Successful networking means redefining “friend”

When you look at my online presence via social media, you might think I have a staggering number of friends. The truth is that while I’m blessed to be able to call a lot of people friends, there’s no way that I can call thousands of people friends. Oh, sure, according to Facebook I have more than 800 “friends” and on Twitter I have more than 4,000 “followers” and on LinkedIn I have more than 500 “connections.” But how many are friends, how many people would really follow me anywhere and how many feel truly connected to me? I’d be lucky if I could say 1 percent.

The point is that we often get caught up in thinking that people we are linked to online are the same as those we have interacted with regularly in real life. News flash: they’re not. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t connect as much as possible, but you should consider how you do that and what’s in it for both of you. And it’s why you might consider different criteria for connecting on various social sites as well as how you interact with folks on those sites.

I’m not going to suggest there is any right way to do that, but I often am asked how I handle requests for friendship, etc. online, so I thought I’d share my thoughts in this post and maybe people would find that useful.

I’m primarily active on four main social networking outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Here’s how I handle my connections and what they are likely to see if they follow me or become a “friend.”

 

Facebook: I have a rather open criteria for becoming friends with people on Facebook. If a request comes in, I will generally accept it, but I categorize the people on there so it’s easier for me to keep track of my truly close companions and to protect my privacy from those whom I consider just a networking connection. My friend list is broken into four sublists: A list, B list, Networking and Organizations. The A-listers are those people whom I have met in person, share some private connection with and am truly interested in keeping up with regularly. The B-listers are folks who might be friends of friends; the folks I’ve met at an event or through work and believe I should try to develop a relationship with. The Networking list is for people I’ve never met or whom I’ve met but our connection is purely work related and, therefore, with whom I’m more comfortable at arm’s length. Organizations is the list for companies and organizations that have reached out to me. My Networking and Organizations “friends” do not have full access to all of my Facebook information because I’ve not only learned how to use Facebook’s privacy settings, I actually use them.

My Facebook status updates are everything from quotes that I like from famous people to my own statements and observations on life. They are often personal and reflect my sense of humor more than my updates on other sites. I update at least once per day, and sometimes two or three depending on what’s happening that day.

Twitter: Twitter is a bit of a free-for-all, and my connections prove that. As of right now, I have 4,339 followers and I am following 3,876 people, companies and organizations. I obviously don’t follow spammers who start tracking my tweets, and there are times when someone’s Twitter feed just doesn’t contain anything I’m interested in. This includes people who aren’t necessarily spammers but whose feed consists of a constant stream of ideas on how I can make money or be more successful if I follow a link to their website. I also don’t follow or will unfollow people who do nothing but post quotes or annoy me in some way. (There are two quick ways to get unfollowed by me. First, you can abuse the direct message feature by trying to sell me something. Second, you can get on Twitter once per day and push out 20 tweets in 15 minutes as you play catch up on a service that calls for live interaction, not procrastinated responses best reserved for e-mail.)

My Twitter feed really is a hodgepodge of news and blog links, personal commentary, interactions with friends and colleagues, political debates, jokes, puns and snarky reactions to life’s many challenges. And don’t forget, if you are reading my tweets, that means you chose to follow me and be subjected to my sense of humor and my stubborn quest for an honest and nonpolitically correct debate on the issues of the day. If you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading it. I promise I won’t be offended. Honestly, there’s really no way for me to even notice you’re not there anymore, so I’ll just bid you adieu now. I update a lot on Twitter, every day. Sometimes it’s only a handful of tweets, some days you’ll see a dozen from me. It all depends on the ebb and flow of life that day.

LinkedIn: Because of many training sessions with people who know more about LinkedIn than I do as well as my own trial runs, I have locked down LinkedIn more than the previous two services. It really is the business Rolodex of social media and I think it’s best if we keep it that way. I will connect with you on LinkedIn if we’ve met or if we have some reason to be connected — a shared cause, a common goal, perhaps a mutual friend or colleague who thinks we should know each other. If you try to connect with me on LinkedIn, please don’t use the boilerplate language about wanting to become connected. If you want to connect with me, tell me why. Show me why you belong in my Rolodex. And please make sure your profile is complete so I can learn as much about you as you’ll learn about me. An incomplete profile is an easy way to get ignored, not just by me, but by hundreds of others who otherwise might be interested in getting to know you better.

