Friday, March 19, 2010

Networking in a Box

Those of you who follow the Hourglass Twitter Feed know that I was at a WSAE event on social media earlier this week. Our speaker was Andy Steggles of Higher Logic.

Believe it or not, it was my first experience at a live event that came with its own social media back channel. Those of us on Twitter actively tweeted during the session (some folks even tweeting for the very first time) using the hashtag #wsae to organize all of our tweets. You can go read that "transcript" if you're interested.

My tweets focused on what I usually think of as "pearls of wisdom." When I attend an event like this, I'm not interested in a copy of the speaker's slides, or in taking copious notes on everything the speaker says. All I want is to come away with a couple of nuggets of information--sound bytes, if you like--concise and memorable thoughts that I can reflect on back in the office and maybe use to change behaviors or practices in the real world. Here's my list from the event:

1. In person meetings let you connect with your peers. Social networking allows you to connect with your peers' peers.
2. Monitor your own brand by regularly Googling your own name.
3. Who would produce the best content for your website? Your staff? Or your members?
4. Speakers say you have to get comfortable with losing control. I say you're not really in control in the first place.
5. Drive your social media by what you have to say, not what you have to sell.

Good stuff. But for me the session brought forth a bigger issue that's harder to put in a sound byte. It has to do with truth and authenticity in the digital age--a topic fellow Hourglass blogger Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant recently presented at the Great Ideas Conference. Go check out their slide deck on Prezi. It rocks! In it, they say this:

No matter how much you try to carefully control and compartmentalize different personas in different places, everything gets mixed and aggregated by Google in an instant.

You see, Andy Steggles was in Madison partly because he is helping WSAE launch a new online community for its members on Higher Logic's platform. We got a grand tour of it during the session. It's robust, intuitive and fun to play with. But it is what I think of as a "captured" social network, something owned and operated by an association, with a specific login needed to gain entry and an independent profile of me that needs to be maintained.

I belong to several of these "captured" networks, one for each of the associations I belong to. I think of them a little like "networking in a box." Sure, you can have good connections with people once you're inside each box, but the process of climbing inside one in order to connect with one part of your network, and then climbing out of that box and into another in order to connect with a different part of your network, is often very cumbersome. And the trend, I'm afraid, is that more and more organizations are building more and more of their own networking boxes with the expectation that I'll want to climb inside them all to see what they have going on inside.

Well, that just creates a fractured networking landscape for me. I'd rather use an "open" social network and tear down all those cardboard walls that are being put up to defend each organization's turf. My social network doesn't include just the members of one association, or even just the members of the association community. It's broader than all of the organizations I belong to, and that's the way I want it.

Does such a tool for "open" social networking really exist? Aren't even Facebook and LinkedIn "captured" social networks in their own way? If we're all going to be truthful and authentic in the digital age, don't we all need a completely open platform to allow us to connect in all the ways we wish to?


Maggie said...

Good post--I'm glad Deirdre's blog led me to yours. I remain divided about the value of white label networks. Basically I think that in some situations they work great and in some, not as well or even not at all.

I personally have WAY too many "outposts" to visit/remember logins for. However, when there is something of value in one of the "boxes" it's worth it to me. What makes it "worth it" to me--a person who's online 24/7? For one thing, privacy. When I want to discuss professional issues, sometimes Facebook or Twitter--or any other open platform--aren't the place because I can't speak freely there--and/or can't get the same kind of value I can get in a few closed communities I belong to. For instance, when I have issues that involve dealing with members, the last thing I want is to post about them in a public forum where other members could potentially see me complaining. So in those situations, closed boxes work well for me.

Also, associations where the member demographic skews toward people who aren't as computer-savvy, they may not be comfortable in a more open platform but may appreciate the familiarity/security of a closed platform that looks like the web site they're familiar with. I know when we recently re-vamped our online discussion forums and they were down for a period of time and I suggested that members may want to visit our groups on Linkedin or Facebook while the boards were down, some almost had a coronary at the thought. They made it VERY CLEAR (lol) that there was NO WAY they were going to use Facebook, EVER. And yes they were that mad about the suggestion!

Bottom line is that I think some people are more comfortable in boxes than out in the open, and sometimes even people who don't like to be boxed in can benefit from the safety of a closed community.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the comment, Maggie. Your thoughts on the privacy that comes with networking "within a closed box" is something I certainly overlooked when composing my post. There is real value in that, and it's probably something more associations who are contemplating "open vs. closed" social networking platforms should think carefully about.

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