(This post is part of a series. To read more jump back to the beginning.)
If they are good, values discussions are tough. Values are complex, personal and highly subjective. Mountains have been written about them in the fields of psychology, religion, anthropology and corporate culture.
You are probably reading this because you are interested in understanding the fundamentals of building strong, dedicated communities. Understanding the explicit and hidden values of your group is critical to that effort.
Quick term discription:
1. Explicit Values:
These are the stated values of the group. This is what we all say publicly and proudly about a group.
Example from IBM’s website
“IBMers determined that our actions will be driven by these values:
- Dedication to every client’s success
- Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
- Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships”
2. Hidden Values:
These are in conflict with the explicit values. We tend to be less comfortable advertising them and they are not always clearly or universally understood. Understanding them is critically important, however, because they are a source of great dysfunction when pervasive.
Example from Eastern Germany
Before the iron curtain fell, East Germany (German Democratic Republic) celebrated the values of Communism as their own, but the hidden values of control and totalitarianism created one of the largest internal spy networks on the planet. At its height in the 90s, the East German Stasi (secret police) employed almost 100,000 people and had as many as 2 million citizen informants/spies gathering information on more than 5 million people. Communism and totalitarianism are not happy bed fellows and led to a schizophrenic society.
Honestly, I have been stressing on how to tackle this topic for weeks. I have never thrown out as many drafts as I did on this one.
- Drafts where I try to “sum up” the vast body of work done on value systems in my own brilliant mini-dissertation (boring!). I recommend a search for “values” on YouTube to see lots of experts talk about values.
- Drafts where I lay out examples of value misalignment in various countries (I did try to offend Americans, Brits, Canadians and Germans equally). Oh, I am sure my comments fields would have exploded!
- Drafts where I exposed value misalignments in my own family! That was not going to be popular at Thanksgiving.
So, if I threw all that awesomeness out, what the heck am I gonna tell you about digital tribe value systems?
It isn’t new.
It isn’t easy.
It IS critical.
This is it: Behavior = Values
If there is behavior that does not align with the explicit values of your group, you have some conflicting value systems. These conflicting systems must be addressed, or it can derail anything the group sets out to accomplish.
Here are the 5 things to consider for a healthy set of cultural values for your online community:
1. Be “self aware.” Figure out the explicit and potentially hidden values of your community.
2. Articulate your values. Post them. Talk about them. Celebrate examples of them in action.
3. Take note when there is stress in any form in your group. Don’t just take them at face value. This is an opportunity to discover any conflicting values, even when it appears to be about personality conflicts.
4. Even though the examples given here are negative, hidden values are not always the problem. Be open to the possibility that those values you first laid down may need adjustments. Just because there are hidden values, it doesn’t mean those values are wrong. There may be needs in your community that cause those hidden values. Those needs must be taken into account.
5. If you are running a community for a company or organization, that community may have a very different value system. Let’s take Birkenstock shoe company, for example:
The Birkenstock Example:
Birkenstock shoe company became popular among the liberally minded community. Many of us that know the shoes have an image of modern day hippies. Birkenstock was established in 1774 and has a long conservative tradition with leadership that has supported consistently conservative politics. If they created a Facebook fan page that aligned with their conservative disposition, they would alienate a huge portion of their customer base.
I did want to share two more real world cases for your consideration:
1. The Military: A case of value alignment at work
The military places the highest value on hierarchical obedience and discipline. Since the purpose of the military is to serve in the crisis of war, this value is critical to success. They practice this value in the most menial of tasks. Military personnel will hold to this value while facing chaotic life and death threats that would normally trigger the trumping value of self-preservation.
2. The Catholic Church: A crisis of conflicting values
As the Catholic priest pedophile scandals unfolded, the practice of moving offending priests from one community to another to avoid exposure became increasingly apparent. This behavior stood in stark contrast to the explicit values of the monastic catholic organization: to serve their community. Service to the community was trumped by a different set of values, the values of protectionism for the organization. This continues to drive major discord within the church community.