Because I consider LinkedIn to be the more professional or business world service than other social outlets, my status updates tend to reflect that. I usually reserve the updates for news links, blog links or interesting observations that I believe business connections would enjoy or from which they would benefit. I try to keep my snarkiness as nonexistent as I can, which is not easy for me. I also tend to leave updates on my page for longer than Facebook or Twitter. Because of this, I also tend to post updates that are a bit more timeless or at least have a shelf life of several days before they become too stale to matter.

Foursquare: To me, Foursquare is the most like electronic stalking and so I’m most protective of my presence on this service. My friend list is very small compared to the rest of my social networking outlets. You have to be someone I’ve actually met and whom I feel comfortable sharing most of my whereabouts with.

I don’t check in everywhere I go, reserving these mostly for places where I know I’ll be for a while. I don’t check in during errands that are a quick run in and out, unless it’s a coffee shop, since I figure they’ll all catch on eventually and start offering deals for frequent check-ins. If it’s a business I’m frequenting for an errand, I won’t always check in, but I try to do so if it’s a local business that I’m trying to promote because I believe they are a worthwhile place for my friends to give their business to. Any place where I’ll be for a while and think there’s a chance friends might be nearby at some point always gets a check-in. After all, Foursquare isn’t just about broadcasting your whereabouts, it’s about increasing the chances of bumping into people in real life so you can continue building your friendship in the best way possible: face to face.

 

As I said earlier, these are my methods and you don’t have to agree with them. The best social media counseling I can ever give is to tell people to find what they are comfortable with and make it work for them — whether that’s which social networking sites to be on or how best to conduct themselves there. If you can justify what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, I’ll support you. After all, what are “friends” for?  🙂

(Photo courtesy of Funny Animal Pictures.)

Connections are great; conversations are even better

As my number of friends and followers on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have grown exponentially over the past year, I’ve found myself more connected than ever. On the other hand, I’ve found that I’ve lost touch with some of my original online friends.

When I started on Twitter, for example, I used to have regular conversations with folks from around the United States and even overseas. My wife, Jessi, commented on this in a blog post she recently wrote about this topic, noting how she got started on Twitter, in part, because of me:

“He showed me examples of new friends he had made in places such as Hawaii, England, Florida and more. They’d developed a relationship and were constantly commenting on each other’s tweets and getting “involved” in each other’s lives, even though they lived so far apart and had never met.”

One of these folks was Anna Hill, who lives in the United Kingdom. We’d share stories about what was going on in our lives and wish each other well on projects we were working on. It was nothing deep, but there was some nice banter involved and it was good to feel connected to someone so far away. The problem is, my first few twigs of social networking have turned into a forest. That means Anna and I don’t chat like we used to, other than the occasional, “Hi, hope all is well.” At least we’re doing something to stay in touch though. I’d hate for my Twitter experience to become too much about the forest and not enough about the trees within.

When I read Jessi’s blog post, I told her that she shouldn’t feel like she’s alone, because I’d been thinking lately about how connections are great but conversations are even better.

Friend and fellow blogger Jess Knott recently blogged about social media and connecting with folks because she’s been trying to figure out Google Buzz. She used a quote from me where I talked about using Buzz more intimately than services like Twitter. She says it changed her thoughts about Buzz, noting:

…perhaps I’m so used to the swirling, tumultuous action of Twitter that I’ve forgotten that social media can be effective on a small scale as well.

One of the key things to getting the most out of social media is to figure out what works best for you. My wife says she has ended up talking mostly to the folks in our town even though she started out intending to connect with a much broader network. But that’s OK. The group she’s chatting with is filled with  people whom she probably would not have such a close connection with if not for social networking. They’re from across town instead of across the country, but they’re still a great network of people and we’re proud to call them our “friends” online and our friends in real life as well.

There’s room in social media for all kinds of social networking. That includes long-distance professional collaboration and local conversations with friends to coordinate weekend activities. Just keep in mind that your social circle is no longer limited to your geographic land area, but to the geography of the Internet. That means your social circle isn’t just a circle around you, it’s a circle that encompasses the Earth.

I heard Tara Hunt speak at the Public Relations Society of America Southwest District Conference in Oklahoma City last week. I was pleased to see people being drawn to her message of never forgetting that social media is just a tool and you have to stay people-centric in your thoughts and actions.

