My friend, Lisa Colton, wrote fascinating post on the personality of network weavers. Meyer-Briggs for network weavers, she called it. In the post Lisa asks a very provocative question: Do the different styles of network weavers (personality, skills, training, preferred tools, strategic objectives) produce different patterns of network maps?
I’ll start my answer on what we know right now. We know there is a function called network weaving, originally defined by Valdis Krebs and June Holley. Based on Valdis and June’s work, we outlined the activities of network weavers in The Networked Nonprofit as:
- Introducing and connecting people to one another.
- Facilitating conversations that are meaningful to participants and authentic. Sometimes these conversations are actionable, and other times they are simply to build relationships.
- Sharing resources, links, and information without expectation of a direct return from that person.
- Building relationships with network members by doing things like linking to their blog posts and commenting on blogs, friending them on online social networks, and celebrating their contributions.
- Working with many different people on multiple channels such as email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and even on land at face-to-face meetings.
- Treating all members of the network as equals regardless of their formal organizational position.
- Inviting people with differing points of view into conversations, and facilitating those conversations so those points of view can be shared.
And although network weavers are fundamentally online community organizers, when I facilitated a group discussion with a key group of them at the Case Foundation a few years back, we found, perhaps not surprisingly given that they do sit behind screens most of the day, that there were a few extroverts around the table, but mainly introverts. So, now we know what they do, how they work and who they are. The question Lisa has is whether the totality of these characteristics affects the shape of networks.
I don’t think so, and here are my reasons why:
- Network form follows function. The the network for a specific campaign, say, is largely based on the key hubs and networks the weaver is intending to reach. Say, the YWCA is trying to get the message out to women about their domestic violence efforts, such as last year’s very successful Purple Purse campaign, they aren’t trying to reach all women, they’re definitely not trying to reach children, they’re aiming for advocacy groups that reach women, mommy bloggers, companies that serve women, etc. This design will shape the network.
- Networks flow in the paths of least resistance. Network weavers can intentionally activate networks but they cannot shape them to their will. No one can, that’s what makes social networks so unpredictable, and so much fun! There are works of art that has sand and water within a frame, like this one:
Social networks work like this when it is flipped over. Things start to move about, unexpected pressure and action takes place at one end or in the middle, and all of a sudden great movements occur. Network weavers start the action, they flip over the frame, they aren’t responsible for everything that happens thereafter.
There is a corollary to Lisa’s question which I think is fascinating: Can people for whom network weaving isn’t natural or practiced become good network weavers?