Parting Thoughts

Adventures in Social Media

Posted 17 May 2009

I was not an early adopter of social media, being of twice the optimum age. But in the past few months, I’ve become much more involved with it, and I now believe it is going to be central to the growth of my business.

I’ve been on LinkedIn for many years, and found it moderately useful as a sort of distributed address book and business contact list. But its role in my life was very small, and entirely limited to business contacts.

Three years ago, I started getting invitations from friends on Facebook, which I accepted but rarely did anything with it.

About a year ago, the pace of invitations I was getting climbed, and I put some work into my profile. I connected with a bunch of high-school friends I haven’t seen in 35 years. It has been fun, but odd, to get little glimpses into the life of these folks—some of them were a big part of my growing up. The odd part is that, for the most part, these are people I never would have had any contact with if it were not for an online social network, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever see them in person.

A few months ago, I started paying more attention to Facebook, motivated more by business than personal desires. I went through my address book and invited people to connect; and I scanned the contacts of my contact to find other people I knew. In the past 20 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of people, and Facebook has proven to be an easy way to reconnect, however tenuously, to many people who I would like to stay connected with but realistically I wasn’t likely to, out in the “real world”.

With a few days of effort, I increased my Facebook friends from 25 to 250. (If only I had started 10 years ago, I would have thousands of “friends”.)

And then, of course, there’s Twitter. I’ve had an account for a couple of years, but only used it occasionally, usually at conferences. Recently I’ve gotten more involved, though I’m still not a prolific twitterer. (More on Twitter in an upcoming past.)

I’m of the wrong generation for all of this to come naturally, despite being something of an early adopter. I’m just starting to get real value, both personal and business, out of social networks, and I still have more questions than answers. Among them:

  • Do I maintain separate networks of personal friends and business friends?
  • Can I get myself to post frequent thoughts and updates?
  • Do I use Twitter, Facebook status, and LinkedIn updates in concert, or do different things with each?
  • How do I filter out the stuff I really care about?

Separating Business and Personal Networks

One thing I’m still coming to grips with is the blending of my personal and business contacts. LinkedIn is almost all business, but Facebook and Twitter are a mix (especially Facebook).

The easiest thing to do was to give up on separating my personal and business networks. That’s what I’ve done so far, though I doubt that it’s the best strategy.

The question is, do both groups of people have the same interests? For the most part, I think not. There’s also an interesting twist added by mixing the two groups up, but ultimately I think I’ll separate out my family and close friends network, in one way or another.

Dealing with the Flood

One I had hundreds of contacts, and the social network news feeds became prominent, the next challenge has been dealing with the flood of status updates, tweets, and so forth. To read all of it, even without responding to anything, seems like it would take hours every day.

My solution, so far, has been to simply dip in an out when the mood strikes me. I’m sure I’m missing all sorts of interesting stuff, but I haven’t wanted to devote the time to sorting through all the cruft to get to the nuggets. Some kind of filtering seems like the only real solution.

The Instinct to Communicate

It takes a lot of time and energy to make effective (or even ineffective!) use of all these social networks, and in the early days of using them the energy in is a lot higher than the value coming out. I have no doubt about the long-term value, but it’s still hard to spend the time it takes to keep up with even one of my online social networks.

I’ve been blogging for three years and have never sustained anything like the frequency of posting that I aspire to. I have all sorts of articles running around in my head—the legacy, perhaps of a dozen years writing newsletters and magazine columns. But they take time to commit to bits. What you’re reading now is one that’s been rolling around inside for a couple of months and finally made it out, sitting in a cafe in Santa Rosa while I wait to pick up my daughter from ice skating.

I’d like to get up to at least one blog post a week. And to several tweets a day. It takes a big shift in mindset, though, to communicate this frequently and proactively—it’s an opportunity that didn’t exit prior to online social networks. We’ll see if I get there.

My Success Story

The biggest chunk of business value that I’ve ever gotten from these networks occurred a few weeks ago, when I was looking for a couple dozen web designers who I could interview and get feedback on our new product. I’d exhausted my direct network, and the step to cold calling is a big one.

So I used a LinkedIn question, in addition to a Facebook status update and a Tweet, and with a few days I had introductions to a few dozen people. Because these were introductions, and not cold calls, even though I had no prior direct contact with these people more than half of them have spent an hour with me in a web-based demo and phone discussion.

These networks were a fantastic resource for me. They allowed me to make a casual request of hundreds of people to whom I would have hesitated to email, and I got responses from a good scattering of them—and often not from the people I would have predicted, if I had to select a smaller number to contact.