So go on, network and make friends. Gather followers like you can never have too many. Moreover, treasure every one of those connections for what they offer, large or small, long-distance or local. Just try to remember that the point of social media and social networking is being social. Don’t forget that even the largest forests are made up  of many individual trees. Trees like Jessi Adler, Jess Knott, Tara Hunt and Anna Hill. Trees that need tending occasionally, even if it’s just a friendly, “Hi, hope all is well.”

(Photo courtesy of Anita363’s Flickr stream.)

Time management more challenging as new networks grow

Here’s an article I wrote for Ragan Communications about time management and the risk of social networking interrupting our ability to enjoy where we’re at and finish what we’re trying to do. I think social media is awesome, but even I admit there are times we need to evaluate how much we’re doing these days.

Published: 2/16/2010

Time management more challenging as new networks grow
By Ari B. Adler

By the time you’ve tweeted and checked in and updated your status, have you missed out on a slice of real life?

Remember “Where’s Waldo?” That lost-again-found-again character that rocketed to fame in the United States in the 1990s probably wouldn’t have found nearly as much success if he were introduced today. That’s because the answer would be too simple—finding Waldo would just require following him via myriad social networking services such as Twitter,FacebookFoursquare or the new Google Buzz.

If you want to know where people are, just start watching their online posts. They tweet about what they’re doing. They provide a Facebook status update about their plans for the day. They “check in” with Foursquare, alerting the world where they are at any given moment. And, with the new Buzz, they have the ability to drop all of it into your Gmail inbox.

The explosion of online tracking has many users wondering whether they could juggle all the social media tools, and many others wondering why they’d want to.

“For better and worse, we’ve raised our tolerance for how much we can multitask and fit into our days, so we’re better at being able to fit it all in with only some falling to the wayside,” says Andrew Schreck, a director at John Bailey & Associates Public Relations, in Troy, Mich. “There will be a breaking point where we can not, or do not want to, add any more technology and maybe slide back to a bit simpler lifestyle. I’ve seen this with Facebook, where friends are dropping out or paring back on followers because it is occupying too much of their time.”

The concept of time management has never been more in flux than it is lately with all of the different ways people can spend their time, both online and off. Despite fears to the contrary, online social networking has not made society less social. In some instances, the number of social activities people are invited to in real life are increasing.

“I can’t imagine the Foursquare-style check-ins continuing into the future, but I see solutions like Google Latitude taking hold, where your friends and any other applications you authorize could know where you are, without a specific application,” says Charles Hoffmeyer, operations analyst for the Michigan State Police. “Twitter, Facebook and Buzz fall into a different category. The social applications that support conversations with friends and strangers will thrive and will help us interact more effectively in the physical world.”

Automating the process would help the concept grow more rapidly, says Shannon Paul, social media manager for PEAK6 Online, in Seattle, Wash.

“While it’s still novel, location-based technology has far to go. Check-ins at exact locations still need to be performed manually, but I think many will eventually opt into having their location status update automatically during stretches of time,” Paul said.

Knowing when to say when

Automating the processes might raise some eyebrows over privacy, but the folks who are checking in manually have already given up a fair amount.

As more and more services start to crop up, those services heighten the burden of trying to find time for them all.

“Because of all the latest and greatest platforms that pop up on a pretty regular basis, those that try to use all will spend a pretty hefty chunk of time talking about doing rather than doing, and connecting rather than interacting,” says Kasey Anderson, a creative services specialist with Citizens Bank in Flint, Mich. “While this will impact enjoyment, I don’t think it’s a mainstream issue. Most of us know when to say when.”

Perhaps the bigger question is this: Are we all going to be so busy checking in with one another about where we are and what we’re doing that we won’t actually have any time to enjoy where we are or finish what we’re doing?

“I think that’s certainly going to be a concern for some people, but I see distraction as a human problem rather than a technology problem,” Paul says. “Some people have trouble staying in the moment and focusing on a task whether or not there’s technology involved.”

Daniel J. Hogan, an author, podcaster, and media production specialist in Lansing, Mich., agrees with that statement—and so, apparently, would his parents.

“I’ve caught myself checking Twitter updates on my phone when I should be enjoying what I’m actually doing,” Hogan says. “It comes back to self-control, and I’m more aware of it—especially when I’m around my parents, as my mom will point out that I’m ‘being rude.’ ”

The rudeness concept isn’t reserved for the older generations who just don’t understand some people’s need for constant connectivity.

Angela Minicuci, a recent graduate from Michigan State University, says that although she’s been guilty of being distracted by technology, she is trying to get better about it.

