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#UsGuys: Meandering Stream or Dynamic Torrent?

I belong to an online community called #UsGuys. Just seven months young, it has already become a shining example of how people can get to know each other online, nurture these relationships, and then push them offline as well.

Many of us are astounded by how well we already seem to know each other upon meeting “in real life” (hugs are commonplace). This has powerful business implications because, in essence, it is networking on steroids with global amplification. Before actually meeting, we have already shared business information, stories, photographs, and even personal crises in our lives. We have celebrated holidays and special occasions; we have laughed and perhaps even cried.

Begun as a Twitter tribe focused on business issues around marketing, branding and social media, #UsGuys quickly went beyond the platform’s 140 characters. Starting with Facebook and LinkedIn groups, there is also an #UsGuys website, lots of blogging, emails, Skype calls and weekly live video chats. There have been many meetups in cities around the U.S., Canada and the UK.

One of the great things about #UsGuys, besides the 24-7, global engagement, is how a special group of smart, respectful people with similar but diverse interests all found each other at this moment in time — just as social media is taking off. We are helping push the medium forward and having fun in the process.

Yet, having grown exponentially in just a few months, the inevitable has happened and #UsGuys is at a crossroads. Many of us are not surprised by this, but now the question is: what keeps #UsGuys from becoming just like any other Twitter stream? Sure, there have been peaks and valleys — but for awhile it has seemed to be missing a certain “je ne sais quoi”. While plenty of people still enter the stream, many have left too.

Navigating the current

Maybe it can never again be what it was when it was smaller, but lately I am sensing some new energy again. At times it is still as active and vibrant as it has ever been, but those times are fewer.

Although the stream might be different now, maybe that’s OK. Ever-evolving, #UsGuys lives, breathes and behaves like the mix of people in the stream at any certain time. But while it may be changing, I think there is a way to maintain some of the qualities that have made #UsGuys special for me and so many others: the constant energy, excitement, fun, innovation, ideas and yes… friendship.

Although #UsGuys already has an established tradition of weekly Twitter chats (#UsGuysChat) and group blog-offs (#UsBlogs) around selected topics, and has even run a successful three-day virtual conference (#usXsw), many people want more. There has been serious discussion about running conferences, getting involved in charitable causes, and perhaps even developing those business ideas that are hatched in the stream so often into viable #UsGuys products and ventures.

The thing is, these kinds of efforts take more structure than a Twitter stream allows and this has been the sticking point that has impeded progress on these fronts. Peopleget uncomfortable whenever “structure” is mentioned in a Twitter stream. And following closely behind “structure” comes that other dirty word, “leadership”. But if people want to do more, one can’t just think of #UsGuys as a Twitter stream. Simply stated, some structure is required to capture this waterfall and bottle it. As things move along, someone has to call the shots or else nothing gets done, because people either wait for someone to take charge or wheels keep spinning as the conflicting opinions of so many are sorted through. But continuing along as we have, I fear the community will lose whatever made it special in the first place — and the longer we wait, the more diluted the stream becomes.

Ripples along the way

Sometimes the stream looks just like another social club, leading to criticism that #UsGuys is nothing more than a clique for people who like to chat. Well, I’m not sure about you, but I don’t like being classified that way, nor am I interested in reliving my high school and college years through #UsGuys. Been there, done that. I am in #UsGuys because of the talented people who are as serious about their careers as I am. And I know that when great minds meet, great things can happen. Don’t get me wrong, I like to have as much fun as the next guy and some very witty people give me daily laughs in the stream. But it must be more than that.

PictureI know that trying to do more with something that’s essence is an open stream poses challenges. But there are a couple of things the members of #UsGuys can do. Besides establishing a strong visual identity which, among other things, will anchor our appearances at events and give us something to rally behind, there is also need for a more robust and professionally designed website. This has been discussed before but never really got off the ground. It would be the place where all the various #UsGuys content comes together. Basic information about the group and a code of conduct should be posted there as well. It could also contain scheduling tools, making events easier to organize. Not an easy task, I know, but this alone would help crystallize what #UsGuys is and serve as a necessary foundation from which to launch other things.

Dive in!

So, I believe it is up to each of us in #UsGuys to make it whole again. When things seem a little slow or frivolous, start a conversation that gets the sparks flying. Ask a question,
state an opinion, post an insight — be the catalyst that starts the good, honest debate that has been an #UsGuys hallmark. If someone says something that triggers an idea, jump on it! Engage that person and encourage others to jump in too. That’s the spirit of #UsGuys, and is what makes it different from other streams.

When new folks enter the stream and show sincere interest in staying around, welcome them enthusiastically! Point them to some of the great posts written by #UsGuys members about the group and what has made it special to them.

And, of course, don’t forget to ring the tribal bell! Don’t be shy, anyone can do it! It’s proved itself to be a fantastic way to engage newcomers and have some good laughs in the process. Bring your own creativity to the ritual — the more variations the better. Don’t forget to attach a few @ names too. Others who join in can replace them with their own @ names to spread the introductions around. Those who aren’t in the stream at the time will respond when they can, and the bells will start ringing all over again!

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you’ve been involved with #UsGuys, here’s your chance to let the world know what it has meant to you!


Photos by Yayatoon and John Dunn, Newsday

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