In a previous post I mentioned a free podcast of a GoToWebinar we did with Seth Godin. Among Seth’s accomplishments is a top-rated blog as ranked by ad age.  Another blogger on this list, Chris Brogan, happened to be visiting our Citrix Online offices in Santa Barbara last week to train a group of us on the topic of “social media”. Dreading the hard chairs and long monologue, I prepped myself for a long training session with a large cup of coffee laced with espresso.

Little did I know that Chris had once offered to shave his head if he ever hit #1 on the ad age list. As it turns out, that day he popped to the top spot just above Seth Godin, and as a result, we enjoyed a highly interactive and rewarding lesson in social media. More on that in a minute.

At first I was skeptical of Chris’s claims about the profound implications of social media (My rule of thumb, if anyone says something is going to be “as big as email,” be skeptical.) However, after a hands-on lesson, I think there are some profound and positive implications.

1. Social media is highly relevant to your career. The larger and more engaged your online networking, the better able you are to get help from others, find a job, etc. The secret is to help others first. Take Chris Brogan as an example. His blog is influential because he creates content useful to other people. He has over a hundred LinkedIn recommendations, but he’s also recommended more people than that. People help him because he has helped them. Social networking has always been the best way to find a job -- or create a movement. Chris’ big, fat online network means he’s better off than most of us in that area (not without cost as he doesn’t sleep). His world of social media is just the old-world social contract writ large.

2. Social media could bring an unprecedented level of transparency to the world of business and perhaps even humanize the corporation. For companies accustomed to controlling the message, this could be scary. With Twitter, an Amazon glitch can spread like wildfire through social networks. When everyone can review your products, you have to be more open about the good and bad. What’s more, when you respond to customers in a format like twitter, or speak in a blog like this, it is from a person, not a corporate entity. I am writing this post, not all of us at Citrix. And when you put your name on something, you take more personal responsibility for it. It becomes more real. More human, and more powerful.

3. Great content will get people’s attention. In a more fragmented world, we may not be able to interrupt people with mass advertising as easily, but if we engage each other with useful information, the traffic will come. When you look at the top-ranked posts on Digg or Stumbleupon or Delicious, lots of them are helpful, well-ordered information, such as “40 Awesome iPhone Application Websites.” (Anything with iPhone in it seems instantly popular.) Once you provide useful and educational content, perhaps people will be more interested in what you have to sell.

4. Emotion is powerful. Some of the most viral content on the web connects on an emotional level. In reflecting on the Susan Doyle phenomenon or a popular viral video like, Where is Matt, I’m struck by how they both involve an ordinary person inspiring strangers – through music or a silly dance – in a way that’s surprising and delightful. Both have moral resonance. Don’t pre-judge. We are all connected. I love that the social web rewards this.

5. Charity begins online. We convinced Chris to go ahead and shave his head right then and there during our training class last week – with a live online video stream and twitter updates, documented via iPhone and Flip. Plus, Chris put out the call for donations, and then it was truly a commitment. Charity is another viral lightening rod. From this impromptu event, Chris has raised $4355 (last I checked) from lots of individual donors, not including Corporate donators including Citrix. The dollars went up, the hair came off, his network buzzed. It was incredible to watch because this shows the true power of social media and the impact it can have for the greater good.

Where all this leaves me is feeling generally optimistic. There are negatives and drawbacks to unfiltered mob-created information (and misinformation), but if social media also rewards generosity, transparency, humanity and charity, all I can say is, count me in.