“One thing I try to do—and something everyone should remember—is to live in the moment and enjoy the company we have,” Minicuci said. “I think social interactions are less enjoyable when we’re distracted, and while a check-in or update can be fun, we should make our friendsour priorities, not our followers.”

So, is the flashy technology creating some new threat for society, or is this just an old story being retold with new characters?

According to Ryan Knott, manager of communications at the Michigan Osteopathic Association, in Okemos, Mich., society has been here before.

Since the invention of the telegraph and telephone, Knott says, our lives have become less about where we are and more about what has our attention.

“When I’m checking Twitter while at a restaurant or party, it’s not that I’m not taking the time to enjoy where I am and who I’m with,” he says. “But where I am now means more than just where my physical body currently resides. I’m no longer simply engaged in conversations in the space 3 feet around me, but all around the world. Whether you think that’s good or bad will depend largely on what you value.”

Linking LinkedIn and Twitter: You can—but should you?

Here’s an article I wrote recently for Ragan.com about linking your LinkedIn and Twitter status updates:

Published: 11/17/2009

Linking LinkedIn and Twitter: You can—but should you?
By Ari B. Adler

If you use networks to different ends, the overlap may be undesirable

“You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.” “No! You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!”

Those of you old enough to remember that ad campaign for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups can appreciate Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s using the reference when talking about LinkedIn and Twitter status updates getting connected.

For the younger readers, just trust that it was clever, fun and enduring—perhaps the very attributes Biz Stone would like people to think about Twitter.

LinkedIn now allows you to connect your Twitter account to your profile, to have your Twitter feed sent to your LinkedIn page and to have your LinkedIn status updated via Twitter by simply adding #in to your tweet.

Stone and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman are touting it as the greatest thing since, well, since peanut butter cups. They claim it will help people get things done. The question is, what things?

Updating Twitter and LinkedIn simultaneously is simple enough, if not the easiest thing to remember when you’re hyper-multitasking and trying to zip off a quick update via your thumbs while waiting for an elevator. But should you do it just because you can?

Various descriptions have been coined over the past year to compare all the networking services. The one most frequently used denotes LinkedIn as the office, Twitter as a cocktail reception and Facebook as a backyard barbecue. If that’s the case, should you be connecting all of your status updates from one to the others?

If you belong to a social networking group, your reasons for keeping that group of “friends” may be different from the reasons you connect with people in another group. So would you want your status updates and comments to be the same everywhere?

That answer would be “no” for Lindsay M. Allen, a professional communicator from Mt. Pleasant, Mich., who is unemployed and relying on LinkedIn as part of her job-search strategy.

“I’ve had some version of the same status update [at LinkedIn] for about eight months. I go in and refresh it, but that’s it,” Allen said. “I don’t need LinkedIn to know what I’m saying to Twitter. I need LinkedIn to know I’m looking for a job.”

Allen’s comment raises a point that most users should consider. Do you make the same comments and bring up the same topics of discussion at an office meeting as you do at a family gathering, a night on the town with friends or a professional networking event? You probably don’t, and if it’s not something you do in person, then don’t do it online, either.

In his book, “Six Pixels of Separation,” Mitch Joel writes, “…digital channels break down the notion of ‘it’s who you know,’ because we all live in a world where we can know everyone—and everyone can know us.”

That’s one reason people should think twice before linking all of their status updates together. People we know and people we don’t know can now learn much more about us than ever before, but often it will be learned out of context.

If the analogy of the office and the cocktail party holds true, then think about how you behave in those two settings. It’s very likely that what you say and, more important, how you say it will vary from a professional office to a reception after work.

That also depends on who is at the reception with you. Peers and colleagues who know you well will understand if you decide to have fun and blow off some steam. Unless you cross some heinous line, what you say after work is unlikely to affect your professional standing with them. But what if you were at a cocktail reception with a room full of strangers? Would they take what you consider fun banter to be a true representation of who you are and how you operate?

Joel also writes in his “Six Pixels” book, “LinkedIn is the dark horse of online social networks for professionals. It is amazing and, with some simple tweaks, you’ll be shocked at how quickly it can grow your digital footprint.”

That shock Joel writes about could be of another kind—a kind that is likely to do more harm than good. Although some may see it as a time saver to update all your status boxes at once, it’s really akin to just walking into every meeting and social gathering with a bullhorn, shouting out whatever is on your mind and not caring if the people in the room will get it or even care. Or worse, they could be offended by it.

