Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Getting Real about Social Networking Adoption

By Dennis D. McDonald

Professional networking guru Scott Allen left a thoughtful comment on my blog post Network Unto Others As You Would Have Others Network Unto You a couple of days ago. He noted that people don’t share the same personal and professional networking priorities.

The ability to tailor one’s preferences, he suggested, seems to be a desirable feature for people involved in networks where people will come into contact with others who have different views of how open or closed they are to sharing information.

One of the realities of the expansion in the number of personal and professional online networks in recent years (such as Facebook, Linkedin, and their brethren) is that each one promotes a different definition of “friend.” Add to that how people differ concerning their willingness to mix personal and professional networking in a single system (some care about the distinction, others don’t) and you begin to see potential compatibility problems across networks.

I wrote about related topics last May in Who Are You and Why Are You Calling Me That? where I pointed out that different definitions of “friend” by online social and professional networks had a variety of different implications related to a diverse set of factors including emergency response communications, barriers to linking, system maintenance headaches, relationship complexity, manipulation potential, and privacy control.

Even within the same network we have differing views of relationships. In Facebook, for example, if you add a little application called “Top Friends” to your profile, you can designate a subset of your “friends” as “top friends.”

I have three people in my “top friends” list. Does that mean everyone else is a “non-top friend”? Am I running the risk of hurting the feelings of someone who thinks he or she should be on that list?

Okay, I’ll admit I’m not losing any sleep over that. As disparate as social networks are, there are efforts afoot to facilitate social network portability across networks. I’m sure progress will be made along those lines, eventually.

A more serious consideration for me is that I need to “professionally network” with people who have no idea what Twitter is and for whom Facebook is the height of technological sophistication [don’t worry, I’m aware how technologically sophisticated Facebook is]. I don’t mean those comments in a disparaging way. My clients range from social software company CEO’s to died-in-the-wool press-the-flesh marketing types who care more about body language than emoticons.

Kfir Pravda writes about a related topic in Tailor Your Social Media Strategy to Your Industry’s Rules of Engagement. Among other things, Kfir writes about “the myth of social media openness.” Kfir contrasts the ethos of Internet industry professionals with, say, telecommunications company professionals who tend to be much more wary when it comes to “social media openness.”

Now, before you go running to your keyboard, I’m well aware of demographic differences andhow early and late adopters behave. I’ve been a technology consultant for a long time. Some people “get it” right away, some people come along after a while, and some people never “get it.” Telling people that everything will be hunky-dory after all us baby boomers die off just doesn’t cut it when customers need help today when dealing with the communications practices of diverse groups.

This need to work with multiple groups is nowhere more apparent than when addressing the communication practices of professional and trade associations. There you typically find very large numbers of practicing professionals drawn together and sharing a common set of professional and social characteristics. You will also typically find a very wide range in social media openness that strongly impacts development of effective strategy and tactics for using technology to promote communications, relationships, and information sharing.

In such diverse circumstances it pays to be clear-thinking about what is really involved in getting “everyone on the same page.”  One approach is not to start with “web strategy” per se but rather to start with the need to align overall communications strategies with an organization’s unique business vision. In the process this may very well mean defining social networking and social media initiatives that combine both “traditional” and “social” media so that both “early adopters” and “late adopters” can participate in the same program. (I think the technical term for this is “not putting all your eggs in the same basket.”)

This approach may seem quite basic to a lot of folks. That’s to be expected. Having witnessed a variety of technological revolutions, by now it’s quite obvious to me that, in the real world of corporations, organizations, and government agencies, we don’t always have the luxury of dealing with 20-something technological wizards who are constantly glued to their keyboards and cell phones.

As Morpheus said so long ago, “Welcome to the real world, Neo.”

Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald

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