Do social networks mostly promote inclusion or exclusion?
It depends, of course, on the user. Like The Force, social media can be used for good or ill.
And some will say that it depends on what your objectives are. I’m going to take a stand and say that inclusion – and openness – is good, and that it leads to good things.
Take Twitter, for instance. When asked to describe it to others, I usually say that it is a huge, freewheeling chat room. Of course, to the new user who is maybe only following the one person who talked them into signing up, it looks too huge. All they can really see is the public timeline – they haven’t yet had a chance to segment it out into a cohort of people who are likely to say interesting things to them.
This is why I advocate for a practice some deride – cruising the friend lists of those people you do know and adding those whose interests seem aligned with yours. I don’t think you should just go down the list and grab them all – if you hover your mouse over a person’s avatar, their 140-character bio will come up. I add people whose self-descriptions sound like the type of person I would like to follow (keywords are technology, social media, arts, nonprofit, geek, etc.).
Some will add you right back, some won’t. No big deal.
But the most important step is the next step: Get Engaged.
This goes for any social network: if you just go around adding people to your friends list and never engage with them (poke them, @username them, comment on the blog post they are flogging that day), then you really are little more than a bot, I’m afraid. You’ve got to contribute something to the conversation. This isn’t TV.
While I applaud neophytes for sitting back and watching the conversation, learning the etiquette, before jumping in ill-advisedly, I also feel strongly that you have to take that leap at some point – sooner rather than later – and pipe up.
Chris Brogan, Eric Rice, and Clarence Smith, Jr. have been over here talking about the evolving practices of social media users when adding friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah Owyang has been over here, wearing a largely unnecessary hairshirt that nonetheless sets an excellent example for the rest of us. More on that in a bit.
Both of these conversations, it seems to me, are about inclusion, openness, and transparency.
The conversation Chris and his buddies have set in action centers largely on issues of how users go about adding friends on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and what the ramifications of each practice is.
Chris talks about how his practice of friending people back automatically (if you add him, he will add you back, unless you are clearly a bot) stems from his central guiding principle of Niceness. Chris is a guy who gives out his phone number to the social media masses on a regular basis and just asks them to call and say hi, usually inviting them to talk about whatever they want to talk about. That’s Nice.
The others talk about their various takes on how and when to reciprocate a “friending.” It’s a fascinating, rambling conversation that offers a nifty peek into the current state of a certain slice of social media. And yet…
All this raises questions for me about how groups and individuals, when they reach a social media space, either build walls (my updates are protected, a strict no-adding-back policy, etc.) or break them down.
Guys like Chris (from what I know of him) are relentless wall-smashers. He seems to belong to that group of humans who always have their hand outstretched in welcome, who are genuinely interested in what you have to say.
Now, I’m not saying the other guys are jerks, or somehow mean, because they don’t automatically add every random stranger. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying that I think there is a theme poking up in all this, and it’s not a particularly new one.
There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about how the world has gotten flat, and the crowd is the best source for knowledge and strength, and how collaboration and openness are the core strengths of smart businesses of any size, in almost any sector.
The common thread in all of these recent memes is the over-arching and through-going importance of openness and transparency.
It’s the reason why you are seeing far fewer aliases online, and more people owning their own names, and unifying their various online personae.
It’s the reason why I rarely ask someone whose updates are protected to add me on Twitter.
It’s the reason why somebody like Jeremiah Owyang – a rather highly-regarded (if new-ish) analyst at Forrester who clearly works his tail off trying to create relevant, useful content for free – asks his readers what he can do better, how he can better serve their needs.
Giving away one’s knowledge, one’s insight, one’s time and one’s kindness, it seems to me, only ups the ante. It makes me think: If this is what he GIVES away, imagine how lucky his paying clients/real friends/wife is.
In this way, it’s hugely strategic, without being cunning or calculating.
Being open, being transparent, being humble, being receptive to comments and criticism.
It just seems like a good policy to me.
What do you think?