Where’s The Community?

Lauren Fernandez

We took away game night in my house growing up because it got too competitive. In a Cuban household, you have the short temper and the ‘always want to win’ mentality. We did away with it because it took away from the family dynamic. Social Media and the blogosphere is starting to point at a typical Fernandez style game night.

Social media can be a selfish space, and it’s starting to reflect in the blogosphere. Who has the best posts, the most comments, who’s publishing the story first – all questions that I hear people chattering about. Before, everyone wanted to learn and engage from each other. It’s still there, but there is also an underlying of wanting to be the best, of always wanting to be first. It’s steering away from what’s best for the community, and steering toward what’s best for the author.

I’ve seen more self promotion than community building recently, and I wonder if the effect has been caused by the competitive blogosphere. Don’t’ get me wrong, many do a great job of incorporating guest blog posts and commenting on others. They know how to balance their own promotion while putting others in the spotlight.

How is it that PR people have turned so competitive in the online space?

Our industry is about being in the background. We put our brands and clients first. We rarely get credit in the public sphere for our work, because it’s the brand work. In a new space, are many trying to get the credit they feel they deserve? Is it a contest – both popularity and a way to make a name for yourself in the field?

The mindset of many has turned from community based to self promotion based, although many are not practicing what they preach. If you e-mail or direct message someone about your post, why not promote theirs? Reach out to others and see what kind of work they are doing. The people that I respect most are the ones that get talked about without shouting their name.

So how can we combat it? How can we continue to engage, and still get our name out there? Where is the balance?

Lauren Fernandez is a marketing and public relations professional in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She currently works as the marketing coordinator for the national office of American Mensa and its international philanthropic arm, the Mensa Education & Research Foundation. She is a member of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the Social Media SIG Co-Chair for the Ft. Worth Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA.)

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  • http://www.sheemasiddiqi.com Sheema Siddiqi

    Great post as always. I agree that the blogosphere is getting more and more competitive- I think part of the reason could be that so many people are looking for jobs and using their blogs as a form of “personal branding.” There's nothing wrong with that, but its fostering a competition that take away from the community environment like you said.

    There also seems to be a “clique” surrounding PR pros in social media, and they only promote blog posts of people in this said clique without really giving newer bloggers much of a chance to thrive.

  • http://www.laurenafernandez.com/blog/?p=695 Blogging is too competitive | LAF

    [...] to post here. … other posts by Lauren [...]

  • laurenfernandez

    A good point – do you think a clique = community? I tend to promo new blog posts, but I will almost always promote the new posts of my close friends.

  • http://topsy.com/tb/bit.ly/dwPUQ Tweets that mention Where’s The Community? :PRBreakfastClub — Topsy.com

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Trivitt and Keith Trivitt. Keith Trivitt said: Great convos on #prbc @CubanaLAF "Where's the Community?" http://bit.ly/1afckt & "Your Audiences is More Than 1" http://bit.ly/1azwc2 [...]

  • http://twitter.com/stina6001 Christina K

    I think it should be a fair balance. I mean of course our “clique” will most likely be interested in what we feel is interesting. Of course we want to support our friends but I think we should try to balance some new posts, new friends, new ideas to widen the community.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with promoting new posts of close friends. I do the same. It's kind of like cheering them on.

  • laurenfernandez

    I have my inner circle who I turn to for advice and guidance – and work on a lot of new ideas with them. It makes sense that I would pat them on the back too with their new blog posts.

    I think you can balance it – series, guest posts, investigating new people and not be too competitive.

  • http://www.sheemasiddiqi.com Sheema Siddiqi

    I think the whole idea of a community is one that is open and constantly expanding whereas clique suggests a group that is more exclusive and closed off. There's nothing wrong with promoting posts of friends, I do the same thing. I think the problem comes when you limit your exposure and don't try to widen our community.

  • http://www.sheemasiddiqi.com Sheema Siddiqi

    I completely agree about the balance. I've just noticed that people tend to stick with their friends rather than widening their community.

  • AlexAizenberg

    Great post Lauren, well done. I think you make a case in point when you talk about PR folk usually being in the background… social media empowers the self to be upfront (everyone's a brand y'know) so i think that takes the 'faceless hero' mask off of those of us in the industry… that being said i think PR industry is ALWAYS competitive (at least in my experience), so i'm not surprised at it materializing online.