Understanding all values in an online group is critical to the community’s efforts,
- if you are leading a community and want to increase the identification and commitment levels in the group
- if you are trying to figure out what your governance and hierarchy should look like
- even if you are trying to roll out some new initiative
In my next post, we will discuss how value systems can develop. Different types of groups will require different approaches.
(Whew! I think we got through that okay?)
Does your community have a set of documented values? Have you seen strife in a community based on conflicting value systems? I would love to hear your comments below!
What do Italians, Harley riders and Trekkies have in common?
They each have their own multigenerational sense of group culture.
Culture is the most powerful tool for developing longevity and loyalty within a tribe. Looking out across the digital community landscape, it also appears to be the most underestimated. Marketing professionals have long tried to harness some of the power of culture through branding as expressions of values, experience and identity. But we don’t confuse brand with culture. Well, most of us don’t.
Culture is tough for us to nail down, yet we know it when we experience it. We get upset when it changes or is threatened. How do you define culture?
Here are two dictionary definitions of culture from http://Dictionary.reference.com to kick us off:
1. The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
2. Anthropology. The sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.
The origin of the word is interesting too:
Mid-15c., “the tilling of land,” from L. cultura, from pp. stem of colere “tend, guard, cultivate, till” (see cult). The figurative sense of “cultivation through education” is first attested c. 1500. Meaning “the intellectual side of civilization” is from 1805; that of “collective customs and achievements of a people” is from 1867.
Looking at these references, I see three things:
1. Repetitive behavior shared across a group of people and across generations
2. Common beliefs
3. An origin referring to caring for, guarding, cultivating
Repetitive behaviors, ways of doing things, jumps out at me. Last year, an anthropologist told me that despite our perception, repetition develops first and meaning is assigned afterward. Anyone who is superstitious can attest to this! It brought to mind a cultural struggle in my own household:
My husband is German. They open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. We opened gifts Christmas morning. It took seven years and 3 kids to create a compromise on this issue. Of course, when gifts are opened has no bearing on the meaning of the Christmas ritual, but changing “the way” we do it was unexpectedly difficult for both of us. It felt like changing how you did it could change the ritual beyond identification.
What rituals have meaning for you? Do you have any that have developed in your family, friends or region that might surprise us?
So let me know if this makes sense:
If repetitive behaviors become rituals, are cultivated and shared with others and develop deeper, common meaning; culture no longer seems so amorphous and challenging as a goal for our online communities.
You may ask, are we really talking about developing culture around a common interest or a product?
Multigenerational interests gone cultural:
- Social gaming
Multigenerational products gone cultural:
- Harley Davidson comes to mind as a multigenerational product/culture.
- I also want to lump DeadHeads in this bucket with the pursuit of Grateful Dead music and concerts as representation and expression of a lifestyle.
Emerging product cultures:
- Sanuk, with their leverage of surf culture
In the coming posts I will talk about specific cultural examples and opportunities available in digital groups and the approach needed to “cultivate” their emergence.
I would love to hear about examples you have experienced in your online travels!
To eat: Wisinin (Algonquin), Impa (Chickasaw), Turhurak a kawats (Pawnee for Let’s eat!), Wah-Num-Bra (Osage), Mitsoh (Cree)
It was inevitable, while researching my SXSW panel, that food would come up! The culture of food is so universal and fundamental to us humans, I wanted to take a moment to dig into it.
My Native American tribe has a ceremonial food. It is served at every gathering and is known to have healing powers. Most indigenous people have traditional foods for ceremonies and healing. But, really what culture doesn’t? The most common cultural item we share with one another is food.
Why is this relevant to community in Digital Times? I believe we are tethered deeply to one another through our traditions and no tradition is more fundamental than breaking bread together. Let’s stop and consider our national holidays to crystallize this. When you think of holidays we Americans share nationally, you think of Independence Day (grilling, BBQ), Thanksgiving (an entire holiday about a meal), Christmas (pumpkin pie, ham, turkey and so on), Halloween (candy). Now think about MLKjr Day, Labor Day, President’s day. What do we all share culturally on those days? There are parades and memorials, and some attend those, but many just use it as a day off for a long weekend somewhere with the kids. These are pretty cultureless holidays. Now, if there was a food associated with MKLjr Day or President’s day, I bet we would celebrate them much differently.
