Facebook is Not a Mini-Skirt

I was talking to my mom about Facebook the other day.  She said she’s not on it because it would be creepy and tacky if she were.  It’s not for middle-aged women, it’s for young people.

She said that when she was younger, she would see middle-aged women wearing mini-skirts as though by wearing the clothes of young people they could be young again.  They thought it was working.  She said it was kind of horrifying to see, and that she swore that when she hit middle-age she wouldn’t do ridiculous, age-inappropriate things as some sort of weird effort to hang on to her youth.

I very much respect that my mother doesn’t wear mini-skirts, and I really appreciate being around someone who was stoked to turn 50 and who fully embraces and celebrates her age.

But mom, Facebook is not like a mini-skirt.  It is not just for kids.  Yes, it’s possible to use it distastefully, i.e. friending 13-year-olds you don’t know, or posting pictures of you and dad totally wasted.  But you can use it to connect with old friends from previous jobs and schools, to support causes you believe in, and to keep with your daughters’ profiles!  It can really be useful for anybody.

I think that’s one of the beauties of social media in general – you can use it to act your age.

If it’s not like a mini-skirt, what would you liken it to?  How does the message of welcome get to people who think this is not for them?

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Social Media is… well, Social

I have a lot of blog thoughts going through my head right now, and I think the theme that will tie them together into a relatively cogent post is that, at least for me, meaningful social media focuses on the social, not the media.

  1. Being social leads to the exchange of ideas and information.
  2. Ideas and information lead to friendships, alliances, and action.
  3. Using social media lets you be social with more people in a way that’s literally linked to the great information resource that is the world wide web.

You might have noticed that I linked to a Dinosaur Comic a line or two ago.  I did it because I have a soft spot in my heart for T-Rex, and also to make a point about the ideas and information we exchange: let’s not pretend that it’s all formal.  Not to say that it’s all informal either.  Some value I derive from social networking is directly, clearly work-related.  See?  I just helped advertise to a Twitter-based blood drive in Texas.  Way to forward a cause with social media, Emily.

But a lot of the value comes from less formal, more purely social interactions.  People don’t just swap lists of 10 ways to improve your website or strategy-of-the-day for saving money.  They swap thanks, compliments, and moral support, and in doing so build a sense that we’re on the same team.  I think of it as the cheerleader phenomenon.  On Twitter I mentioned I’d had sort of a rough day yesterday, and several people took a moment out of their days to offer a quick show of support.  Morgan, who I’ve never met, left the nicest comment ever on my blog last week and it totally made my day.  Last year my family made a Christmas wiki, which was useful and extremely fun to put jokes in.  And let’s not even get into how Twitter, blogs, email and IM let you stay in contact with friends and family you’re far away from.  So yes, social media is dead useful, but I find that what keeps me coming back is the human element.

I also really like how it supplements “normal” interactions.  For example, I commented on a coworker’s blog earlier today, a conversation that might have quick taken place in the office kitchen if we’d happened to be there at the same time.  I’m glad I heard what she had to say even though our paths didn’t physically cross today, and I hope to continue the conversation.  And see what I did just there?  I linked to her, the equivalent of meeting you in some other kitchen and bringing up the linked conversation.  I’m doing things I’d do anyway, just in a different way.

So I guess that the real, true draw of social media for me is that it gives us another way to be human to each other.

(For more about the “Why” of social media for nonprofits on a more organizational level, see the great project Beth Kanter has going.)

Ironically for a post all about being social, I don’t have a billion comment-prompting questions to put out there.  Nonetheless, comments, questions, and vaguely related thoughts are welcome.

Personal Internet = Successful Usage

This blog started out as an experiment in limited internet access, and I’d like to quickly revisit that theme by comparing it to my constant access now.

I spent a while working to customize my internet experience through del.icio.us bookmarking, assembling an RSS feed, starting my own personal blog, starting a Flickr account, and keeping up more regularly with twitter, Facebook, technorati, etc.  Out of that social media category, I’d say the RSS and blog had the most impact in making the web more comfortable and rewarding to visit.

