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


  1. Enjoyed reading this, Niall. Whatever you do, do not give yourself a hard time about this stuff.

    This is all about people, be they friends, colleagues acquaintances etc so how you connect is up to you! And yes, we all let things drift for various reasons so being able to reconnect is a wonderful thing.

    I think the personal/professional thing is one big blur and I think we need to get more comfortable with that as it will only get more blurred. If we do work we like with people we like then work and friendship will become entwined. If that is the case then maybe issues such as boundaries and our own personal space will become more important.
    Lots of food for thought!

    1. Appreciate your thoughts here Martin. I remember the days (as an actor) when my social life was my actor friends and their significant others, and I guess I'd just got out of practice. It was never an issue then, why should it be an issue now? It's good to be breaking down some mental and emotional barriers!

  2. Niall,
    Very engaging post. I can understand your frustration with Facebook, my feelings were similar when I first started using Twitter. I couldn’t find myself in it at first and tended to compare it with Facebook where everything seemed simpler and not locked in 140 characters! But when I got to grips with it I understood they are actually two different tools and have different purposes. While I treat Facebook like you, in a more personal way where I only invite and accept invitations from people I’ve met and know (outside working environment), I don’t have the same restrictions for Twitter. For me Twitter is a combination of all – people that I find interesting, people who come from learning and development circles, people I’ve met personally, also people I consider sources of interesting information. I also tend to share more news and blogs and curious links on Twitter than on Facebook. But then, when I like a piece of music I want to share I would post it on Facebook and not Twitter.
    I agree, there should be a distinction between the very personal and the more professional networks. Otherwise there would be no work/life balance, not really, and we all would go mental.

    1. Thanks Aneta, really interesting to hear your experience. I 'got' Twitter almost immediately, probably because of how I was introduced to it in a live session at 'Learning Technologies' by Jane Hart and Barry Sampson. I liked it's brevity and its impact. I think it's because I've lost my 'fear' of SoMe through these 'quick and dirty' tools that I'm beginning to see the potential for more expanded and engaging interactions on facebook. And you're right, we must learn to 'switch off' occasionally.

  3. The balance between personal and professional 'branding' on social media is something I've thought a lot about. For me, it's more of a facebook issue because, as you described, Twitter and Linkedin are naturally more professional-based for me.
    Now I know my friends and family, and I can honestly say very few of them would be interested in the sharing I do related to learning and performance topics. To them, it would be as I see the Farmville posts. At the same time, I do want to share professionally on facebook for those that only interact there.
    I decided to create a facebook page to address this issue. It allows me to have a dedicated space on facebook that I can use to share my professional 'brand', while allowing me to use my personal page for more traditional sharing with friends and family.
    It's one option, but it's been working for me. :)

    1. Good call David, and thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I have considered opening an alternative 'professional' persona on facebook, but tbh, I've got enough on my hands with my existing community and I know where to find - and to add to - them. One day perhaps, if I move out of corporate wage-slavery and into a more consultative, own-business-type environment. In the meantime, I'll be trying to keep an open mind

  4. Someone once told me something that I thought was quite funny. It went something like...

    Facebook is where you start to dislike people that you know and Twitter is where you like people that you don't.

    I've always put FB in a different category to all my other social channels and primarily use it for friends and family. When I have shared professional stuff on FB it's only minimal and tbh I don't use it that often, I'm pretty boring. I do hear what you're saying though about rekindling old relationships, FB allows this to happen but like you describe you have to put some time in to it and interact with people. I think this is why Twitter has been a great success for you Niall. You interact, you take the time to get involved, to share and to question.

    I think Martin puts it well when he says it's about people and if you have a genuine desire to connect to people whether it's professional or personal the channel isn't that important. What's important is that you choose to engage and make the effort. Enjoy the boozy night out with the board tredders ;)

    1. Thanks Mike, appreciate your comments. I've heard another version of the Facebook/Twitter analogy - "Twitter is where you tell the truth to strangers, whilst facebook is where you lie to friends and family."
      Interestingly, I have never had a comment back from anyone in #fb about any of my blogs which I have posted there as well as on Twitter, despite them not always being about L&D. Different expectations in different places, I guess. See you in the usual places!

  5. Feels like a timely post for me as I'm in the process of leaving FB for the 2nd time... why it takes 2 weeks to leave I do not know... why I tried it a 2nd time I do know... With a bit more awareness of how I use social media I thought it was time to give it another go and it coincided with an old school friend organising a reunion on FB.

    The reunion never happened. My old school friend & I didn't even use FB to chat. #fail

    I found no use for it with my family, personal or professional relationships. TBH there were some relationships that I just didn't want to interact with on FB. #fail

    My wife "borrowed" my profile to catch up on the 'shares' our friends had spoken about on the phone. Actually, there was something about seeing what was going on with friends kids who we are close to but it probably just shows that we don't spend enough time talking to that generation directly about what they are up to... something to rectify in other ways. #fail

    So as a tool it did nothing for me. It clearly does for others and of course that's just fine. Whatever works!

