Why is this important?
Everything we do as humans (especially in organizations!) is done in the presence of other people, and in the presence of people, we need to be aware of two big things: how a community of people works (cultural norms, linguistic conventions, etc) and how my personal identity (appearance, their attitude, etc) participates in that community. In previous years, people warned that increasing use of the Internet would make for less interaction between people, but the opposite has turned out to be true. In fact, people are beginning to participate in more and more varied communities online and offline, and each of those communities may have completely different norms and rules for effective participation. So when a person jumps, sometimes with the opening of a new computer browser window, between their communities on their Facebook group, their corporate blog, their technical support forum, their World of Warcraft guild, they are increasing the social complexity of their community interactions, and the importance of understanding their multiple identities.
Understanding Competing Community Norms: Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com
Tony was an early adopter of the transparent use of very wide-open, public social media like Twitter, even as he was leading a company, negotiating mergers with Amazon, etc. As a CEO, Tony must have been advised by some in his business community that too much transparency would hurt his ability to serve as a respected leader of his organization. As a member of a member of his Twitter community of hundreds of thousands of people (including his employees), Tony knew that not enough transparency would violate the unwritten but well-known norms of the community. As a result, Tony is sometimes funny and entertaining in his tweets like this one:
..and sometimes more serious and “leaderly” like this one:
Understanding Multiple Identities: University Instructors in the Digital Age
My life consists of many roles. In one of these roles, i teach a new media theory course to fifty or sixty juniors and seniors every semester at the Indiana University School of Informatics. In another role i am a PhD student at the same school. In another role, i am the co-founder of SociaLens. In another role, i am a member of the Bloomington, Indiana local community. In yet another role, i am a son, relative and friend to people in Massachusetts, Chicago, Florida, San Francisco, Singapore and many other places. Before the advent of the Internet, many of these roles would have remained quite separate. With the increasing use of digital tools, however, these roles–or what we might call “identitities”–are colliding more frequently. As one example of this collision, one of my students posted the following message on Twitter:
..and the link went to this horrible picture of me (it pains me to post it here, but i will to make the point) at a recent Indiana University basketball event, looking like i’d just eaten a bowl full of sour grapes:
So in the moment that this photo was posted (which was immediately after the event, by the way), my different identities collided (and i’m further colliding them by posting the photo again in this blog post). My current and future SociaLens clients saw that i am a person who attends college events in jeans and t-shirts. My students saw that i am a person who actually leaves his study once in a while. My friends and family saw that i need a hair cut. This is the new reality for all of us. Our public and private identities are colliding. The new fluency is knowing and becoming comfortable with this. Here was my response to the student’s Twitter post:
Indicators that the People In Your Organization Might Have Interaction Fluency:
- You are comfortable jumping into a new group, community or market, getting to know its rules and norms, and then interacting in a way that is appropriate and provides value
- You are comfortable with the fact that your personal and brand identity is getting harder to control, and tend to find new and innovative ways to make this work in favor of your goals