January 19, 2010

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the social awkwardness around social networking

“8 pounds = 2 belt notches.“

That was my last Facebook update. Here’s another one before that:

“My mom told me last night her dream is to become a race car driver. She's 69. (go mom!)”

With these types of updates, and all the comments that ensue, who do I include into my Facebook circle? And then there are the family photos, the discussions, and the wall notes… you get the picture.

Whether you use social networking for work or personal use, awkward situations often come up that need some level of attention. I’m not talking about the horror stories, this isn’t about that. This is about developing a sense of normalcy for a new way to communicate. And the use of social networking has such high variance in subjectivity, that it sometimes causes social awkwardness instead of social networking.

Last week I had an email conversation with a total stranger that I’m not connected to on Facebook. After a few emails, instead of accepting his Facebook connection request, I sent him a LinkedIn connection request describing that I reserve Facebook for close friends and family (I’m a little more open on LinkedIn). This is where the intricacies show up about how individuals use social networking differently. His response: “I don't see the point in connecting here. I reserve this tool just for professional purposes and with people from my industry.”

Here’s someone who knows what he’s doing on LinkedIn, and his usage is clearly different from mine.

We all have similar stories. From those who make inappropriate comments on your status that hundreds of LinkedIn connections get to see, to the LinkedIn contacts who find you on Facebook and want to connect, to those who use your name in public forums that get picked up by Google search, awkwardness abounds with the use of social networking.

As more and more people join these networking sites, as a community, we’ll eventually develop a code of conduct that’s more universally acceptable. We’re just not there yet. But as an advocate of using social media sites, I don’t buy the idea of reducing their use, quite the contrary.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some guidelines to keep in mind for use of social networking sites. Please share your own guidelines in the comment section! I, for one, can always learn more about this.

Know your boundaries. Know your boundaries on each site and how you intend to use them. The clearer you are about how you want to use these platforms, the easier it’ll be for you to stick to your own rules and communicate them to others.

It’s public – very public. In a lot of ways, social networking is just like regular networking… on crack! A casual nudge and a giggle at a face to face meeting becomes a full blown announcement at the podium on social sites. Whether on a professional or a social site, keep in mind that all your contacts and all the contacts of the person you’re “talking to” will see your public comments on their status updates, Q/As, and group discussions. All these sites, including Twitter, offer email access for more private discussions.

It’s subjective – very subjective. The way people use social networking sites vary as much as their personalities and their comfort level with these platforms. Accepting connections, communicating, and sharing information vary immensely based on the individual’s personality and preferences. Keeping that factor in mind clears up much of the confusion.

Twitter is on super crack. It’s much easier to establish connections on Twitter than any other site. And now that Google and other search engines are indexing tweets, exposing too much information or bashing others should be off the table – unless you’re a super celebrity, in which case you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.

Cut everyone some slack. Despite the huge number of profiles on social networking sites, most people are not active users and may not know the little bit of the already established etiquette. Mistakes and faux pas are bound to happen, so let people know how you intend to use the sites, and let it slide.

Warm up before connecting. Just like face to face networking, it’s always nice to warm up to the other person before asking for a connection. Do you walk into a bar and immediately ask for someone’s phone number? Didn’t think so. (if you do, a clear distance from me is highly advised!)

Communicate. Unless you know the person well, a short introductory note with a connection request is basic etiquette. Also, if you’re the recipient of a connection request that you want to deny, it’ll be nice to explain why with a short note.

Writing this blog got me curious about how much information people generally share on social networking sites, so I created the polls below. I’d be very curious to find out the results, so please participate.

On a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest, how much information do you share on Facebook?
I don't use Facebook

On a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest, how much information do you share on LinkedIn?
I don't use LinkedIn
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  1. Your usual flair for picking a great topic, and sharing your views while making the rest of us think a bit. Though I then need to remember to give my am caffeine time to take hold before I read your post... ;>)

    Very cool survey technology (can you share?)

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. Am with you.

    Have been on LinkedIn (LI) for donkey's years, basically accepting invitations to connect much more than sending them. Have been trying the tweetin' (glorified elevator speech-making with spam all over) style for 3 months to assess potential for my needs - which are basically capital formation, both financial and human. No such luck, really, though LI has been useful - but alas not with the check-writers.

    Evidence (http://to.ly/TGe ) shows @bioZhena tweeting has not even driven (discernible) traffic to bioZhena's Weblog (http://to.ly/vUz ).

    Still, I'm all for web2.0 especially as THE tool/medium for sales revenue generation (which needs funding), but I see web2 and especially social-networking-as-business-tool as in its infancy. Am not an expert, want to find one for my pre-money biomed tech company - a big challenge.

    Cannot avoid expressing the same admiration for your survey tool (what a beauty!) - would like to get a hold of it, like your previous comment writer...


    http://to.ly/Nie = http://www.linkedin.com/in/vaclavkirsner

  3. I agree with the previous comments and here are my two-cents on social media networking.

    I started doing it...but am cautious. My choice of social media is linkedin.com. That's where I like to learn and share.

    I think because linkedin is very emotionless media and that's the only place where I prefer to share with the rest of the world [the entire Internet!] .

    As a management consultant I do not get new clients through social media because the trust that you need for a new contract between your client and you cannot be earned there.

    Linkedin is a great vehicle for me for learning, sharing and inspiration.

    I think it's OK not to jump into everything brand new happening on the earth; I choose with care...

  4. I think that everyone has different purposes and uses of social media. As an artist, I use Facebook and Twitter to get my images seen and to let my followers gain insight into the various experiences that inspire me. I use my blog to more fully illuminate my ideas and processes. I am starting to use LinkedIn more to connect with people who can help me in developing myself as a business person.

    I would disagree with this comment, however:

    "...the trust that you need for a new contract between your client and you cannot be earned there (in social media)."

    I have developed very strong, trusting relationships with people through social media. People gain trust in me by seeing my consistency in the quality of my artwork and the completion of projects. I gain trust in them by following their activity and interacting with them.

    I find that social media offers opportunities for your authenticity to become visible and real to people. What better way to develop trust?

    Certainly, when you get to the stage of developing contracts, you need to take it to a more private level, but I find the opportunities to develop and sustain contacts limitless in social media. Boundaries are important, but once you are clear on what to share and what not to share, the internet is your candy store.