    Either way though, reciprocity is key in social media, it's the easily the simplest way to build and grow a community and following… but sometimes, it's hard to achieve that without shouting your own name (over and over… and over) from the social media mountain.

  • laurenfernandez

    I wonder if social media gives PR pros that opportunity they don't have in the workforce – to talk about themselves to the public. Everyone likes to be recognized for hard work, and sometimes people get carried away. Especially when you take tone out of the picture.

    Why don't we let our voice echo down the mountain – our community being the echoes, that is.

  • http://twitter.com/tressalynne Tressa Robbins

    Lauren, I totally agree! Sometimes I feel like I'm not part of the “cool kids” and that I'm always trying to play catch-up. I think some of this is simply our personalities – in the PR world we do tend to be competitive. However, thank you for reminding us why we *should* be here – to learn from one another and to share that knowledge. Thanks! :-)

  • laurenfernandez

    I'm just a competitive person in general – and maybe thats what drove me to this field. I'm constantly trying to find that balance, and I think SM is almost making it worse. You can't tell tone or what people mean, which is just an added headache.

    Glad you liked it! :)

  • John Luecke, APR

    Lauren — I appreciate your comments about the self-promotional aspect of social media and how it's being used by PR people. When I started a job in a Fortune 500 company (some three decades ago) my boss told me about the two kinds of PR people: those who promote themselves and seek the limelight, and those who promote the client and blend into the woodwork. He pointed out that our staff was in the second group, and I've always felt comfortable in that role.

    I also see the focus on self-promotion as a missed opportunity — an opportunity to listen to what others are saying and engage in dialogue. Isn't that what PR is supposed to do?

  • laurenfernandez

    John – Thanks for reading! You make some great points, and I definitely agree with you. To me, PR is about putting the brand first. It's never about you.

    Self promotion is a missed opportunity – you aren't learning or engaging, just depending on yourself for information. Not the best approach.

  • laurenfernandez

    I had the inner/outer circle exercise from English pop into my head… did you ever do that? You had to communicate with both, but talked with inner circle first.

  • http://www.ryanjknapp.com Ryan Knapp

    I agree with Sheema in that more and more people are using their blogs to stand out and help to win jobs, etc (I know I am). Also with these cliques, you often see the same idea for a post passed around among the clique, so many now are looking for a way to distinguish themselves amongst everyone else.

    SM is not just about making connections and helping each other for everyone. Some people are in it to win it, and that is their goal. But in the end, if it puts food on the table, that's what counts, especially for us unemployed folk looking for a job (counting me in this group).

    Kinda selfish yeah, but once $$ becomes involved, people's mindset changes.

  • http://twitter.com/TomOKeefe1 Tom O'Keefe

    Good post, Lauren.

    Balance is such an important word/idea for so many things in social media!

    On one hand, social media can help build your own personal brand and on the other, it should be a way to build a community and learn from others, as well.

    I think that's the key point. People like you, Arik Hanson, David Spinks, and many others do a great job of learning from others and building good professionally personal relationships. There's great mutuality there and I really look to people like you as good examples of finding that balance.

    Thanks, as usual, for a great post!

    Tom O'Keefe
    @TomOKeefe1

  • laurenfernandez

    I've always had a hard time with the money mindset. Honestly, I blame a lot of it on the fact that I grew up in a Hispanic household. Although, in this country, everything is driven by money. It's what makes society and capitalism work.

    I definitely agree that people use it in their own ways. And maybe the self promotional works for some. I think when the situation is changed (ie. losing a job and becoming unemployed) your direction can change. How can I really judge if I'm not in that situation?

  • laurenfernandez

    Thanks, Tom for the compliment – honestly, I'm only as good as my community. I thrive off engaging and learning.

    You can put yourself out there, but your community are the ones that will push you through the door. That's where the balance comes in.

  • http://www.ryanjknapp.com Ryan Knapp

    Everyone is in it for their own reasons. It's life. We are all in this 'game' for something else. Some to make loads of $$, some to give back in the world (you get the idea).