My husband and I have a cuisine for our own marital traditions. We eat Indian food for anniversaries, birthdays and other celebrations. It started as an opportunity to reflect on our brief visit to the Himalayas, but has grown into the thread that holds a patchwork of lovely moments together. We have a bond over lentils!
So, I am thinking that your digital tribe is missing out if there is no food/drink tradition. How does it translate from “In Real Life” (IRL) to digital communities? See the suggestions below, but remember culture comes from tradition. Tradition is what we do ritualistically, repetitively. Whatever your community does, the evidence of a community food culture is in the repetition.
1. Virtual food/drink sharing:
This medium should happen very regularly. It can be based on time of day or week (morning coffee, Friday happy hour,…). This is a low level of effort, but shows awareness and thoughtfulness for others and can be an icebreaker for folks to get to know one another.
a. This past week I noticed @prosperitygal tweeting bowls of steaming Texas chili to friends. It wasn’t just “@so-and-so Here is a bowl of chili.” She is a Texan so it was personal food that she tweeted with flair. According to her stream, these bowls were steaming hot. I could see the deep red color of a good Texas chili and wondered if there was cheese or chopped onions. I could have sworn there was real chili in her real kitchen and I admit, I wanted her to send me a bowl! It was personal, authentic and it brought the joy of shared food to Twitter.
b. Folks on #UsGuys twitter tribe offer each other #coffee all morning. It creates an atmosphere of awareness of what members are up to during their day and illustrates that they are paying attention to one another. Maybe a different tribe would share #expresso or #instant coffee. Offering #SoyMochachino on #UsGuys might reveal someone as not #UsGuys-culturally literate?
2. Remote food/drink sharing:
This medium gives weight to special events: honoring someone, acknowledging their change in status or showing support when times are difficult. Do it with personal intent! Don’t confuse this with sweepstakes, where someone wins. That is sales and marketing, not community and culture. The challenge with remote food giving is that the community doesn’t experience the tradition directly. In these cases, it is a good idea to make a ritual around the giving/receiving of the food, like a tweet up and photo or video sharing.
a. Could your community come together and send someone a gift certificate to eat out? Perhaps there is a common food theme in your community, like coffee houses, taco street vendors, BBQ.
b. Or even better, send a bowl of oranges. Think of that person sitting at their table everyday for a week, associating the look and smell with their online tribe. This bowl of oranges could be twizzlers or homemade goods. The important thing is that food is in their house for them to see, smell, eat and share and that the food is relevant to the community culture.
c. Whatever you do, do the same thing multiple times. I am not saying that you have to have the same food every time. Christmas dinner has a lot of variety, but we all have a common cultural idea of what makes the Christmas meal. Food sharing has to have an element of symbol, something that represents the community.
3. In Real Life (IRL) food/drink sharing:
This medium is for gatherings, coming together face-to-face with other members of your community. There is inherent bonding value in eating and drinking together, as we all know. When does it become cultural?
a. It is nice when a company throws a party and there is free food, but this is usually a sales pitch, seller to sellee. Plus we all know the perceived value of free stuff! This is not the most powerful vehicle to bond a group. It is better if everyone pitches in somehow.
b. As with the item above, you don’t all have to eat the same menu every time you meet, although if things developed that way, I would take that as a sign of a strong culture and bond in a group. But do have a common, repeated theme that signals, this is your community meeting. Even a joke food that everyone hates has cultural bonding significance. A friend of mine throws a Spam potluck party every year that has a cult following.
Please remember: You cannot create a culture out of thin air and shove it down folks throats. Food tradition is a part of who we all are. Given half a chance it will emerge. Maybe this post can give you new ideas about how to break bread with your community. Food for thought… (I had to, really, I had to).
Now I am hungry! I would be delighted with any examples you have of your online communities developing a food tradition.