It’s Not Personal

Recently, I made the decision to disconnect from a bunch of “Facebook friends.” I culled my list by about 20%. My criteria? Not totally scientific, but if I’d never met you in person or had any significant direct interaction (or it had been 20+ years since that last happened), you only contacted me when you needed me to do something for you, or you were primarily using FB for business/promotional reasons, you were pretty much guaranteed to get axed. I dumped virtually all the brands I was following at the same time, too, taking that list from 150+ down to under 25, most of which are in my neighborhood.

There’s been some blowback. To say the least.

But here’s the thing: it’s not personal. Really it’s not. That’s why, if you’re one of those who did get cut, I’m probably still following you on Twitter and/or connected to you on LinkedIn. I’m not trying to be a douchebag, and I’m definitely not trying to say I’m too “important” for anyone.

What I am saying is that I’m really, really busy. We all are. Cases in point:

  •  I haven’t seen my best friend from grad school in over 2 years, and he lives less than 100 miles from me.
  • I have two nieces and a nephew I adore, and I only see them about 2-3 times a year. I talk to their father, my only sibling, maybe twice a year outside those visits.
  • Up until recently, when I’ve been fortunate enough to see him 3 times in the last month, I had only seen one of my best friends in DC twice since his son was born. His son will be two in two weeks.
  • I haven’t seen a dear girlfriend and her new son in over 6 months. Other close friends? I saw them in the past week, but it had been 3+ months since the last time, in which time their little girl got her first tooth (two more on the way) and is standing with almost no help.
  • Another girlfriend and I recently had to set up a regular monthly “date” to make sure we didn’t fall off each others’ calendars, and she and I have been close for almost a decade.

Clearly, I have a hard time keeping up with those who are truly my nearest and dearest. Do I really care about the latest promotional blog post from someone I met once at a conference or what someone I haven’t seen or spoken to since 1989 did last weekend? Well., maybe, but remember: attention doesn’t scale (which may be my new motto).

What hard choices have you made recently to enable you to focus on what – and who – really matters?

Forget “Don’t Be Evil.” What about “Don’t Be Creepy”?

I got back from Tech to find an email from one of my coworkers entitled: Last night Facebook blew my mind. It was about his first encounter with FB Social Ads. For those who haven’t encountered it yet, FB is now using your fan status and friend lists to create REALLY targeted ads. For instance, if I were a fan of Dell and you were a friend of mine, you might log in to see an ad indicating that Elizabeth Weaver Engel is a fan of Dell Deals. It appears that FB rolled this out around the holidays (although it was in the works for a while). A vigorous debate ensued on the Beaconfire !chat email channel, with people evenly divided over whether seeing that a friend had endorsed (wittingly or not) a product or service would make us *more* likely to purchase that product or service, or whether it would TOTALLY creep you out.

In the end, as with most things FB, it is possible to turn it off (Settings –> Privacy Settings –> News Feed & Wall –> Social Ads), but also as with most things FB, the default setting is to allow it. And they weren’t terribly public about the whole thing (check that 1 am timestamp).

And, as my colleague pointed out:

It was easy enough to click to become a fan of Dell computers. However, it gives me no way to “un-fan” myself, or to opt out of any advertising.

And at no point did it say, “we’ll be using your name and profile image to sell Dell computers to your friends.”

What’s the lesson for associations? It’s all about permissions, baby, and don’t assume you have them if you don’t ask.


Setting Technology Policies That Make Sense in a Web 2.0 World

On Tuesday, September 9, I had the opportunity to speak to the Potomac Employers Roundtable. A group of about 30 people, largely senior HR and Administration professionals from a wide range of organizations (PR consultancies, HR consultancies, nonprofits, and for profits) gathered in the board room of Williams & Mullen bright and early to discuss the role web 2.0 technologies can play in our organizations, and what implications they might have for office policy.

