We’re all connected to other people.
And community organizing is largely about strengthening those connections, making them strategically about advancing a vision of justice, and finding ways to connect people in ways that transcend the merely personal, to become the truly transformative.
But we’re not all created equal when it comes to our connections, and those of us who care deeply about social justice would do well to understand this.
This week, I’m writing a series of posts inspired somewhat loosely by the ideas from The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. Today’s centers on Connectors and Mavens, people who, if we can identify them and figure out how to hook them into our work, can create the difference between plodding along, trying to gain attention for our causes, and seeing an epidemic sweep the landscape.
As Gladwell defines them, Connectors are those who are connected to WAY more people than most of us, and to people across many different social networks, so that they have the potential to reach even many more. They spread ideas, and causes, simply by virtue of how many people they touch and influence in the course of their lives, and they are also essential resources to help you find inroads to specific people and/or specific communities.
Community organizers should recognize Connectors when we meet them; too often, we fail to ask people to introduce us to others, to specifically share a message with those they know, to think about who else they might involve in our work.
We have to make Connectors care about our cause, then, but they already care, deeply, about other people, and they’ll naturally want to find ways to be part of something larger than themselves. But we don’t have to worry as much about finding Connectors, because they’ll largely find us; they’re always in “outreach” mode.
Mavens are, in many ways, like Connectors: they’re influential, tapped in to many networks, and very externally-oriented. Mavens collect information, and they want to share it, and they’re often known for being the first in their circles to latch on to an idea (or, as more commonly described in this book, aimed at a business audience, to products).
Making Mavens part of your campaign is a critically important goal that too few community organizers think about. After all, these are the people whose “check out this organization” or “please contribute to this cause” or “come to this meeting” emails actually get READ, both because of the strength of their bonds with others, and because of their reputation as people who “know about these things.” You want them talking about your work.
But, while Connectors will find you, if you’re doing a good job being visible and building relationships across networks, Mavens may not. Which is where Gladwell’s discussion of “traps” for Mavens, here modified from a business to a social change context, makes a lot of sense.
Essentially, we can build opportunities, activities, into our campaigns that will help us identify who our Mavens are, who is so committed to our issue that they deserve more of our investment, and who we should be cultivating.
This might mean creating a blog where we specifically ask for feedback, using advisory groups to solicit participation, coming up with projects that the committed can do, constructing volunteer opportunities that include leadership responsibilities. We could create a structure for our community organization that gives emerging leaders responsibilities for organizing others. We can invite people to participate in strategic planning. We can ask our members where they heard about our work, and trace the individuals responsible for shepherding people to us. We can create contests that ask people to contribute campaign slogans or design ideas or leadership nominees.
We can ask ourselves, every day: how could I do this differently, so that it gives people a chance to play a leadership role? And what can I learn about my people as a result?
The idea is this: if we give people an opportunity to distinguish themselves, Mavens will.
And then we can watch the wildfire spread.