On a recent Halloween, Caitlin Seida dressed up as Lara Croft, one of her favorite video game characters. Later that night, she posted a photo of herself to Facebook (see below). She thought nothing of it.
Little did she know that while she was asleep the photo was spreading across the Internet.
When she awoke in the morning, she quickly discovered the surprise. At first she thought it was funny. That was until she saw people's comments (i.e., 'Fridge Raider' 'What A Waste Of Space').
This story represents people's worst fear on social media; posting something that seemed OK in context, only to later turn into the subject of viral shaming. What makes this story scary is that it could happen to any us.
Our society is quickly moving from the broadcast era to the social media era and viral shaming is just one of the results.
However, there's an even bigger implication. You should be aware of it, because it has a much larger impact on your life than you may realize.
The Medium Is The Message
In 1964, famous media critic, Marshall Mcluhan, coined a phrase that is just as relevant today as it was when it was shared 50 years ago: "The Medium Is The Message."
What McLuhan meant was that the way content is delivered is actually more impactful than the content itself. However, we generally notice the impact of the content and ignore the impact of the medium.
However, all of these articles miss one big thing.
The broadcast era created celebrities out of musicians, actors, tv and personalities. The social media era turns us all into microcelebrities. Here's what this means for your life.
The Surprising Power Of Tribal Ties
In 1973, Mark Granovetter published a seminal study called The Strength of Weak Ties. Defying conventional logic, his research showed that weak ties are actually more influential in parts of our lives than strong ties (e.g. getting a job).
Forty-one-plus years later, it's time for us to consider the surprising strength of an even weaker tie, what I will call the "tribal tie.
Weak and strong ties are people we personally know through one-on-one interactions. Tribal ties are people we don't know, but who follow us (fans).
Tribal ties are built by creating useful content (art, photos, articles, books, music, videos, social media posts, etc.). This includes everything from a photo on Facebook, a podcast on iTunes, a video on Youtube, to a long-form article on Medium. Your tribal ties are your fans who resonate with the content you put into the world.
The professional implication of tribal ties is a large tribe of people who form the foundation of and receive the benefit of everything we do throughout our career. They help to co-create, fund, and spread what we release into the world.
The personal implication is a richer life that attracts diverse perspectives and meaningfully impacts many thousands.
Just as we all invest in our relationships with strong and weak ties throughout our life, we can invest in our tribal ties by creating content.
Here's why you should consider making that investment...
Why Everyone Should Always Invest In Their Tribal Ties
I know that this is a long shot, but does anybody happen to know a CEO of a NASDAQ or NYSE listed company?
This was the beginning of a recent request I made to my Facebook network for our upcoming Empact Showcase event. I put it up as a last resort. I figured I wouldn't get a response. Surprisingly, I got many within a few hours.
Even more surprisingly, most of the people that offered help, including the person that ultimately helped, were people that I didn't know or that I met in passing.
Ultimately, Liana Taylor, who works at NASDAQ and who I met briefly after a speaking engagement in 2005, responded with the winning introduction. When I asked her why she helped, she responded:
I felt that this is something where I could help. Honestly I didn't have an end goal in mind. I love to connect people and help when I can.
As far as why you specifically? I don't go out of my way helping people who I don't like or respect although if it's a life or death situation, I would help anyone. After being Facebook friends with you for many years, I think I've gotten a peek at your character (or maybe you just put on a good show), which I like and respect. Given this, if there is something I could help you with, I'll do it any day and don't really need anything in return.
This one example illustrates the power and serendipity of tribal ties when you consistently create and share content that reflects your character and shares your insights.
The Amazing and Unexpected Scale And Impact Of Creating Content
Over the past year, I've written extensively on the art and science of building authentic relationships. I've written about the power of everything from cultivating one-on-one relationships and making introductions to organizing dinners. I've interviewed many of the world's top relationship builders and researchers and then applied what I've learned in order to share the most powerful ways to build relationships. Ironically, what I've found to be most impactful has been the act of writing itself.
How could I miss something that was right in front of me for all along?