That is assuming, of course, that people are actually paying attention to status updates on LinkedIn. The site devotes much less of its screen real estate to status updates than Twitter or Facebook. Status updates have never been the focus of LinkedIn, which may be one reason some folks will decide not to bother with real-time updating.

“Considering the limitation of status updates you can see at a time on LinkedIn, it’s a non-issue for me. I haven’t merged them and don’t intend to,” said Ari Herzog, an online media strategist from Boston.

“No one uses LinkedIn to check statuses,” said Derek Wallbank, the Washington, D.C. correspondent for MinnPost.com. “You’re updating to the cosmic void.”

Ari B. Adler is a professional communicator with experience as a newspaper reporter and editor, as well as a government and corporate spokesperson. He is the communications administrator for Delta Dental of Michigan and an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University and University of Michigan-Dearborn. You can follow him on Twitter at @aribadler.

Michigan Lawmakers Aren’t Tweeting, Yet

The state Capitol newsletter, MIRS, recently wrote an article about Michigan legislators using Facebook and Twitter — or perhaps it’s better to say it’s about how they aren’t using those two social networking sites.

I think it’s clear from the article that some legislators, like Rep. Barb Byrum, get it and some, like Rep. Wayne Schmidt, don’t. As I said in the article, it’s probably going to take a few good wins under their belt that can be attributed to the use of social media and social networking before the two major political parties realize this is something they can’t ignore. On the other hand, perhaps having them ignore it long enough for a third-party candidate to make good use of it and swoop in to office wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all!

I’m reprinting the article here, which normally is available only via subscription. Because of that, indulge me while I make a quick pitch that for people who want to know what’s going on in Michigan government, both out front and behind the scenes, a MIRS subscription is one of the best investments you can make.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, Page Two:

70% Of Lawmakers Use Facebook, 20% Tweet
A strong majority in both the House and Senate have pages on the social networking site Facebook, but the “Twitter” fad has yet to catch on as strong, with only 20 percent of lawmakers registered to that Web site and even fewer using the medium regularly.

A review of both social networking sites by MIRS revealed that at least 24 Senators and 80 members of the House are on Facebook. Only nine Senators and 21 House members are on Twitter.

The legislators’ use of both of these sites vary wildly, however, from Rep. Barb BYRUM‘s (D-Onondaga) expansive list of 377 followers on Twitter and multi-day “tweet” postings to lawmakers who appeared to have set up a Twitter account, then done little else.

But according to Michigan State University instructor Ari ADLER, these numbers are bound to go up as incoming legislators take advantage of this free way to connect with, check-in with and update more constituents.

“This is the modern-day version of the grassroots movement,” Adler said. “It’s not about organizing people in the neighborhoods. That’s still important, but the on-line community is the new neighborhood, so to speak.”

A growing number of people are learning they can share information faster and easier by publishing their own commentary on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. That’s good for politicians, who used to be at the mercy of the news media to get their message out. Now, politicians can print whatever information they want the world to see, he said.

The only cost, he said, is time. Those wanting to use social media to get a message out do need to set aside some time in a given day to get their message out, Adler said. Also, he added, it helps if the politician puts up the posts as opposed to staffers doing it.

“It’s about a conversation,” he said. “It’s not a broadcast medium.”

Adler said the success of Byrum’s Twitter and Facebook page is that she updates it several times a day and mixes in funny anecdotes from her day (on Monday she cut six inches off her hair) with news about her coffee hours.

“I think it’s important that elected officials are accountable and it’s important for people to know what we’re up to,” said Byrum, who can update her status as much as 12 times a day. “It’s also important to communicate with people through the medium they feel more comfortable using. For some, this is the way they prefer to contact me.”

To avoid any conflict with House rules, Byrum said she posts all of her tweets and Facebook updates on her personal phone.

Rep. Wayne SCHMIDT (R-Traverse City) recently signed up to Twitter and has 21 “followers.”

He said he’s trying out the new way to update people on his activities, but said finding the time for it and balancing what he posts will be the biggest challenge.

“E-mails replaced memos and letters. Instant messaging and texting replaced the telephone call. ‘Tweeting’ doesn’t really replace anything,” Schmidt said. “It’s a ‘Hey, here’s what I’m doing.’ It’s a huge time suck.”

“Quite frankly, I don’t think my friends care if I’m in the grocery store. But my constituents may care if I’m at the Kalkaska Fair.”