The power of the third place, and why Twitter ain’t it.

I believe so much in the importance of The Third Place.  The bar, the library, the club, the place you spend time when you’re not at home or at work.  (incidentally, this is at the heart of Starbucks’ model.)  A third place instills a sense of belonging to something larger, of having friends, of being loved.

Courtesy MITThis is not the same as an online community.  Although bonds can be formed and connections can be established, there is a limit to the depth of relationship you can have without breathing the same air.

It just doesn’t replace the third place situation.  It cannot.  So much of the experience is sharing a real space, sharing real energy, sharing your stories and laughing together. It’s real connection on a human level, divorced from specific professional or pre-existing social context, and it just can’t be found in its entirety on Twitter or Ning or anywhere else.

One of the reasons I don’t go to many industry conferences is because (for me at least), they don’t function as a third place.  Most of the conversations I hear are around “lets talk about Twitter or about how much we don’t like talking about Twitter.”  It’s not really a third place, its an extension of one of the first two. Meet me for coffee afterward.  Those are where the bonds are formed.

I guess my point is this.  I’m honestly worried that we (us younger folks especially) may be duped by the rhetoric around technology into thinking IMs, Texts and Twittering are meaningful as a ‘real connection’, and that we will settle for a life with wider swaths of shallower connections and not know what we’re missing.

So, if you run a local business, work at a school, have any connection whatsoever with a space that could serve even sometimes as a place for people to connect, meet up, have good times, talk about their shared experiences and generally feel warm and fuzzy, why the hell aren’t you bending over backward for people to have those experience in them?

Why wouldn’t you want people to have those kinds of experiences and connect them with your space?  It’s never been easier to incentivize people to come give your place a try.

Be a Third Space.  Breed connection.  Save intimacy.  Don’t let Starbucks have all the fun.

What we’re talking about when we say "Be Human"

Community (TV series)
Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I love so much about online communities is how supportive everyone is of each other.  When Christopher Penn announced that he just took a job at BlueSkyFactory, the outpouring of support flooded my twitter stream. Similar things happened when Teresa Basich (and later Katie Morse) announced they were joining the Radian6 team. Interestingly, these congratulations were aimed not just at Teresa and Katie, but also at Amber Naslund, who hired them.

It’s really important to me to support my community and spread the love around whenever I can (I’m not always perfect at it, especially when I’m stressed, but it’s always a good feeling).  This is part of what we all mean when we say ‘be human’.  What we’re talking about is “Give.”  Give respect, give attention, give time, give congratulations, show gratitude. This is what creates a community as opposed to a random collection of twitter followers or a Facebook page that people join and never ever go to again.

When I was younger, I went to a summer camp called the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, which was out on Long Island (an hour-and-a-half commute).  On the bus ride there, I became fast friends with a group of 6 people around my age.  We would each have our own regular seats, have lunch together, and generally were a fun little clique who would support each other.

Earlier this year, one of those six people performed with Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day to open the Grammies. She’s also been on the Tony’s, and co-starring in the Broadway hit American Idiot. I could not be more proud of my friend Rebecca Naomi Jones, and I was able to spread the love to my network of folks who might not be aware of the show or her.

You can follow her at @rebeccasername.

Who can you give love to today?

The one question you must ask when interacting

All the ROI, strategy, tactics, RFPs, business plans, dating sites, communication workshops, social media blogs, all this stuff we talk about, it all rolls up to one sentiment for me.

Is what you’re doing making life more awesome for those around you.

This comes from your gut.  It’s not something that can be measured in Excel. Forget about Excel for now.  Can someone take this tweet, this campaign, this conversation, this date, this blog post, this smile, and grow from it?  Not every interaction need be earth shattering, but every one should come from the intention of generosity and empowerment.

You can tell when someone isn’t coming from this place.  It’s not their fault, they may not know any better.  You see them create videos that talk about how awesome the new version of their product or service is, have conversations with the “enough about me, what do you think about my situation” attitude, and so on.  Too much of this, and it can actually be viscerally distasteful to interact.

