For many of us who attend tradeshows every year (my pilgrimage is SXSW Interactive here in Austin) there is a common theme of connection.

Kathy Sierra asked her keynote audience in 2006, “How many of you are live-blogging this presentation?”

When 20 or so hands went up in the room of 500+ she followed up, “Why are you HERE? I mean, all of you can get this information online, and you can even get my speech rebroadcast via bloggers in better bite-size chunks. So… Why are you here, in Austin Texas at SXSW?” (I paraphrased.)

Her point is that we come to events to connect. We come out of passion and a desire to meet and be with others who share the same passion. We form circles of passion or adhoc groups that we can’t quite establish, though we are trying, via the online experience.

So what is an event then, a live event? It is the actual social network. What we create in our online social communities is a pale substitute for the real, look-in-your-eyes, connection that you and I might make if we were sitting in a room together sharing coffee.

And I believe it is the passion and trust that is hard to translate into online communities. If we are too passionate we come across as enthusiasts, who often do not have the commitment or weight behind what we are saying. Or we might not have “earned” the trust or reputation that this kind of enthusiasm requires.

And trust is a quality you earn. You cannot advertise trust, or claim expertise within a group where you are not “trusted.” Well, you can, but your effectiveness will be blunted and perhaps your ideas rebuffed.

So how can we build communities of trust and passion using existing social media tools?

I believe the building blocks of the required “trust” are formed in face-to-face meetings. Once trust is established between myself and a team member there is very little I will not share (aka: risk) with this “known” friend.  And so EVENTS are a place where we can begin to define and establish our networks of trust and passion. And perhaps learning from our first-hand experience, in building and participating in these next-gen or “trusted social networks” we can help define this potential for the social enthusiasts who follow and gather with us to commune and share.

See you online or at SXSWi 2009.


Note: John McElhenney works for Dell’s Global Online Team exploring social media

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