I opened the session by sharing the stories of some of my recent experiencesaround this topic and then talking about what differentiates Web 1.0 from Web 2.0 (short version: collaboration!), and some of the things Web 2.0 allows users to do:

  • Build their own sophisticated web content quickly and easily
  • Pull the information they want to themselves in the way they want it
  • Enjoy a more dynamic, collaborative online experience

We then had a spirited conversation about various Web 2.0 technologies – blogs, microblogs (aka Twitter), wikis, RSS, and SocNets (aka Facebook and LinkedIn) – with attendees weighing in with their own experiences, personal and professional, using them.

The focus then turned to the topic of the day: policy setting. A recent survey undertaken by FaceTime and New Diligence clearly illustrates the extent to which social networks have become embedded in the business environment. Over 93% of organizations have some level of social networking use on their network.

HR professionals have two major areas of policy concern: one, what restrictions, if any, do you place on your publics/audiences in using Web 2.0 technologies, and two, what restrictions, if any, do you place on your staff in using Web 2.0 technologies?

Externally, there is the persistent concern that someone will post something nutty and the organization will be sued. The best (and easiest) three techniques to ameliorate this risk are:

  • Work with your attorney to write a strong disclaimer
  • Let anyone read, but make people identify themselves before contributing
  • Let the community police itself

Another major concern is the issue of voice, or authenticity. Before you start thinking that your organization should launch a CEO blog, because, “Hey, everyone (aka “our competition”) is doing it, right? And we don’t want to be left behind!” think about who’s actually going to write it and what the process is going to be. Sure, if your CEO is going to commit to posting frequently, and she is going to write her posts herself, and she has something to say, go for it. If your “CEO” blog is actually going to be written by your marketing department, then run through PR, then vetted by your attorney, and THEN posted, forget it. People’s BS detectors are particularly strong online these days. Don’t forget – authenticity is the new black.

Organizations also worry about a loss of control – of their image, of their information, of their brand, of the conversation. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but control is an illusion. Your image, your brand, your conversation is ALREADY shaped by your audience – you just don’t know about it. And until Web 2.0 brought that process out of people’s living rooms and onto the Internet, you had no way of participating, either. Now your constituents can participate in the creation of knowledge and you can participate authentically in their communities.

So let’s say someone does say something bad about your organization in a public (Internet) forum. Hey, he was already thinking it, and probably saying it to people he knows personally. But now you have the opportunity, as an authentic participant in that community, to address it publicly – politely, truthfully, gently, but publicly. You have the opportunity to stop misinformation before it spreads and to address someone’s problems or issues with your organization. You know what you call someone who has a problem with an organization that’s resolved quickly and well? A convert – an evangelist.

Internally, from the purely geek side, because these technologies run (with a few exceptions, i.e., IM and Twitter) completely on the web, organizations aren’t adding network security risk, although there is certainly a risk of bandwidth overload. Yes, you might have to increase your pipe. Or prohibit streaming audio and video. But there’s a lot of really useful stuff on YouTube and other vodcast sites these days, in addition to the monkey races, so you probably want to think pretty carefully before you block them.

But in the end, doesn’t it all come down to a fear that our staff members are going to waste time IMing their friends and updating their Facebook status, rather than working hard at their assigned tasks? Sure, but that’s a management issue, not a technology issue. If Bob is bored and unmotivated in his job, he’s going to goof off whether he has access to IM or not.

You always want to have a reason and a goal for launching into any of these technologies, not least of which because there are so many options people are already starting to experience social networking fatigue. But assuming you had a good business reason for permitting access to Facebook in the first place (and if you don’t, I can give you one – do a search for your company name or profession and see how many items turn up), don’t ban it just because Bob’s manager is doing a poor job. Don’t make technology a scapegoat for a management problem. And by the way? If you block Facebook, Bob’s just going to spend 20 out of every 60 minutes on a coffee break.

The thing is, the world is changing. The young people who are coming into our organizations as employees or customers have different experiences of and expectations about technology. The sharp distinctions many of us have made between work life and personal life, between “professional” me and “real” me, are collapsing. You want to attract and retain Millennials? Then you have to meet them where they live, and it’s not on fax machines and email.