Do You Have a Trusted Network? Or a Comfort Network?

A lot of people talk about their “trusted network”.  Networks are powerful things.  But, the more you try to formalize them, the more rigid they become.  If you try and actively check boxes for a network, it’s not guaranteed to work.

Networks are organic.  They are like living organisms and you have to be careful how you expand and engage them.

I saw this blogpost on Time to Comfort.  It’s highly provocative and got me thinking about networks.  Here is a link to a slide deck on the topic.  One big theme in it revolves around using the word “trust”.  Trust has too many hidden meanings around it.  Trust is a rigid word.  Trusting someone feels risky in many cases.

Instead, use the word “comfort”.

I think this is insightful in many ways.  Comfort has one meaning with not a lot hiding behind it.  It’s salve for a cut.  It’s interaction.  It’s relaxing.  It’s back and forth and easy.

If you think about networks that you have been in that comfort you, you can start to mentally think about words and feelings you had when you were present in them.  Networks become touchstones.  When you become engaged, it becomes a watering hole.  It becomes a place you desire to go to.

The trading floor was a gigantic network.  It had oodles of small networks inside the big one.  But, for many people it was a comforting place to go.  You could get major things done there, or it just became a place you could hang out and be yourself.  Sure, it had bursts of incredible intensity, but 80-90% of the time nothing happened so people just chatted.

Great networks have principled norms built in.  For example, on the floor, we had the 10 rules to make a trade, but we also had informal pit etiquette that was different from pit to pit to pit.  It’s the informal etiquette that makes networks productive.

This line from the blogpost stuck out at me.  “As community managers we don’t want to push and prod people to engage – that can lead to empty engagement. Instead we want to focus on increasing people’s comfort and on drawing them out.”

Some virtual networks I am in totally SPAM me.  Their bots notice when I login, and then I get hit with a bunch of email.  That’s irritating.  Instead, community managers of networks need to think about how they can make the network comforting to the person.

Often, community managers forget it’s a network.  They are the host of the party-not the instigator.  When community managers get too involved, the network becomes top down and everyone waits for that person to bring new stuff to the network.  A true network makes it easy for anyone to lead, and anyone to bring new ideas/members in.  This is something that is key to realize.  As soon as a network goes top down, it’s a very different kind of network.  Usually, they get more brittle and rigid.

The more comfortable, the easier the network is to access, the more engaging it will become.  Engagement means power.