    It's not that people are driven by $$, but when you have to find a job to live, pay bills, pay loans, car, it is a necessity and just like a job interview, I'm going in balls out to get this job.

  • Glorimar Perez

    Enjoyed the post. I feel like a lot of PR pros are feeling the pressure to become or be seen as “social media experts” and that feeds into the competitive atmosphere, even unintentionally at times. We see articles everyday on how if we're not a part of this network or commenting on these blogs then we won't remain relevant for much longer and, right or wrong, you have competitive people who want to make sure they are noticed for being part of the movement.

  • laurenfernandez

    Good point. I think the 'drivers' of how you use the space depend on your situation. Do you think you can still find a balance with any kind of motivator? (I hate using that word, but hopefully you know what I mean! :)

  • http://twitter.com/RebeccaDenison Rebecca Denison

    I wonder how much of the competitive nature has to do with impatience. When I first discovered the social media space, I noticed that there were blogs like yours that seem to get 20 comments for every single blog post. As I started my own blog, it took a week to even get one comment, and that was only a “thanks for mentioning my blog!” comment.

    I'm impatient, I'll admit. It was so tempting to promote the heck out of my own stuff just to get more attention and more comments. Why can't I have as many readers as you? I've tried to be patient and just kept adding what I think is good content. Yesterday I had my first blog post that really blew up on my own blog! What a great day, and I'm glad that I waited. I didn't have to do too much, but the content just spoke for itself.

    I guess my whole point is that perhaps it's our impatience for a community we know is out there that drives us to be selfish.

  • laurenfernandez

    I think that's where many go wrong – they feel like they have to be an expert. It's a notch on the belt to be called one. I personally dislike the word and don't think anyone is an expert – not in a space this new.

    So if they want to be noticed, why don't they post on other people's blogs, as well as their own? Best way to get your name out there if they have that mindset. :)

    Glad you enjoyed! Thanks for stopping by and making some great points.

  • laurenfernandez

    “Patience is a virtue I can't wait to have.” One of my favorite quotes that describe me to a T. I was really frustrated with how my blog was going at first, and was actually mentored by both Arik Hanson and David Mullen on it. Their words and wisdom has made my blog what it is today. Best part of community, I have really smart people to go to when I'm struggling.

    It's a great feeling when your blog has it's own voice and gets feedback. You're a great writer, so never be discouraged! Rock on.

  • http://thebuzzbymikeschaffer.wordpress.com/ Mike Schaffer

    What an interesting topic…and very insightful comments so far!

    Sheema's comment about cliques vs. communities is well-taken. I know I am here to learn and share (and I hope those are the motivations for others, as well). Sometimes, we do get caught up in our existing networks and neglect the “growing” part of social media.

    Definitely a good reminder of what we SHOULD be doing.

    Christina's point about cheering on friends is also well-taken. When we find good content, we should share it with our networks!

    In some respects, the online PR world is a big family and we're all disjointed branches meeting up with each other at an awkward reunion picnic. :)

  • laurenfernandez

    Be careful, Mike – people might want to compete and see who is the most awkward one. ;)

    I think it's much easier to promote our own stuff than others at times. Not sure why, but maybe that's just how it is.

    If you go about promoting yourself, you have to mix in others. It's the precious balance that I think many of us struggle with. Why talk about Andy A when I can talk about Marvelous Me kind of mentality….

  • http://www.sheemasiddiqi.com Sheema Siddiqi

    I don't think I did, but I wish I had!

  • valeriesimon

    Game night at the Merahn household (my maiden name) failed for much the same reason :) I have to wonder if we missed out on some nice memories. And while wanting to win and being excited to share your thoughts and ideas is nothing to be ashamed of, building a community requires a focus on… well the community.

    This morning at the Inbound Marketing Summit (#IMS09 )Chris Brogan proclaimed “Listening is the new black.” I think THAT is the secret that successful community builders understand. listen. learn. share. And recognize that, if you are lucky, you are part of a community.

  • laurenfernandez

    I love that: Listening is the new black. However, I hope it's not just a fashion trend. I think it should be ingrained in what we do daily.

    Game nights were fun, but I think we lost focus – which is something I have to keep in check a lot of the time.

    Great points Val ~ thank you as always!