    Back to Twitter/LinkedIn (where I do find value) and the issue of blurring between Personal and Professional...

    I wonder if the "blurring" exists because we've not yet named what sits between... the place where professional relationships become personal friendships - or revert and don't. Perhaps it's Personable?

    Personal <- Personable <-> Professional.

    Sometimes we find Professional relationships that become more Personable and perhaps become Personal. It's interesting that generally we don't try to convert Personal relationships into Professional ones instead... then we are social animals aren't we! I don't know... thoughts?

    1. Really interesting ideas there David. I like the idea of the relational dynamic - Personal > Personable <> Professional. For me, it's been about 'showing up' as a whole (authentic) person in a professional arena. That's what I look for in others. And maybe I'm not so sure that that's what I'm getting back in #fb. Time will tell, 'cos I feel the need to give it a chance. Thanks again.

  6. Hi Niall,

    I am a real fan of Twitter, I had some feedback on a one to one review with my line manager a few years back who suggested I build my professional network externally as well as maintain my internal network. I recall being a bit out of my comfort zone at the thought of attending networking events, etc. So to ease in gently, I stepped into the world of LinkedIn and hid in the background watching group conversations, etc. I then noticed the links with Twitter and that gave me the prompt to join this 'big network' with no risks attached (I'm risk averse as you can see!). As I got more adventurous and started attending external networking events, with the CIPD, etc, I found it quite useful to follow the trend on Twitter in advance and 'have a virtual chat' which often led to a face to face meeting at the event and as you say, the ice has already been broken!

    It's hard to believe as I look back, that a few years ago I had almost no external network, I now have a strong external network, but more importantly the value that the network offers me in terms of support and CPD and vice versa (I hope!) is priceless. Ironically, at the time of that feedback from my line manager I could only see a need for an internal network, it looked to me like I'd be in my role for many years to come. Then when we went through a massive merger, I took the brave move to leave and set up on my own and thanks to his timely advice I already had a SoMe network ready and willing to interact!

    As for FB - I never say never but I have some fantastic friends who I enjoy keeping in touch with by traditional methods - letters and face-to-face (and of course text!!). I also get regular updates from my hubby (who is an FBer not a Tweeter) on our mutual friends shananegans which is often enough to put me off my own FB account!

    Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Great reply Zoe, thank you. I was really taken with your internal v. external network dynamic, because it's worked the other way round for me. I was feeling disconnected internally, but rediscovered my voice and my confidence in my external networking via Twitter and LinkedIn. And that's what's given me confidence to 'step up' and be seen/heard at work and to push the social learning agenda accordingly. I'm loving the conversations that this blog has inspired.

  7. Niall - an interesting post! The professional/personal dilemma. I think I also found it hard to think of the two together. My social media experience started reluctantly with FB and it was great for a while but I soon bored of posting updates... I had a look at Twitter and started an account where I followed comedians, sports people etc and then decided to set up another twitter account for my professional side and personal learning/knowledge network.

    So now I have 2 twitter accounts and I hardly ever look at the 'celeb' one but constantly use the professional one: as there is so much content I can't think of combining personal and professional accounts. I rarely look at FB nowadays.

    So, I can see that like you my Twitter learning network could start blurring - that's OK, I think that's what direct messaging is for.

    1. I'm worried now that I may be called Julian; that's EXACTLY what I did.

      I'm not a fan of FB - I've always thought of it as a broadcast tool as you suggest. There's also a doubt in my mind if people always want to blend their personal and professional networks together.

      If it's about creating a 'professional' frontpage, then I think is potentially a very strong tool.

      Good post Niall.

    2. Julian/Andrew,
      Great comments, thank you. It's about 'value' isn't it? What value do we get from our Twitter network as opposed to that of facebook? How do we rate one against the other? And is it a valid comparison? For me, it's about dialogue, conversation and learning. For now, I get more of that value from my professional networks, and am now seeking more of that kind of engagement within facebook.

  8. Update: Suddenly, my facebook activity has taken off, with conversations leading to me being challenged to organise a 40 year college reunion in Ediburgh next year. I've taken up the challenge and reached out - and now people all over the country are nominating old friends and acquaintances to be included, and volunteering to track them down as they're not on #fb - or at least, aren't obvious on #fb. Will probably create a #fb event page and encourage everyone to keep in touch and get organised through that. Anyone have any other ideas for organising an event like this via SoMe? I'm thinking about maybe arranging a virtual meet first, but not sure how to do that. Could be up to 50 potential attendees. Skype? Webex? Any ideas folks?