Of course, trying to do this every single time is very difficult.  But I think if more people, more companies, more interactions were built on this premise, even just 1% more, the world would be a much richer place.

To illustrate, here’s a picture of a cat bathing its kitten. Happy Friday!

What Matters In Life: Connection and Giving.

This post was inspired by an interaction I had with my friend (who I’ve never met in person) Erika Bitzer, who blogged about it on planpitchprint in a post called “Fate and Twitter”

For those who are connected with me online (or offline), I do try my best to help those around me as much as possible.  Whether it’s offering words of encouragement, sharing a link, or connecting people who might benefit from a relationship with each other (when Katie Morse posted a question on Twitter asking for people to summarize themselves in a single word, I chose ‘connector’).

I believe that underneath every effective business plan and underneath every interaction must be an intent to connect and give.  This is the killer app. Those looking for maximum ROI with minimum risk are missing the point entirely, both in business and in life.  Giving as little as possible while expecting support in return is a recipe for a lonely existence.

Often, we lose sight of why we’re actually here. We get buried underneath our day-to-day strategizing, planning, brainstorming, trying to stave off unexpected results.  We become afraid of surprises, so we try to plan for every contingency. We try to tie every interaction on a 1:1 basis back to a business goal (or, “what’s in it for me?”).  Slowly, the promise dies in a hailstorm of planning, structure and alienating language, and we end up with a social network presence nobody cares to visit, and we eat dinner alone in the dark.

Give us this day...It’s so important to take the time to flip it around, to think about feeding your communities, to connect and give whenever you can.  It’s important for your own mental health, the well-being of your company, the popularity of your twitter account, the survival of the species on this planet.

I know your CMO doesn’t care about connecting with customers on a one-to-one basis as much as shouting from the rooftops how great the latest version of gadget xyz is.

I know your product manager wants to do a retweet contest or ‘crowdsource the new tv ad!’. That’s not giving. That’s not making something possible that wasn’t possible before.

I know some people may read this and say ‘well yes, but you need to convert this into business speak and reframe it around making money or saving money in order for it to resonate’.

I call bullcrap.

Giving is transformative. Whether its a philanthropic donation, a link to something someone was looking for, a hug and a smile, or an amplified voice, this is the stuff that changes minds, changes lives, changes policies. And yes, this is also the stuff that makes me spend time on your fan page, buy your stuff, tell my friends.

So, for the sake of you, and for the sake of the world, think about what you can give and what you can make possible for just a moment. Get out from underneath all the bullshit and just connect on human level.  Just once.  And then just once again. And just once, again.


Shouting into the void [UPDATED] post will not help you define your social media strategy.

This post is hard to write, and it may be hard to read. Sorry in advance.

Here goes.

I’m scared.

I’m scared that because I’m a smart guy and my particular combination of skills and interests tend to put me about a year and a half in front of the general population’s thinking on some things. I’m scared that this means that I’m always going to be “out of phase”.  This is not ego. I’m not happy about it, I’m not bragging, this isn’t a ploy or a personal branding exercise.

I’m scared that I’m always going to have to go into a room full of skeptics, at a disadvantage, and have to prove myself and why what I’m talking about is important. Some people geek out on this. I don’t. At all.

I’m scared that I’m never going to have an experience where I say something and a person who can make it happen says “Of course. Obviously.  I’m right there with you. Let’s go do something great.” I want that so much it hurts. I am capable of great things. I’ve already done some.  I want to do more.

I’m scared that this is going to continually be an isolating force in my life, that its always going to separate me from other people, that I will look back on my life and wonder where the opportunities went for me to be creative in a way that fulfills me, with a group of people who are similarly fulfilled.

I’m scared of where this came from, and I’m scared of what it means about me and what my life is, and I’m scared I’m the only one around like this.

So here I am, shouting into the void, hoping it’s not just me.

It’s not just me

Is it?

Updated: Apparently it’s not just me.