No, Mark Zuckerberg is not a Medici, at least so far as I can tell. Although that would be kind of interesting historically speaking. Factually, the Medicis built a lot of their early wealth, power, and fame on the foundation of knowing how to make people happy. Not coincidentally, they also tended to lose a lot of power and wealth when they sort of “forgot” how to make people happy. Not too dissimilar from what can happen in the online world today, right? Let’s dig a bit deeper.
Amici degli Amici
Cosimo’s son Lorenzo, who eventually became known as Lorenzo Il Magnifico (Lorenzo the Great) realized something pretty interesting. While it was important to keep other rich and powerful people happy, the less powerful people, the poor or the sort of middle class folks, had pretty powerful voices. If you could keep them happy, you could pretty much keep anyone happy. Lorenzo took to meeting with people individually, face-to-face. They would give him something – whether it was something they baked, an animal they had killed, whatever – and he would listen to their problems and try to help them out. They would leave his home happy and would remember what Lorenzo had done for them. This network came to be known as amici degli amici – friends of friends. It was an understood part of society that if someone did a favor for you, you would try to help them out when they needed something. It was also poor form to beat up a friend of a friend, so the wider the network expanded outward, the more people would be hesitant to cause the Medici family trouble. Pretty smart, right?
In the online world, there are many ways to create this kind of network. The easiest way, perhaps, is to comment on a person’s post. This shows that you are interested in what they have to say, are willing to take the time to comment on it, and aren’t just leaving a comment for your own good. It’s also a good way to know people. You can also create a network of friends online by answering questions a person might have, supporting a project of theirs, sharing their posts, or other favors that show you are interested in their success. It is understood (I think) that when someone does a favor like this for you, it is good form for you to try to return the favor some day. In the 21st century online world, this has come to be called “Give to get.”
Of course, the more you give just to get, the less you’ll actually get. Your desire to help has to be genuine. That’s the tricky part.
Too many friends!
Here’s the interesting thing about the concept of the amici degli amici. Eventually, Lorenzo got a LOT of amici. He had festival-like parties at his palace almost every night where folks like Botticelli would hang out and talk about arty things (Michelangelo would be there sometimes, too). The more friends he got, the more people came by asking for favors. As Lorenzo became more and more entrenched in his art and culture buddies, the less involved he became in the family business. In fact, a lot of the Medici banks had to close down because they ran out of money during this time. Not surprisingly, Lorenzo started to forget some of his friends. He simply couldn’t keep up with all of the favors people were asking him for. People left empty-handed, and they left mad.
If you’ve been online for awhile, you can probably feel this problem resonating with you.
In the online world, once you are seen to be a person who supports people, “friends” start coming out of the woodwork. You get more followers. You get more blog subscribers. It’s a great problem to have, but if you get too far behind in paying people back, you are going to create a stream of really angry people who won’t be so ready to jump to your defense when you run into trouble. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to Lorenzo. As we’ll talk about tomorrow, Lorenzo’s love of art and non-traditional “Pagan” paintings earned him damnation from Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola. Indeed, Savonarola convinces Florence that they are all a bunch of sinners, and his last words to Lorenzo are that Lorenzo is headed for hell. By that time, Lorenzo doesn’t have many friends left who are ready to jump to his side.
Keep expectations realistic
Perhaps Lorenzo’s biggest mistake is that he gave the impression he could be the friend of every single person in Tuscany. He gave the impression that anyone who came to his house would get their problems solved. Promises like these are of course seldom sustainable. So it is online. It’s impossible, no matter how hard you try, to keep everyone happy. There will always be a person who feels you don’t visit their blog enough after they comment on yours. There will always be a person who will complain that you don’t reply to them as often as you should. This is inevitable, and the bigger your community grows, the more likely it is that you will tick people off.
Keep expectations as realistic as possible. Be observant, too. Try to spread out who you do favors for – if you always help one or two people you’ll be accused of clique behavior rather than social network behavior. Try to give a hand to one new person on a regular basis – daily, weekly, whatever. And make sure you do your best to let people know you’re trying your best. Don’t complain about how much it stinks to have so many people in your community. Be grateful. Just be real about it.
How do you think the amici degli amici concept is working online today? I’d love to get your input!
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelheiss/6889352598 via Creative Commons