Around the time that my wife was pregnant with our son, I got very into genealogy. Suddenly it seemed very important to understand my backstory, and then my wife’s backstory, and even the backstory of any friends who were silly enough to mention a possibly famous ancestor to me. Since I’m a computer guy, I started mining every source I could find, which at the time included RootsWeb, Ancestry.com, and FamilySearch.org. Each of those sites gave me a way to grab a branch from someone else’s tree which I saw connected to mine and to easily graft it onto my own. I wildly grabbed all of the underbrush I could find, and got to almost 6000 people in my son’s tree. In truth, I was simply taking many other people’s unconfirmed research and adding it into my own. In retrospect, I had no idea whether any of the data was actually correct, and on some level I didn’t care. I just wanted to grow a bigger tree. I started to think of this activity as “collecting souls”.
Today’s social media landscape lends itself to the same type of activity. It seems that many people simply want to be connected, linked, added to as many others’ cadres of souls as possible. But what does that actually mean? We could each grab some census data and, for those of us with a programming bent, simply stuff everyone into our guffins*.
It’s important to understand what your own social media strategy is. It may well be to decide you don’t have one, and that may be fine, too. But many of the social media opportunities out there will either follow us usefully or dog us throughout time based on how we use them. I thought I’d give a little outline of my own strategies for how I use the main social media outlets that I frequent to possibly help you think about your own strategy.
In each case, I’m not going to talk about all of the spam invitations, offers, etc., specifically. I try to squelch them as much as I can and also to actively report spammers where there are mechanisms to do so. To me, this is a part of our social responsibility. If the spammers continue unchecked, then all of these platforms will degrade into a useless muck of porn come-one, low-cost pharmaceutical ads, and the like.
The largest social network in the world isn’t a big focus for me. I signed up for Facebook as soon as it started to get some press, but I’ve never really used it, with a few exceptions. For instance, when my class at Exeter was about to hold our 30th reunion, there was a move to sign everyone up on Facebook so that we could sort of catch up in advance of seeing each other. So the Exeter Class of 1979 is a big part of my social graph there. I also connected early on with most of my relatives because that felt like a good place to interact with my largely non-technical family. It turns out that only a few of my relatives seem to actively use it, at least based on my only occasional perusal of my feed.
I’ve connected my blog to Facebook because I know that some folks who work in the SharePoint world, as I do, like to consume the content there. (This gets me occasional questions from my family and friends like “Do you ever post anything on your blog in English?”)
So who do I connect with on Facebook? I rarely ask anyone to connect there, and because I don’t really consider it a platform that I actually use, I am fairly indiscriminate in accepting invitations. If people I work with want to see pictures of me drinking beer in college or on my beach vacation in 1992 with my family , then so be it.
Business Use: Low
Personal Use: Low
LinkedIn has been, to me, the serious outlet in the crowd. I think I signed up for it way back in 2001 or 2002, and I kept my invitations and acceptances to only people I had worked with for some considerable time and could vouch for. Over time, I altered that to also include people who I admired and had at least met and had a decently long conversation with; someone who was a sympatico on some level and to whom I’d like to be related.
I get invitations all the time from people I ‘ve never heard of, who want to link with me because we’re members of the same LinkedIn group or because they like my SPServices jQuery library or something. I’m always flattered that someone took the time to look me up and ask to connect, but I don’t always feel that there’s any reason to connect with them. Maybe it’s the way Momma brought me up, but it feels rude to simply click the ignore button, so I’ll often write a little note back with the rejection explaining a little bit about how I think about using LinkedIn. But sometimes I’ll let the invitations back up and end up simply clicking the ignore button on a bunch of therm. This actually makes me feel bad, but I get over it. So, for LinkedIn, my rules are somewhat stringent, but there are always exceptions.
LinkedIn is excellent for understanding how to approach someone I’m meeting in a professional situation. In the technical orbs that I work within, there’s usually some connection between me and the person I’m going to meet. We either have worked in the same place at different times or have worked with someone we’re both linked to. If nothing else, it’s an icebreaker.
Business use: High
Personal use: Low
Foursquare to me is a bit of a lark. I like the fact that they’ve recently beefed up the point-gathering capabilities, which makes it fun to check in places. I even like getting the badges. I get invitations from time to time from people, and I usually accept them. If someone really cares where I’m having dinner on the weekend with my family, then so be it. I don’t use it all that regularly, and I’ll often check in without notifying my other networks (I’ve connected it to Facebook and Twitter). But it can be useful to check in with notification that I’m at a conference or meeting somewhere so that I can find the people I’m looking for.
Business use: Low
Personal use: Low
Twitter is really my social outlet of choice. I use it primarily to communicate about things I learn and find useful in my professional world. Sure, I occasionally say something about what I’m doing, but I try to keep the “I’m eating a ham sandwich” tweets to a minimum.
Twitter is the social channel of choice for the SharePoint crowd. (I’ll talk about SharePoint a bit more in Part Two.) We use it to share links to blog posts or articles we like, ask for assistance, and otherwise banter amongst ourselves about what we are working on. The SharePoint community is the most amazingly strong technical community I’ve ever interacted with, and it may well be because of outlets like Twitter which allow us to interact on a regular basis with birds of a feather from around the world.
To me, Twitter gives me the right mix of valuable content and connections along with the ability to make surprisingly strong personal social connections.
Business use: High
Personal Use: Low
In conclusion, as you leave your footprints all over the InterWebs, try to think about what sort of social legacy you are building. Increasingly, it is becoming our resume, as published to the world. When we research people for hiring, we are as likely to Google them or look them up on Facebook as we are to read their traditional resume. Be sure that your social resume says what you want it to say about you. We also judge people on what and how they talk about themselves and their daily life. For better or for worse, social media allows us to make even more rapid snap judgments which may or may not be fair.
And while it’s fun to collect souls indescriminately, make sure you know which ones you need and have value for you, and which ones you can allow to stay out there on their own. It’s a big, big world, and no matter how much fun it all is, we aren’t all related to everyone.
* A good friend of mine swears there’s a Stephen King story in which a monster collects people’s souls in something called a “guffin”. We’ve never been able to find the reference, but I like to use the word anyway: guffin – a container for storing souls.