  • http://twitter.com/PRCog PRCog

    Hey Lauren -

    As we discussed yesterday, great topic.

    There's definitely a push-pull when it comes to self-promotion/promoting others (and it seems nearly every other aspect of Social Media).

    For me (not me personally, but anyone) to help my friends/colleagues/etc spread their word, whether that's a blog post, event, cause, etc. I need to have my own 'tribe' of folks to turn to me for something occasionally or consider what I have to say of some value.

    Of course to build that I first have do enough self-promotion to get people to listen. If I'm just RT'ing what others do it doesn't help my own 'brand.'

    There are PLENTY of ways to do this – offer to guest post, provide comments, help with a charitable group (where you can help them grow and grow yourself at the same time — e.g. 12for12K).

    As far as competition – yes, we all want to be first. Heck, half the flacks I know started out or trained as journos, so breaking the story has been ingrained in them for some time.

    I'm with you on how negative it can get, but generally I'm happy for healthy competition – it pushes us to new levels, gives us a target. Here's the key thing — social media's not a zero-sum game.

    We can all win.

  • http://www.davidspinks.com David Spinks

    I like how we're on that same page here. I wrote about the “frantic fish” analogy, and this is a perfect follow up. My next post was going to be about finding the balance between competition and community. I'll still write the post as I have a lot of thoughts about it.

    I think what we're seeing, is the balance act in effect. Think about a balance scale. Say, it's currently unbalanced, and then you put a bunch of weight on the other side to make it perfectly balanced. When you put that weight on however, the momentum will cause it to swing back and forth, until it balances.

    As the social space has grown, we started with the unbalanced issue of “backpatting”, where people were so focused on community, and promoting others, that they forgot why they're there in the first place, and lost their ability to be critical. Now we're balancing it back, but it may have swung passed the even level as it balances out. There may be too much momentum from the competition added. Ultimately, it will level out.

    Competition is important. Whether you're competing against yourself, or against others, it pushed us to become better. Respectful competition, is one of the healthiest concepts that the business world can be lucky enough to enjoy. It's when the respect in competition is lost, that it becomes a problem.

    See why I need to write a post about this? Already going too long for a comment. Will post soon.

  • laurenfernandez

    The give and take approach, I think, is where the balance is. You have to promote others to get promoted. I scratch your back, you scratch mine kinda thing.

    I think the competitive nature is what drives many of us to this field. We all feel awesome when we land a client in a paper. We want to share it. Is it bragging? Not really IMO. But we also have to willing to say Congrats when others do it too.

    Healthy competition is great, but I worry about where the line is.

  • laurenfernandez

    It's why we get along – we are usually on the same page. :-)

    Cog made a great point about healthy competition – and I think that's where it's ok to be competitive. We have to find that balance of give and take – and make sure that what we are getting out of it, we are giving back.

    Great thoughts D. Look forward to your post. :)

  • http://twitter.com/PRCog PRCog

    Don't you mean Cog-grats?

  • laurenfernandez

    I don't think I can live up to the Cog brand. I fall below the qualifications.

  • http://thebuzzbymikeschaffer.wordpress.com/ Mike Schaffer

    I trust you've been to AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com?

    Finding the balance is hard. We want to put our name behind content we trust…and who do we trust more than ourselves?

    And then when we find a group of people we trust, sometimes it's hard to expand beyond that…but it's important that we do so.

  • laurenfernandez

    Kind of like an inner circle/outer circle model, like you did in school. Build your foundation (those you trust) then reach out to others.

    And of course Ive seen AFP. Makes me laugh daily. :)

  • http://wordswillsaveme.wordpress.com Teresa Basich

    Blogging does seem to be developing into a competitive sport — maybe worthy of the Olympics? I think I've mentioned this before but the online space, the quickness and immediacy of it, can make us feel as if we'll lose our footing if we don't stay constantly in it and involved, and I think that translates to blogging, too.

    There's high demand here, from all sides, to keep up and be remembered and I think it sometimes just gets overwhelming to find balance. If we don't promote others we aren't supporting them and their causes. But if we don't promote ourselves, who is going to read our stuff?

