I watched The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix with some friends last night. I will start out by saying it is absolutely terrifying, disheartening, and eye-opening to say the lease. On a national as well as a global scale, it feels as though our world is falling apart at the seams. Between fake news distribution, social media addiction, unstable leadership, and more – it seems as though truth is something we’re struggling to recognize and hold onto.
Working at LexBlog, I’ve often heard our CEO, Kevin O’Keefe talk about often how the internet can be a powerful tool for building relationships and advancing communities. Paradoxically, watching The Social Dilemma last night, I was shocked but not surprised to learn about the destructive structures the internet has been laying ground work for over the last ten or so years. Primarily set up to target the Gen Z population, companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok and countless others are at each other’s throats, competing to keep users in the rat race we’ve found ourselves in.
This hour and a half long documentary poses the simple question: where did we (designers and engineers of the internet) go wrong, and how do we fix the problem? Because the problem is vastly complex, no one seems to be able to pin point exactly what the issue boils down to, and certainly no one seems to have answers. Users subject to the problem seemingly turn a blind eye and continue buying into the system without questioning its effects on our collective wellbeing. Influencers and engineers and CEO’s alike allegedly recognize a society that’s biting at the poisonous bit, but not a single advocate for change has a clear path for how to restructure the system. Though the current relationship between humanity and the internet appears to be destructive and getting progressively worse, no one knows how to turn off the responders in each of us that gravitate towards the capitalization and obsession of social media.
Psychologically and physically, the documentary proposes the notion that humans are utterly addicted and ultimately screwed to knowing truth so long as the internet and cell phone continue to be around. We’re inundated with information to filter through – drowning in information that forms our views of ourself, our society, and the future of where we’re headed.
So then, what does Kevin really mean when he says the internet can be a force for good – in light of this contrasting argument that social media will be the end of us? It seems every time I check social media these days, all I see is divisive, controversial, and angry users. And I think it boils down to this: people are tired. People are scared. People are anxious and they want some sort of truth they can hold on. We want clarity. And restoration. And justice. Without it – we are circulating confusion and directing into division. Rightfully so, anger is the default emotion.
I think I’m slowly starting to understand and witness what Kevin means when he writes about the antidote to this toxic cycle and use of the internet. As a proponent for the internet being used as a hub for productive relationship building and thriving community engagement, Kevin shines light on how we can restructure our time spent online. Here are three things I’ve learned from him that are reshaping how I want to utilize this powerful tool.
1. It’s not about you. Say that a few times over and it starts to hit different. Using the internet can be and should be used for amplifying voices, celebrating others, and letting people know the work they’re putting out there is worth sharing and discussing. Leveraging the internet is about being the helpers and getting help when you need it in return. We’ve got to start the conversations and indulge conversations around the hard stuff, and the stuff worth celebrating, and the stuff we’ve failed at. It is our job, as relationship builders, to step aside so there’s room for other voices to rise up. If we truly do view community as necessity, they we need to be the megaphones on the mouths of those within the community, not the ones muting them.
2. You’re not too lame to connect with someone too cool. This lesson is primarily from me, to me. I’m three months into my journey in the virtual community building field and I’ve never been more self-conscious about what I post or how I contribute to the conversation. In person, community building is my jam. At WeWork, as a Community Associate, I had a deep love and enjoyment for my job. My friends and family could tell you how much I loved the role I got to play at WeWork as the events coordinator and leader of building operations. It was my greatest joy and favorite responsibility to connect people and bridge gaps between companies that I would watch help each other out. I loved watching our WeWork community support the communities in our building – from operations to campus wide events to simple surprise and delight morning donuts when someone was struggling in their job.
My WeWork building and the members occupying the space became my pride and joy. Other buildings in the market would come to Holyoke to observe this community we were building and compliment the way we treated those in our space. More than that, what other’s noticed was how the companies in our spaces learned to connect with one another when WeWork staff wasn’t around. Members would come up to me constantly – “Shale, you know *insert person’s name* that you introduced to me to at the last happy hour we had? Well we just went out to lunch together after realizing we work only two doors down from each other!” “Shale, that freelance designer you mentioned just reached out to me on LinkedIn! She’s going to be designing the new interface of our website!” It sounds far fetched, but instances like this would truly happen often.
I’m learning to carry this mindset into the virtual world I stepped into and am walking through. I’m learning it because I need to, because it’s the direction our new reality is headed, and we cannot waste time letting these connections and opportunities go to waste.
I’m learning to reach out to the community builders with thousands of followers, even if I only have 25 following me. I’m piping up in conversations; listening in on the questions being asked and speaking up about the questions I need answered. I’m learning to mute the voice in my head that reminds me, “you’re not good at this yet – you don’t know what you’re doing yet. That person you want to reach out to, that company you’re about to shoutout – they’re too big for you. They’re too busy. They’re too far out of your league for you to reach out. Just play it small.” If I’ve learned one key takeaway so far, it’s that community people are my kind of people. Receptive. Responsive. Inviting. Refreshing. Humble.
They reach back out, extend the hand, and have pulled me up 10/10 times I’ve asked for guidance. We’ll always find people better at our jobs than us – these people are not our competition. They are our role models and our friends. It does not have to be one or the other, it can and should be both. I’m learning to start treating these leaders that way. If you think they’re too cool for you to reach out to, then you should probably be reaching out to them.
3. You don’t have to do it all to do it well. I’m lucky to work with the brilliant, innovative team I do. At LexBlog, we have some of the most creative designers, receptive technologists, and advanced product engineers. Because I have a team that can breath life into my ideas in the backend, it’s simply my job to continue dreaming. Two of the projects I wanted to see come to life for our members included a monthly newsletter and a resource center. I figured if we had a resource center where all our blogging tips and tricks, articles and interviews lived, people would start to trust that we knew what we were doing.
Testimonials and referrals make for the strongest leads, so we talked with people who found success in their blogs and extracted their knowledge in hopes that others could emulate their process. Building out the resource center was created for dual-functionality. In part, to show our (and our community’s) expertise and authority on legal blogging and in part to give people a space to foster curiosity + conversation. We have articles encapsulating blogging strategies, blogging fundamentals, and social media best practices. We’ve also included links to our socials – platforms like Twitter, a LinkedIn Legal Blogging group, and our Legal Blogging Slack channel. These platforms are used, like Kevin advocates for, to build relationships and expand networks. They are a medium for conversation to be a tangible tool in an online world.
Though I am no WordPress expert, interface designer, or support guru for technical questions, I have a team who is. All I need to do is listen to the needs of our community – what they are saying or sometimes more importantly, what they aren’t saying. By listening to client calls with support, sitting in on strategy sessions with Kevin, and debriefing conversations had with our sales team, I saw a need for blogging resources in one central location and had a team that was capable of helping me fill that need. People are silently screaming for connection, it is my job as a community manager to figure out how to build systems that help people feel less alone and more empowered to do what they do.
Any good community should feel safe and taken care of – this offering was intended to take better care of our clients by not letting them fail. If we could provide LexBlog members all the tools in the toolbox they’d need to create strong and successful blog posts that bring in revenue for their firm, they would see the value in blogging and find it enjoyable. The more people find what they’re doing enjoyable, the more they want to engage in it, the better they become at the craft. LexBlog is the world’s largest community for online bloggers – why aren’t we showcasing the expertise we have + the skills we’ve strengthened to get here?
It’s my dream to see a community of legal bloggers that are speaking up, listening to one another, receiving guidance and guiding others, too. Kevin’s dream, I’ve realized, is transferring over to my own. I want to see this community active, authentic, and thriving. We are getting there, but we have a long way to go.