The New Leadership: Social Change and Connectedness

With every advance of mobile or web technology, I see a balance of power moving from institutions to people.
Did what I wrote make sense to you?
We are in a time of great change. I suppose that’s obvious. Post 9/11, there’s been much commentary about these uncertain times. Whatever side of the political aisle you are on, you can likely agree that environmental concerns, “terrorism,” war, and other big issues cause us to live in uncertain times. Institutions, much beloved for decades, are seen with some distrust. Journalism, once depicted by Thomas Carlyle as the “fourth estate” so important to democracy, is now one of the most disliked institutions, with a trust level below that of used car sales persons.
Technology links people together
In these times of uncertainty, the technology that is being innovated is largely focused on the Web or mobile devices. Look at the top 50 products in different lists of innovations and almost all have this as a common theme: connection. It’s Linked In that lets me stay in touch with colleagues easier, or Digg that tells me what others care about and not just what major media companies are pushing. Amazon’s service to lets me know what other people have actually purchased, and VOX lets me blog to a select few. Individuals can define their audience, just as advertisers and media companies have for decades. Our society and the tools we’re innovating are focused on creating more connectedness. People to people connection, not institution to people connection.
Whenever social change of this magnitude happens we have to rethink what we’re doing. While it can mean how to incorporate new technologies into our marketing portfolio, ie. blogging, I think there’s something bigger here.
And that changes what we do in designing what we create, and how we “go to market.”
New leadership is based in experience, not directive
In times of uncertainty, people will turn to one another. And in so doing, they don’t seek an institution or a mass outlet. They turn to a guide, a trusted friend. Who will lead these people? Will it be the traditional channels, a la journalists or a company like your own? Likely not.
I believe we’re watching a new class of leadership on the rise, people who are natural leaders who do research and investigation so they can tell the good from the bad, defining by both words and actions the benefits of using something. They may be called by many names: citizen marketers, consumer advocates, key influentials, user enthusiasts or something of the like. The name is not the point. I’m sure someone like Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell will come up with the perfect term, because that’s what they do so well.
There will be many of these consumer advocates as leaders. For any category or product. It could be yogurt, it could be cars, it could even be blogging services. Look at Ralph Nader’s campaign for the presidency as one way this trend has shown up. And whether they choose WordPress or VOX as the winning offer will define which product is more successful. In their use of your products, these individuals will shape the market view of what your company or product stands for. If you don’t already know your key user influencers, isn’t it time to do so? If you’re not in dialogue with them already, what do you think is at risk? Is your competition talking with them?
Uber-trends like this are tough to pick up on, because so many people are trying to “name it” and coin a phrase that perfectly captures it. I’m more interested in making sure you’re paying attention so you, and not your competitors, can figure out what is the right strategy for you to win markets.

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