The Collective Power of Individuals

Last night, two things happened on Twitter that seem to me to point to the reality of our present day connected world, with trends that are budding now that will revolutionize many an industry and many a life.

Happening # 1 David Armano (@armano), VP of Experience Design at the Chicago marketing consultancy Critical Mass, posted an enigmatic tweet on his Twitter feed. “Hey everyone. I am going to need a very BIG favor from you. It’s going to be asking a lot. I’ll let you know more very soon.” A few minutes later he posted a request for help for Daniela, an acquaintance in a bad situation.

Sadly, we’ve all heard similar stories before. But what happened next was nothing short of phenomenal. Armano’s network of 8,150 followers swung into action, spreading the word about Daniela. Within a few hours, donations had reached $5,000. Tweets of support poured in. By this morning, donations had topped $11,700, and there’s probably more to come.

Happening # 2 Tireless tech world figure, blogger, Tweeter (etc), Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) found himself in a jam.

The bus transporting him and eight blogger cronies to the CES show broke down about 100 miles outside of Las Vegas. “Getting taxis to come pick us up this time of night is proving troubling,” Scoble tweeted. “Any ideas?” Apparently so. Scoble’s network (of nearly 48,000) swung into action and a few hours later the day was saved. “Tons of people have been helping us get unstranded – all via Twitter,” Scoble noted.

There are a few forces at play here. First and most important, the importance and value of a true network. Both Armano and Scoble diligently respond to their network, engaging and discussing, merrily debating and disagreeing. No one would have given a dime to Armano, no one would have lifted a finger to help Scoble, if they hadn’t felt a genuine connection. That’s why businesses that are successful on Twitter have a human face. Where once a brand could tell consumers what to think (even if it was that their product was good for you), top down, authoritarian monologues don't cut it in this world.

Secondly, this isn’t the future. It’s just another step on the way there. Armano can’t repeat this trick. Scoble shouldn’t bank on his bus breaking down every week. People were galvanized because this is new as much as anything else. The surge of the crowd inspired others, and the good will was palpable and moving, but it strikes me that if another person in Daniela’s unfortunate situation tried to emulate the success of this experiment, they wouldn’t do so well.

Again, it comes down to individuals. Both the networks in play here have been built up over years. As Armano wrote, this is the first time he’s tried anything like this. Indeed, the experiment wasn't really planned; more an idea he put into action on a whim. But I bet it’s the last time he tries this in a while, too.

Nonetheless, I think both stories provide a great, salutary reminder that nothing less than humanity lurks among the bits and bytes. Don't you agree?

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