Facebook is like a dinner party where all the guests invite themselves. There are different types of networks, the formal ones that are created within work, the informal ones that are used socially, the focussed ones around specific interests of objectives, but any truly social network is… well… sociable.
The trouble is that we live compartmentalised lives. We have work colleagues and friends. Sometimes they cross over. But within our friends, we have school friends, friends from old jobs, friends who we used to date and friends who we just met on the bus. Some friends stop being friends, some become closer friends and some just bumble along, speaking to you twice a year until you realise you’ve known them forever.
We have a social networking tool at work. I’ve befriended everyone. I mean, why not? It’s not as if it’s ‘important’. And of course, it’s not ‘me’ that posts on it. It’s my work persona.
Did i mention this schizophrenic tendency? Yes, i have multiple digital personas. It’s easier that way. Facebook Me is quite relaxed, but acutely aware of the breadth of friends he addresses every time he posts. MySpace Me is a photographer. MySpace Me doesn’t share many friends with Facebook Me.
Corporate Me has several fragmented personalities of his own. Yammer Me is quite young and only knows people from work, but LinkedIn Me knows mainly people i used to work with. LinkedIn Me is quite self serving and also tries to befriend people i work with now and sometimes because he’s fickle, a few friends drop by too, but they tend to feel a bit lost and out of place.
There are a few other dusty Me’s around; one that used to inhabit a university space, but he is discarded now, although you can still find him dozing on the internet, and several more specialist Me’s, like on that lived on a dating site for a while and several that inhabited virtual environments like Habbo for a while when i was researching these spaces.
Clearly i try to never get all the Me’s together in one place. That would be embarrassing. Facebook me would talk about the the gig i got drunk at, whilst LinkedIn Me would stand in the corner and not really talk to anyone.
Then there’s my dad.
I forgot to mention the other category of people on social networks. Parents.
As organisations try to forge social networks, they try to inhabit spaces that are driven by social needs and energies. To be successful, you need far more than just technology, although the technology is critical.
Yammer Me is disappointed. His world is, to be honest, pretty ropey. It’s like Facebook with a chronic case of jet lag. Everything works, but not as well as Facebook. The trouble is that the illusion is broken. MySpace used to be rubbish. It was slow, clunky, counter intuitive and i loved it. I loved it because it gave me access to the musicians i wanted to talk to. Directly. They would reply. The technology enabled me and i didn’t mind that it was rubbish.
Yammer is just rubbish. My reasons for being on it are not sufficiently strong to keep me engaged. The population is also small, meaning that the people on it are, essentially, nerds like me, so when the party comes, we’re all just standing in the corner. It’s like the worst first date ever.
When you get the technology right, next you need to get the engagement in place. People need a reason to connect. The environment needs to meet the needs of social engagement and purpose. Be it gardening, finding a new job or agreeing which pub to meet at, it needs a purpose, or it’s just like being on the phone with nothing to say.
And then there’s your dad.
Suddenly, you’re plunged into unknown territory. It’s happened to other people i know, but usually they’ve got away with it. Sam’s dad is on Facebook, and we’re friends, but Sam’s dad used to go to circus school. He is most definitely cool. Sally’s mum is on Facebook, but she’s Canadian, lovely and totally nuts. Definitely harmless and not likely to embarrass anyone.
My dad is amazing, but probably not cool. Or maybe, worse, he will join up and be cooler than me. Maybe my friends will befriend him in droves and suddenly he’s the one invited to all the gigs and i’m the one left at home, desperately chatting to my nerdy Yammer buddies.
Social networks. This is hard work.