The answer is that I never looked at writing as a form of relationship building, and it's not surprising why. As I write these words, I'm sitting alone in my living room. It feels like the opposite of 'true' relationship building that I've grown up with; real-time conversation.
However, I'm not sure that my 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son will grow up with this same bias. A lot of the communication in their lifetime will be through social media. Many of the words they write, pictures they share, and videos they upload will not be in real-time, and the recipients will be unknown in advance.
As I've let go of my pre-existing definition of what an authentic relationship is, I've learned one important lesson. What creating content lacks in one-on-one connection, it more than makes up for in size, impact, action, and depth:
- Content Scale Exponentially More Than One-On-One Relationships. There is no more scalable way to share who we are with the world than creating content. Each in-person meeting you have takes time to have and to upkeep afterwards. Content doesn't. We don't have to write a new article for each person we meet. Our tribal ties have the potential to be several orders of magnitude larger and more diverse than our weak and strong ties.
For example, it likely that 10,000 people will eventually read this article. Let's assume that the average person spends two minutes reading it. Timewise, that's equivalent to spending over 8 weeks connecting with people one-on-one.
- Even Though Content Isn't Personal, It Can Be Life-Changing. Are there any books, articles, interviews, or songs that have changed your life? Sharing your insights and personal experiences can be deeply transformative for someone's life even if you don't interact with them personally.
Because content is asynchronous, it gives us a lot of time to refine what we truly want to say and make sure it has the most impact. It's taken me over 30 hours to write this article, and it will only take you a few minutes to read it. It is the culmination of many hours of research, interviews, writing, reflection, and feedback. There is no way that I could have spontaneously shared everything in a conversation.
- Tribal Ties Sometimes Help You More Than You're Closest Friends. Counterintuitively, sometimes the people who are closest to us, are not our biggest fans. One doesn't have to to look further than the early stages of a romantic relationship to understand this. Someone in the courtship stage goes out of their way deepen the relationship in a way that the average married couple does not. In the same way, a superfan, someone who doesn't really know us at all might be the first person in line when we release anything new or publicly ask for help on a project.
- Content Deepens Relationships With People You Already Know. Writing has not only helped me build tribal ties, it has unexpectedly led to the dramatic deepening of my relationships in two ways. First, my writing has often preceded my first meeting with someone. This means that the meeting starts with trust and respect. Second, it has accelerated my relationships with people I already know. It has done this by helping them learn more about other parts of my journey and the lessons I've learned along the way that I might not normally bring up in conversation.
The Invisible Tie That Can Make Or Break Us
The increasing importance of tribal ties can be easy to miss. Most social media users are observers, so they're invisible. However, underestimate these ties at your own peril.
We often realize the power of our tribal at the extremes; when something we create spreads virally into a virtual shame storm or a positive story that deepens the network as was the case with Caitlin Seda.
Caitlin's story has an happy ending. After a period of shock and depression, she decided to write an article for Salon.com that actually became more viral than the original photo of her. In the article, My embarrassing picture went viral, she owns her experience fully, even going so far as to repost the photo. She ends the article with sharing her lessons learned, "But I refuse to disappear. I still go jogging in public. I don't hide my flabby arms or chubby ankles for fear of offending someone else's delicate sensibilities. I dress in a way that makes me happy with myself. And this Halloween, I'm thinking of reprising my role as Lara Croft just to give all the haters the middle finger."
The content we create will increasingly play a fundamental role in how we build relationships. It is often our first impression for people we've never met and our second impression after we've met someone for the first time.
Face-to-face meetings will continue to be the best way to build deep emotional one-on-one relationships. However, creating content trumps face-to-face meetings for building tribal ties. People already understand the power of face-to-face meetings, but they rarely understand the importance consistently creating content. By creating useful content, we all have an opportunity to not only deepen our weak and strong ties, but also to build an entirely new network of tribal ties that play a critical role throughout our entire life.
This article is the first in a series in how to create content that builds authentic relationships. Upcoming articles will focus on digital storytelling, how to share your unique insights, and how to interact with your tribal ties. To receive those articles, subscribe to Michael Simmons' newsletter.