I feel significantly more connected with everything since I took the time to personalize my browser.  I consolidated my switch-hitting between Safari and Firefox (Firefox won).  Then I sat down and made my bookmarks toolbar sensible and usable, and cleared out old bookmarks I hadn’t used in ages.  I’ve started with some add-ons, most notably Google Notebook.  I no longer feel like I’m just visiting the internet; I’m home.

Based on my own experiences, I don’t see how people popping into the library to use the internet for an hour, or even people who have a laptop but no home internet access, can have the same rich experience that I’m having with my full set up.  So much time goes into organizing and arranging things to be just right, not only for my enjoyment but to help me keep up with everything.  It gives me an advantage in terms of research (school, career, and beyond) and in terms of social media presence over people without my modest but crucial resources.

How are web developers working to enable custom internet experiences for people who don’t have their own personal computers?  How are those free or cheap wi-fi projects I keep hearing about going (I think there’s one in Minneapolis…)?  When are some $200 laptops going to hit the American market, and would they be usable enough to bridge the digital divide within our country?  And what can one person do to share her technological advantages?

Management Suggestions: Communicating

One of my organization’s biggest strengths and biggest challenges is that we have a main office and several satellite sites.  This week I got a chance to talk to some satellite coworkers I rarely see, and it was fantastic to get to reconnect.  I spoke with one coworker in particular, largely about communicating with supervisors.

What I Realized:

  • When people work really really hard, they need to know that the people above them do also.
  • The wheels that aren’t squeaking still need you.
  • It’s easy to assume the worst in lieu of facts.
  • Face time, with people and at places, makes people feel better.

Management Suggestions:

  • Face time.  Make time for it.
  • Make sure that at least some of your hard work is visible.
    • If you’re at work at 10pm, make sure to send some emails then.  Time stamps are subtle and say a lot.
    • Share your to-do lists, projects, and finished products.
    • Take a moment (not an hour) at check-in meetings to report on what you’ve been up to too.
    • Make at least some piddling tasks a priority.  Fix that water cooler, address the lighting in that parking lot, help with that crazy landlord.
  • The line between trusting an employee and ignoring an employee has a lot to do with the employee’s perception.
    • Send a quick thank-you to the people doing a great job.  Acknowledge that you’re being very hands-off, and that you’re still there when they do need anything.
    • Have regular meetings and switch up the location.
    • Publicly recognize accomplishments, and not just the momentous ones.

What are some other suggestions or lessons that come to mind?  How else can management communicate effectively?

Being Web 2.0 Brokers

It’s extremely busy “season” at work the past few months, and I was recently explaining Google Reader to my office mate.  She looked at me blankly and said that if we did any more talk about new tech stuff that day her head would explode.  

Cut to a scene about 1 hour later at a staff check-in meeting.  Coworker A says, “Emily, what’s so great about wikis?”  Right on cue, Office Mate makes an exploding noise and a little mushroom cloud motion with her hands.  The room goes silent and she and I try not to giggle.  Other coworkers are mystified, lengthy explanations ensue, and universal amusement is eventually achieved.  End scene.

The point of relating this mini-drama is that there are so many awesome tools out there, it’s almost funny.  It’s not surprising that so many people are overwhelmed. 

This is where I’ve found it important to be a Web 2.0 broker (with thanks to Mary Pipher’s “How To Be A Cultural Broker”).  In unfamiliar territory, people often need a little guidance.  You don’t have to be the most qualified or knowledgeable person around to help; you can share what you know and then learn the rest together.  It is about getting people connected with tools (therefore information, therefore power), and also a great excuse to build relationships with people you might not work with very often otherwise.

I’m excited that the handful of Web 2.0 brokers in our organization have put together a wiki (thanks Coworker S!) to let us support the personal verbal conversations with a small “sandbox” to play in.  We have a place for meeting notes and a brief, hand-picked list of resources.  It’s local, limited, and simple, and I can’t think of a better way to start.

How have others helped ease their coworkers into the Web 2.0 waters?  What tips would you share with other would-be brokers?