Social Media: Perhaps Not so Different at All

by julia.hanigsberg | April 16th, 2012

I clearly hit a nerve the other day with a tweet I sent about social media courtesy. It went something along the lines of: if we’ve never met me please don’t say you’re my “friend” on LinkedIn without at least having the courtesy of saying why you should be in my network. Many retweets and comments followed. The gist was clearly that my annoyance was shared by many (and is a sentiment I’ve seen discussed elsewhere eg by Sit At The Table group members on LinkedIn itself). Since when is a “friend” a total stranger? This flurry on my Twitter account reminded me of a question asked at a recent session on social media hosted by Ryerson University’s Centre for Labour Management Relations for which I was a panelist.  The question was about social media etiquette particularly in the workplace. In some ways etiquette seems a quaint term. On the other hand, as our modes of communication become ever more immediate, our circles of acquaintance become broader and our reach enormous, thinking about what we say and do and how we say and do it perhaps are more important than ever before.

It seems to me the bottom line is this: communication is more than just an open line. In order to be valuable communication must be authentic. Authenticity means that what you say must be genuine and real and be from you in a meaningful sense. It must express who you are in a way that connects you into your social world. This is no more different in person than it is in the social media world. That’s why the words used to describe our relationships still seem to matter to us. “Friend” is different from “Follower”: a new follower is (almost) always a compliment (wow! You think I have something interesting to say!); a new friend is an investment in mutuality (we share a relationship).

What does this mean for social media particularly in our professional lives?

  • Be yourself. That doesn’t mean your unedited after 3 beers self! But it does mean that the people who use social media just to “spam” out a series of corporate communications tend to get boring fast. (At least this is my excuse for the surfeit of tweets about Golda the awesome puppy dog).
  • Invest in relationships: If you don’t monitor/respond/react on social media you lose out on opportunities to foster connections and even damage existing relationships. If I’ve complimented you thank me, RT etc! If I’m complaining about you, you’d better notice.
  • The personal and the professional are intertwined like never before. While we used to be able to draw clear lines between work time and personal time, technology used for professional purposes and for business purposes, these lines have all become much more fuzzy. Controlling these borders is just not going to work so we need to develop policy frameworks that help us create shared understandings and, yes, a new etiquette to help us navigate.
  • Command and control paradigms are going the way of the dodo. You’ve heard it before—leadership is ever more about leveraging relationship, building collaboration and developing engagement. These are hard things to do! I wonder if our universities with their collegial governance structures and leaders who’ve thrived in them will provide models to follow. The reach of social media is both a cause and effect of this paradigm shift.

Ultimately, whether picking up the phone, writing an op-ed in the newspaper, tweeting, connecting through Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook or whatever your favorite network, we look for effective, smart connections. How you build them is the key to success.

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