I recently crafted my company’s Social Media Guidelines (and had some fun in the process) and was thinking back to one line of advice in that article: “Don’t Forget Your Day Job.” For some reason, that line kept coming up in my mind so I thought that I would explore it a bit more.
The problem with Social Media is that it is extremely pervasive AND persuasive. But perhaps this is a good thing as well. Let’s follow these ideas a bit more. Pervasiveness is defined as “spreading widely throughout an area or a group of people”. The entire concept of Social Media is to engage in conversations with friends, family, coworkers and strangers via a variety of different mediums: blogs, forums, wikis, social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Nowadays, building a site that either is purely social or has social components to it is very common. If one does not build in any kind of social aspect to one’s online presence, you are no better than writing in a journal by hand and putting it in a drawer. There is nothing social about that, but of course the choice is up to the author. They might not want their thoughts, feelings, ideas, pains and laughs shared with other.
Personally, I think communication is key but this is where other arguments come into play. Social Media takes away true human interaction. People can hide behind a screen and keyboard, assume (dangerously) other roles and personalities, and talk about just about anything. Dying are the arts of letter writing, now replaced with quick emails, tweets, instant messages and the like. People send calendar invitations instead of picking up a phone to ask about a person’s availability. But, it is this instant nature of our technologically-bolstered communication has contributed to the pervasiveness of Social Media.
Let’s explore the persuasiveness of Social Media. We all know that it is readily available. But why are people hooking into it so quickly now? For one, it’s really easy to do. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr and the like have created communication and sharing environments that can be set up in minutes. Facebook is a perfect example of how a service can be so enticing. It can be used to reconnect with old classmates and friends that you have drifted away from for one reason or another. As a person grows older, more distractions come into play and people choose different paths. In junior high and high school, people had many commonalities. But once graduation happens, people head off in different directions.
When I was younger, it was difficult to continue lines of communication without a lot of extra effort. Sure, you could connect via email and the phone, but this was well before cell phones and email on cell phones, or even email for that matter. Today’s high school and college generation now have the ability, through Social Media among other things, to interact real time and from just about any location on the globe. And with the older generations, past friendships are being reformed because of Social Media. The fact that mainstream media is now fully adopting Social Media as a viable communication channel (e.g., Facebook’s partnership with CNN during Obama’s inauguration speech) is causing many of the nay-sayers to re-look at Social Media and causing generational and social gaps to be closed. At this point, to me it seems that the draw of Social Media as a mechanism to deepen one’s communication and friendship is hard to resist.
This is all fine and dandy until it starts to consume you. There will be a backlash coming, or perhaps a change in mentality by companies who see Social Media as more of a hindrance than an aid. This is where it is critical to truly think out your own social presence and see how it affect you personally or professionally. I’m lucky enough that my job as a Technology Evangelist and Technology Blogger allows me to fully explore Social Media as a powerful marketing, PR, support, news and communication mechanism. But others may not be so lucky.
So I circle back to one of the lines in the Social Media Guidelines that I wrote: “Don’t Forget Your Day Job.” If your job is one that allows you to use Social Media to the advantage of your company, then you simply need to make sure that you use common sense when you do it. It is difficult to split that which is personal from that which is professional. When I first started really diving into Social Media over 2 years ago, I took the path of splitting the personal from the professional. I registered a professional Twitter name for work and maintained my personal one for other things. What I found in my case, though, was that this was very difficult to do and especially difficult to do well. After struggling with this and testing out things, I found that in my case, it was better to simply merge the two with my personal brand (”HighTechDad“).
In my day job as the Technology Evangelist for Cloud Computing provider GoGrid, I discovered that many of the people that I was communicating with under my personal brand, were also an audience for what I had to say professionally. This was very lucky indeed so I set out to build up my personal brand professionally. It was simply amazed at how many “techy dads” were also developers, sysadmins, DBA’s, programmers or people involved in the tech industry in some way. They needed the information that I had to give both personally and professionally.
While I was lucky with my melding, this might not be the case for you. So when you go out into Social Media, be sure that you follow the guidelines that I have outlined and remember who pays your salary. Can you justify your actions to your boss or CEO when they confront you on why you posted an inappropriate picture to Flickr or a comment on a blog or Tweeted some sort of a trade secret? Even something as seemingly innocent as “I’m working on XYZ and really don’t like the direction it’s going” can be potentially harmful to your company. The thing about Social Media is, people are listening: your friends, family, acquaintances and neighbors, but so are your competitors, analysts and even the press. You are well advised to think and then re-think about how you want to be perceived within Social Media as an individual as well as an employee.
I would dare put forth that we are in an age of extreme, rapid communication, more so than any other time. There are probably many causes of this, better technology and more people using it to say the least. We are closer as a community than we ever have been, yet splintered and fractured as well, due to differing view points and ideas. But at least we can identify them now much more easily. They can be researched and are definitely less hidden and foreign than before. Social Media is one of the driving forces behind community-building at large. Just remember, how you do it can impact you, your brand, your company and its brand and those listening to you. Use it wisely!