.
  • Cultural: like life on a kibbutz, living in the realm of social media brings with it an understanding of the customs and behaviors of the online social environment. Adhering to such aspects makes for easier engagements with others online and fosters a greater social reputation. This is important when taken in the context of social media background checks.
  • Participation: each member of a social forum chooses their respective level of participation and engagement. As such, those that contribute more eventually “earn” higher status and recognition. Similarly, while historically people on the kibbutz were compensated equally, regardless of individual work done, more modern kibbutzim use a more capitalistic approach to compensating the members.
  • Commitment: stating one’s commitment is easy; but, demonstrating a true commitment takes hard work. Remaining active on the social networks is time consuming, but can foster relationships that would otherwise not exist. My efforts have resulted in relationships with several great writers, thinkers and leaders such as Wally Bock, Dan McCarthy, Erika Andersen, just to name a few. Likewise, being committed to a kibbutz takes hard work. Many members realize that it is too challenging and leave after a few years. The same can be said of bloggers, social media enthusiasts and the like.

By focusing on these five elements and learning from the kibbutz, as business leaders, we can begin to transform our businesses – and the ecosystems in which they operate. We may start with the customer relationship, but the opportunities clearly extend into almost every other part of the enterprise.

Surely leaders can see the impacts of their participation and commitment across social, economic, and cultural arenas. These play out be they in day to day leadership, interactions with key stakeholders be they investors, clients, partners or vendors, and in pursuit of business opportunities such as acquisitions, mergers or divestitures.

Nina Nets It Out: Learning the lessons from the historical kibbutz-style collective communities can shine a spotlight on how to succeed in the modern, online social networks of today. Be certain, while the means of interacting with the “collective” may be vastly different, the approaches to communal engagement are tried and true and the lessons learned from them very real.