Archive for March, 2008

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Watch your words

10 March 2008

SXSW Interactive continues in Texas, and amid the announcements of party attendance, hangovers, and meetups, some insightful stuff does bubble to the top. Tiff Fehr, a smart and talented Digital Web Magazine staffer, posted about her experiences on day three of the conference. The final point she makes is an excellent one for anyone in the public eye, whether a writer, a software developer, or even a curmudgeon — you are your brand. Remember this when you post to social networks.

People who are interested in your work will look at your blog, sure. But they’ll also look at your Flickr pictures, your Facebook comments, your Twitter tweets. All those together build onto any brand that you intentionally try to develop for yourself. That can work really well for you, supplementing your corporate identity with a bit of humanity or humor or dynamism. But it can also torpedo the hard work you’ve done to establish a brand in the first place. Sure, you might look respectable on your blog, but when your Flickr feed is full of dog fights and you shoot off your foul mouth in your YouTube phonecam videos, you’re not doing your brand any favors. And by extension, you’re not helping your business, whether you work for yourself or someone else.

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When social networks die…

7 March 2008

I found myself saying to a colleague this morning, “Orkut has gone the way of Friendster.” We were mulling over the reasons why certain social networks last, while others go the way of the summer fling.

I’ll admit it, I join every social network I see, more or less. If there’s anything particularly intriguing about a site, I’ll throw my hat into the ring. And I’ve found that the networks that I continue to use are the ones that offer me something other than social networking as a primary draw. Why do I still use Flickr? Because no matter what computer I’m on, no matter where in the world I am, I can find my pictures. While I’m not a knitter, I have learned from Ravelry members that it’s the bees knees, not primarily because of the other people, but because it offers tools to knitters that they’ve not had before — at least not at this level. The fact that there are other people in the Ravelry world to share with is just the proverbial icing.

Having things in common isn’t enough to sustain a social networking relationship. Perhaps it is in the real world — you can sit down over coffee and talk about the finale of The Wire, or the silly Olympics logo. But asynchronous relationships based on two-dimensional interactions are transient. There’s not much to hold your interest, and plenty of other shiny things to distract you.

For a social network to be really meaningful, it has to first be in service to the individual member somehow. It has to draw the user to it for a reason other than connecting with other people. Interest in Facebook (or is it facebook?) is waning, but it hasn’t tanked as quickly as Friendster (or mySpace) because someone is always sending you a new app, or a Zombie Bite, or an invitation to a game of Scrabble. But I sense even that will lose its appeal soon enough.

So, what explains the popularity and sustained success of LinkedIn? I’m still not sure how it fits into the paradigm. LinkedIn is different things for different people. For me, it’s a place to keep a skeleton copy of my c.v., and a place to keep track of people I am not regularly in touch with — so if someone’s email address changes, I’ll still be able to find her. For recruiters, it has very little to do with the social networking, and a lot about the résumé. Perhaps that’s the answer, then — it’s the Flickr of résumés. It’s a place for me to maintain a pointer to me, in case anyone’s looking for me. My relationships with others on LinkedIn are less important to me than my own details…but it sure is fun to find old friends from high school, and see where they ended up.

I guess the lesson learned here is, social networking for the sake of it, simply to exploit similarities in relationships, will always be short-lived. Anticipation, then excitement, then early adoption, then critical mass, then waning. It’s the relationships based on more than just proximity (even virtual proximity) that really seem to last.