    I read in your comment back to Rebecca that Arik Hanson and David Mullen mentored you on how to handle your blog and maybe that's it — maybe we need to be supportive of our community and if we fear we're not getting the traffic we want we should talk to others and learn how to improve, not just get upset and tweet our blog link every five seconds.

    Then, by showing interest in improving and talking with your community about how they have succeeded, you build stronger bonds with them, show you really care about contributing with your own voice, too, and you can learn how to be a better blogger.

    It's hard to stay behind the scenes all the time when you're given so many forums to step forward and show what you're made of. I don't think you should have to hide behind the curtain, but the atmosphere of blogging has definitely turned a little sour with over-competitiveness.

  • laurenfernandez

    I tend to reach out to my mentors a lot of anything and everything – I love to learn, and D Mullen was the one who told me “LAF, I love ya, but your blog posts are too long.” He talked with me about building a community, and it's something I talk with a lot about Arik too.

    Sometimes, it's just having the courage to reach out to people and admitting you need guidance. I like how you touched on the strong bonds that you can build and learn from – and those are the ones that will be in your corner.

    In PR, we are behind the curtain – but also the ones making it work. We get kudos behind the scenes, which is how it should be. I think SM and blogging gives us the spotlight, and when you're not used to something and you like it, you can keep going back to it. You lost the balance, even though you didn't mean to.

    Great comment T – I really liked all your points.

  • @jaykeith

    Great topic, as usual from Lauren.

    A lot of times, when it comes to PR, I see social media as being a lot like a liberation party. PR people used to have to work behind the scenes and not get credit they so desperately wanted for their efforts. Now, they can get all the kudos they want by having their own blog, being positioned as a “thought leader” and constantly talking about the issues of the day on Twitter, with nothing more than self promotion on their minds. We live in an ego driven world, and PR is no different. Everyone wants to “get theirs” in terms of accolades, recognition, and praise. I think that social media has provided a way for even ordinary (for lack of a better word) people to get the pats on the back and the praise they have so desperately been craving for so long. It's just a nasty side effect, but as more and more people flock to SM, the voices that rise above the rest will be truly bold, truly unique, and focused on more than just themselves.

    As usual, the cream always rises to the top.

  • laurenfernandez

    I guess I question if a thought leader has to be self promotional. I think as a society, we thrive on praise. It's just how we are as people.

    good thoughts, J. You always make me think.

  • BillSledzik

    Been hanging (and blogging) in the PR space for 3+ years. It's always been competitive, always cliquish. Has it gotten worse? Maybe it has.

    Wondering aloud how much Twitter has to do with this. Twitter opened the “conversation” to a much broader audience — those without the time or inclination to write a blog. It's easier to do push marketing on Twitter. No so easy on blogs.

    Blogging requires more thought and commitment from readers and writers. Twitter doesn't offer that kind of richness or depth, which may lead to folks shouting for attention in 140c.

  • mariancutler

    As with any new product, early adopters are land grabbers. These folks create buzz which creates WOM which creates a following which creates community. Follow the hashtags to uncover the roots of communities taking hold all over SM channels. At the same time, there’s a counterintuitive catch-22 undercurrent in SM: one-on-one interaction requires supplanting “we” with “me”. SM demands authenticity which only happens through accountability which in turn exists only when a “me” stands firm in both the limelight and firing line.

    Communities don’t appear out of the blue (thanks @lanes0220). We’re all here expressing our opinions in the hopes others join our conversation, enhancing our community.

    Questioning “Where's the Community” just feels false.

  • laurenfernandez

    Great point Bill – I wonder if before, we could also talk about other things while promoting ourselves – but Twitter has such a short character space that we only self promote.

    I think any space is competitive, and you really can't avoid that.

    I like the phrase push marketing – definitely applies to Twitter. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • laurenfernandez

    I question where it is because it seems to have fallen off the wayside. People worked to build them (because you're right, they don't appear out of the blue) but seem to be ignoring them now. They aren't balancing the we with the me, and I don't know where the shift is coming from.

  • mariancutler

    Your question might be more a matter of perspective. By design and default, SM communities are transient. People pop in when they need something or have something to add and drop back out when their interest has been met. Much like a cocktail party. Stay too long with one group and quickly you’re unapproachable or standoffish. Mix and mingle and you’re friendly and helpful. Best part, your spheres of influence grow, along with the communities you serve. It’s a shift, but for the most part a positive one. Could it be what you question is about evolution of both conversation and community?

