When thinking about rising above the global social media fray, it appears to me that certain people are helped by their local communities of practice.
If you have ever studied strategy from an academic point of view, you may be familiar with the lesson contained in the case of the Italian ceramic tile industry. In a nutshell, it's a story about how the competitive dynamics of a tiny town in Italy helped local businesses capture 30 percent of global market.
I see similar factors at work when seeing how local communities help individuals connect and gain attention. As the old saying goes, "out of sight, out of mind." And while having an active online presence raises one's visibility, it must be backed up by a real-life community of practice. Let me show you a few examples of what I mean.
- Robert Scoble went to an impromptu meetup and "heard a voice say 'what are you saying about Twitter?' I looked up and it’s Evan Williams, founder/CEO of Twitter. Oh, hi!"
- Jeremiah Owyang and Ross Mayfield set up a small gathering called Social Gulch and plenty of social media star power turns out, documented by a pretty decent photographer, too.
- Bryan Person started an idea called the Social Media Breakfast in Boston, now happening in 27 cities worldwide. Steve Garfield hosts a monthly meeting of Boston Media Makers. Rachel Levy and Joselin Mane maintain Boston TweetUp, a local tweetup calendar.
These local goings-on are frequent and low key compared to big-bang events like SXSW, BlogHer, or Web 2.0 Expo. Serendipity can happen on a more regular basis, if you've got the right local community.
Moreover, all of the events I've mentioned above are the ones that are actually blogged and tweeted about. They're just the tip of the iceberg. The really valuable conversations are the ones happening as a result of 1-1, live conversations.
I know there's an apparent irony here - that all of this social media stuff is virtual and location is less important than before. That may be true at a surface level, but the digital world has never and will never replace the physical world...except in Hollywood stories. DMs, hashtag chats, threaded conversations are all useful and can help us initiate and maintain relationships.
But the core of credibility is your local community of practice. Rising above is much easier with a strong one.