Whenever I spend too long thinking about social networking I also think of the lyric from a classic Bruce Springsteen song: “One day we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny…”
Because really, with all due respect to them, most in the social media game are pretty much making it up as they fumble along.
Many social media practitioners are hastily applying the latest evidence emerging about this still infant strand of digital marketing, but in terms of hard and fast rules, they are still very much being developed.
The field is simply way too new to have tried and true ways of doing things. In addition to being a very recent development, the pace of change is breathtaking. No sooner do you think you’ve cottoned onto one aspect of the field, either something will overtake it or it’s fallen into the background.
I think Foursquare is a good example of this. What was seen to be a fun new social network niche player has kind of moved off the radar in recent months (or mine at least).
New precedents, strange bedfellows
And because there are still so few precedents in each of our industries, we are turning to industries we might never have previously considered turning to for role models; for example, the music industry’s encouraging relationship with the digital world it once eschewed.
Now business people are likely to turn to celebrities to learn about managing social networking personas or identities.
This need has arisen because of a growing overlap between personal and social networks.
Very recently it used to be so simple. You kept your professional details and discourse on LinkedIn and your private equivalent on Facebook and Twitter.
But despite being such strange bedfellows, more and more consumers are starting and continuing dialogues with ‘businesses’ – actually they are spokespeople of businesses because as we have pointed out here before, businesses don’t network, their staff do.
Mixing business and pleasure
Then there are business Groups making their way online, like the one instigated by Business Victoria: I am a business owner in Victoria, Australia.
By their nature, groups like this are inviting you to join as an individual, not as a business. And there’s the rub.
Because whenever you post something into the Group – in theory a fantastic way to build your profile and even meet a new customer – you are being represented by your personal page instead of your business page.
Do you really want potential clients, partners or suppliers being able to follow your link to the page that has your personal discourse showing?
None of your business
What you do in your private life may not be the sort of thing you want these business associates to be delving into. What if they don’t like your football team, taste in music, religion, political persuasion or sense of fashion or humour (or lack of either)?
Many celebrities have had this problem for some years now. On the one hand, they want a meaningful and genuine online relationship with their fans. On the other, there’s a great deal that they really just want to be sharing with genuine friends and family. Very rarely are the two compatible.
So they set up a separate page for their fans. Whilst this still can contain some personal insights and goings on, by nature it has to be relatively sanitised so as not to accidentally provide the media with an accidental scoop.
Unfortunately, many celebrities tend to forget which persona they are commenting ‘from’ and constantly find themselves in hot water as we have seen time and time again. Much of this occurs because smartphones constantly accompany their owners, even after a few drinks or other substances.
A hook for your business hat
So when engaging with other business people, perhaps we need to adopt a similar strategy. Perhaps we need to set up a strictly business only page so as to avoid this growing issue.
No, not your business page, as that would be inappropriate in a Group for ‘individuals’. But an alternative personal page where you talk business not pleasure.
Yes, it’s yet another hat to wear and page to manage. But it might well save you from either an embarrassing or undesirable business situation.
Of course there is another danger with so much connectivity. Once you start to engage in business topics under your personal persona, you soon start having business conversations out of office hours, which can mean you never really ‘knock off’. I have to confess that I did this just last weekend when I had no real intention of bringing my work ‘home’.
And while the web may be 24/7, we humans need our sleep, leisure time and so on…
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.