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  • http://twitter.com/NESocialMedia Seth Resler

    This blog article is dead on! I suspect that a bad economy makes everybody compete harder for the few dollars that are out there.

  • prnicolev

    Great post, Lauren!

    I feel the same way. It's so important to find that balance and build a community, as opposed to continuously shouting at people “look at me”. Of course, we all want to have people following us and reading our blogs, etc…but it's important to realize that you're not going to get there without giving to others and promoting others first.

    I was at a social media conference this weekend, IZEAfest, and just about every presenter talked about the importance of giving (instead of trying to receive all the time) in the social media space. Obviously the people that presented were some major thought leaders in the PR/SM space, so they know what they're talking about. I just hope that more people listen to those words and follow those guidelines and continue sharing. In addition, hopefully the people that are just all about themselves will dwindle down and we'll be left with more sense of community!

  • joshuasteck

    Has anyone read this piece from the New York Times some months back? Perhaps just a microcosm of the emerging egos in PR but nonetheless…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/business/05pr

  • laurenfernandez

    I think a lot of people talk about giving instead of receiving, but it can definitely be harder than it looks! Many people have different goals with SM, and if they are accomplishing what they want, why not? At the same time, that balance is going to make you stand out – whether you want to or not.

  • laurenfernandez

    Thanks for pointing to that article, J! Found it very interesting.

  • laurenfernandez

    Money is always going to have a role as a driver – for some its just stronger than others. The economy is definitely playing a role in the competition, and something we need to be aware of.

  • laurenfernandez

    So the mix and mingle might be the balance? I like that analogy a lot M. It makes sense. I think my question might be about evolution, but we are just going to have to see how it pans out.

  • lindazimmer

    You highlight the very interesting tension between learning how to serve one's clients and one's own self-interest in establishing one's self (or agency) in the social media space. It is the tension between celebrity and recognition – between truly practicing a profession versus making it your identity.

    As a very, very old-timer (that hurts to say…) in online communication practices it is sometimes very hard in this environment to keep my head down, stay behind the scenes, and not strive to be out front. Yet that is exactly where my clients need me to be – observing, doing, learning, deconstructing and pushing them from behind.

    However, because many agencies (and companies) are not yet savvy enough about social media to evaluate and translate true practitioner expertise for their business, they look to the most obvious things they can grasp – followers or level of “celebrity.” We really can't blame professionals for wanting to up their likelihood of being hired, promoted or recruited.

    It will sort itself out in time, but I do think the industry has to help professionals sort this out. Because you are right – PR professionals are supposed to be in the background.

    To this point, (I train professionals in social media practices), one of the topics I believe is part of digital or “social media” literacy is understanding the difference between community participation, “fame” (merit) and “celebrity.”

    We're all learning as we go. Thanks for the great post!

  • lindazimmer

    You highlight the very interesting tension between learning how to serve one's clients and one's own self-interest in establishing one's self (or agency) in the social media space. It is the tension between celebrity and recognition – between truly practicing a profession versus making it your identity.

    As a very, very old-timer (that hurts to say…) in online communication practices it is sometimes very hard in this environment to keep my head down, stay behind the scenes, and not strive to be out front. Yet that is exactly where my clients need me to be – observing, doing, learning, deconstructing and pushing them from behind.

    However, because many agencies (and companies) are not yet savvy enough about social media to evaluate and translate true practitioner expertise for their business, they look to the most obvious things they can grasp – followers or level of “celebrity.” We really can't blame professionals for wanting to up their likelihood of being hired, promoted or recruited.

    It will sort itself out in time, but I do think the industry has to help professionals sort this out. Because you are right – PR professionals are supposed to be in the background.

    To this point, (I train professionals in social media practices), one of the topics I believe is part of digital or “social media” literacy is understanding the difference between community participation, “fame” (merit) and “celebrity.”

    We're all learning as we go. Thanks for the great post!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/chen.lavonia Chen Lavonia

    Blogging requires more thought and commitment from readers and writers.