Thursday, July 19, 2007

some thoughts on social media

As lots of my friends will tell you, I'm quite a sociable creature and I enjoy more than my fair share of on- and off-line networking. Well, it seems that this online social networking lark is actually a good thing. Yes, I know twittering can seem like it's a complete waste of time and you can easily get lost in facebook for hours at a time and end up getting no work done (guilty as charged m'lud) but Clive Thompson discusses how Twitter can help you develop a Social Sixth Sense over at Wired Magazine. It's a good article and I agree with Clive's findings.

In fact, Deirdre, Lori Faye and I were only discussing last night about different industries and how suppliers get chosen and a lot of it, historically, is down to personal relationships and that if you're not in London, it was very likely you'd miss out on opportunities - we were talking about TV production in particular. And I wasn't terribly surprised at that conclusion. Ultimately, people buy people, all other things being more or less equal.

But of course, before we were all online or had mobile phones, those personal relationships meant being in the same physical location and meant nights out, lunches and morning coffees with your clients. And if you weren't in the same town, then it was very unlikely you'd ever bump into them serendipitously in a bar or event. So it often meant you lost out because you weren't top of mind with the client so someone else gets the gig.

I believe online social media is helping to change that. Yes, business is still about relationships, but you can have relationships with people via the internet (messaging, email, blogs, communities, forums etc). It means you can manage more simultaneous relationships than ever before (thus increasing your chances of stuff happening). And you can serendipitously 'bump' into someone somewhere like facebook (you're in the same random group for example or have a mutual friend) and a lot of this is happening not by being in the same physical location but by being in the same *virtual* location. And this certainly seems to be the case for me. Lots of people feel they 'know' me because they read my blog or they read my facebook or twitter updates or see a videocast or listen to a podcast of me or look at my pictures on flickr. And I certainly do generate work on the back of this visibility.

But there lies a deeper issue. Once you put yourself out there online, it's always there so you have to be prepared that absolutely *anyone*, in theory, can access your stuff (leaving the identity theft issue to one side). This means that the divide between work and personal life is much more blurred than ever before because the internet is 24/7. Gone, or at least, going are the days when you were one person between the hours of 9am to 6pm at Acme Inc and then as soon as you got home you become someone else. The way I see it, this is all my life and I'm just going to be me. It's just too hard to pretend to be someone else for 9 hours a day as well as doing the job. Believe me, I tried it early on in my career and it was exhausting and emotionally draining. And I had many a heated discussion with a male work colleague who was more than happy to compartmentalise his life. I've never been very good at that.

But what happens to all those folks who say work in a boring office and push paper around for a government organisation or financial firm? The workers who only do the job because it pays the bills. The individuals who actually hate their job. And maybe the ones who don't have honed social skills in real life, let alone a virtual life. The ones for whom the thought of anyone at work knowing *anything* about their private life is abhorrent. I've heard tell of women who don't tell anyone they work with whether or not they're married, have children, or even which area of town they live. I can't imagine being like that, but I'm quite sure there are plenty people out there who just want to remain very very private. How is that going to work going forward? And how much will that matter? Does this mean the digital divide will get bigger?

Will there be a time when it's no longer possible to have a very separate work and home life in our mobile/web ten point seven and a half world? Will the prospect of privacy become irrelevant as the myspace generation start to do the jobs we're doing now? And what happens when they start to become MPs or judges or doctors and all those pictures emerge of them dancing the night away, scantily clad in a bikini and clearly being stimulated by more than coca cola? Will we care, does it matter, and does it affect your ability to do your job? And will it mean the tabloids can no longer have their fun exposing folks as it's all out there anyway?

And if that's not enough to worry about, some employers are claiming ownership of their employee content if it was created during working hours. Another good reason never to have a proper job again. I have absolutely no wish to hand over all my contacts details willy nilly to any employer. And where does the data protection act sit on this one anyway? Hmm.

I don't have the answers, maybe there aren't any and we'll just have to wait and see what happens but these are questions I often ponder about.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I've missed your tweets Helen!

    Frequently wondering if you're ok or if asking if you are ok is a tad intrusive.

    Everything is contextual so please don't think we don't miss the lightest of twitters.

    Its not what you're doing. You can make it up if need be (I do occasionally cuz I'm naughty)

    Its more an affirmation that its all good.

    And on that point so is this post :)


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