The Flipside of Social Networking: Social Notworking
Very few people would accuse me of being a technophobe. In fact, I have a history of embracing new technology if it adds value to my business, my community or to life in general. Which is why I have a problem with social notworking– that is, social networking gone bad. Not long ago, the U.S. Marine Corps announced a ban on access to social networks from USMC computers. Why? Publicly, it’s because careless use could compromise security. But it’s likely more than that. Consider how much time people spend on these networks. Is it necessary? Is it critical? Is it a good use of time?
My wife recently suggested that the definition of social networking is “…using Facebook or Twitter to connect with friends while at work.” Can you find me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn? Sure, you can, but you won’t (and shouldn’t) know when I’m heading for a second cup of coffee, sitting in traffic, or on my way from one city to another. Does that make me a curmudgeon? I hope not. But these networks have done for social circles what email has done for handwritten notes and letters. It isn’t personal anymore.
“Seriously, Mike, how could you not know it was my birthday? It’s on Facebook.” “Why didn’t you drop by for the game last week? My tweet invited everyone that’s following me.” Following you? Can I just call on occasion to catch up rather than know your every move?
Visiting my spaces on these sites this morning (before work), I learned from “friends” that snails breathe through their feet. Did you know that it’s illegal in Kentucky to carry ice cream in your back pocket? Mary is engaged. James is loving vacation. Jennifer mowed her lawn. And Billy has already had more than seven sexual partners. Do I really need to know that? You can argue that there is good that comes from these networks to connect people, but I hope you won’t try to argue that the bulk of information we’re exchanging is useful (unless you were Billy’s sixth sexual partner).
True, Marines can no longer tweet on the job, but even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the principal military advisor to the president and his key advisors, has almost 5,000 followers on Twitter. Will that stop? Probably not, and he knows how to use it responsibly. Do good things come from social networking? You bet. But there’s also a good use for antibiotics, pesticides and the witness protection program. They help get something gone wrong back under control. Do we need some sort of social network police? Absolutely not. I love the technology we have today. What we need is a return to common sense, respect and humility. That begins with us– not with the technology.
Have you caught yourself sending a text to someone in the next room? Have you posted your status on a social network that is totally self-serving, not considering that it will be one among many that your friends receive today? Seriously, do they care that you smell like A1 sauce right now? The technology will work; it will do what it’s supposed to do if we will just stop and THINK before we tweet. Every bit of information we share will add value to the network if we think less about ourselves and more about the networks we share, considering it a privilege to be part of it. That’s not just good for the network. It’s good for you, too!
Being part of a social network is a 24×7, 365-day a year, two-way window on every aspect of your life that you choose to share. Try to tell an undergraduate college kid who hopes to get into medical school that the admissions team at the school will be looking at his online posts on social networks. “No problem, dude.” Mention to the out-of-work executive who “friended” you last week, asking you to help him find a new gig, that you really enjoyed his Halloween costume, and that the keg stand in the Bahamas looked awesome! “Oops.” Never forget that social networks are no different than running your status in the newspaper. No matter what you’ve learned from others who think being a “friend” is a filter, none of it is private. Post and tweet as if you’re writing a press release!
I am not suggesting that to navigate social networks successfully; you need to be a hypocrite or otherwise someone you’re not. On your resume, you wouldn’t list among your skills and talents that you love to be on the tee box by 4:00 p.m. three times a week or that you’re still holding out hope (at age 50) for becoming a professional baseball player. I like lots of things that aren’t relevant to what the public needs to know. But remember, it’s about common sense, respect and humility. Know the purpose of the network. Know its place. Know its utility. And know its limitations.
What about sales and marketing on social networks? Is there a place for it? Sure, if used responsibly. But the line between keeping your brand in front of people in a relevant way and being invasive, adding clutter to the network, is terribly blurred. The effectiveness is diluted when your posts offer greater value for you than they do for the reader. Don’t engage in social networking for your brand just because it’s new, trendy and everyone’s talking about it. Be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly. The roadside is already littered with retired blogs, YouTube videos and social networking attempts gone bad. When a customer responds, whether you like what he says or not, be ready. If you push your brand in this space to create evangelists for your products or services, make sure your message adds value, or your customer may be cooler to the message than a Montreal hockey puck.
And what about recruiting? Are social networks a useful landscape for finding the right people? Social networks aren’t an end in recruiting as much as they’re simply one of many means. Although it isn’t where we find the best people, it is indeed where we can be very productive in getting to know the people we’ve met a little better. Never forget that, whether you’re an employer or a candidate. And if you’re a candidate, let me suggest that there’s value in introductions on networks, but they should be more targeted than widespread, and only one of the things you need to do to draw attention to yourself.
For instance, we know that hundreds of thousands of new people have simply left their jobs over the last several months. Really? Where have they gone to network? Sure, some do the right things like reach out to the contacts they already have, ask for introductions, thoughtfully research opportunities and perhaps attend job fairs. But many will fall back on the easy way out. They won’t attend support groups, business lunches, civic events, service opportunities or find other ways to introduce themselves personally. Instead, they put their resume on job boards and connect to social networks. Is that the wrong thing to do? No, not always. But it’s wrong if it’s the only thing you do.
Don’t get me wrong. I see value in social networks. After all, it’s how our kids and grandkids are communicating. My problem is with social notworking, the evil side of social networking. How much more productive would we be if we spent the time working that we now spend telling our social networks that we wish it was the weekend or that our kids are sick? Sure, people said the same thing about what the Internet and the seemingly-ubiquitous Solitaire in the workplace were doing to our productivity. It still comes down to personal ethics and responsibility. Social notworking is, I hope, just a cost in the new technology experience; a fascination with new things, not a trend. We’ll get over it. The sooner, the better.
Admittedly, looking back over some of my posts and tweets, I’m guilty. I should have given more thought before assuming that what I had to say was important to the people who might see it. Did anyone really need to know what my opinion was on the sorry state of umpiring in Major League Baseball? I don’t think so.
Pardon me for cluttering your inbox.