Monday, 17 September 2012

Socially Challenged

As an enthusiastic and relatively prolific Social Media user - Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Blogger in particular - I have been harbouring a shameful little secret.  I never really got facebook, don't really like it and, despite having had an account for years, seldom, if ever, actively engage with my supposed 'friends'.

We hear much in the L&D world these days about how the world has changed, how the drive is to connect people to knowledge in a quick and engaging manner, via as many and as appropriate channels as possible.  And many of us have heard the message and are doing just that - via 'social' tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

I've had a #fb account for years, would guiltily sneak in for a quick look, lurk for a bit, then log out again.  But I did link my facebook account to my Twitter and my Instagram accounts, and would occasionally post to all three in one go.  But on reflection, this was me broadcasting, not engaging.  And funnily enough, my #fb 'friends' weren't so inclined to comment back or indeed, to initiate discussions with me.  This, of course, just confirmed my suspicion that #fb was c**p and not for me.  And who were these people anyway?

Because, in contrast, my professional social networking was going very well, very nicely, thank you very much.  Lots of interaction, discussion, linking to learning.  Also, as highlighted at last week's #LearningLive Conference, it's been a real ice-breaker when it came to attending any event which involved meeting people face to face.

But here's the clincher; many of these same people have become friends! The boundaries have become blurred. Professional respect and dialogue has matured and turned into something more personal, a deeper level of communication and interaction.  It's almost like what it felt like when I was an actor - a professional community of like-minded, interesting, clever, witty and committed people (with the occasional numpty as well, of course).  And, at the same time, others friends and family - like my children - are now embracing and using Twitter.

So this has got me thinking. If social media in the form of Twitter and LinkedIn could enable the transition from the professional into the personal, why have I ignored the potential for deeper personal and family relationships via facebook?  Time for a long hard look at facebook - and myself.

So, preconceptions and prejudices: Kids use facebook; it's full of inappropriate pictures of drunken parties; people just play Farmville incessantly on it; there's a lot of 'display' going on; no-one I know that really matters uses it; I'm too busy  being professional on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Blogger to be bothered with such a trivial pursuit (to coin a phrase).

Well, some of the above is undoubtedly true, but when I looked more closely at my 'friends' list and their activities, I actually wanted to know more, wanted to get to know (some of) them better and, in several cases, felt a desire to re-connect (some of them go back to my college days in the late 70's!).  I also realised that there were other people I really did want to reconnect with, but who were not on my 'friends' list and didn't show up in my other social media lists - so I took the plunge and added them from my Contacts Lists and, where they already existed in facebook, invited them to become my friends.

So now, I have actually reconnected with some old pals who I genuinely missed.  I have started commenting on other people's updates and have been pleased and surprised at how (forgiving and) willing to engage so many people are being. There's even a boys' night out looming with a couple of my old acting pals.  In fact, as I write this post, one of them has just messaged me on facebook to confirm that we're on! 
Small steps, but I'm feeling a little better connected.  And for that I have to thank people, not social media, for teaching me to value both my professional and my personal network equally.

So where do I go from here? Do I blur the edges even more and mix the personal with the professional on facebook? Do I try to 'friend' my Twitter buddies?  For the moment, I think not.  I still think there's a clear distinction between the two.  I don't think my facebook friends are interested in my professional interactions - and I certainly don't want my professional friends judging my performance on Farmville or my behaviour down Brighton seafront on a Saturday night (as if!).
So, am I right? How do you manage your personal and your professional social interactions? Do they overlap? Should they? What issues have you come across? Feel free to comment here, or via any of my other social channels (including facebook) - see the links to them all on my '' page