it’s nice to be nice to the nice

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 freeasks 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?

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11 responses to “it’s nice to be nice to the nice

  1. Well said, Beth. What intrigues me on this topic is where we draw the veil of privacy over our lives, even as we continue our experiments in transparency, openness, and kindness. Except for occasional jokey flirting, you don’t see much about our sex lives in this new space, and that’s a good thing. Even Loic LeMeur, who is, with his team, blogging every day about his Seesmic startup, declined to blab about what the Google guys said to him a while back. And rightly so. Money is another topic worth treating with discretion. My own strategy is to test the boundaries of my comfort zone, but not by much. It turns out there is plenty of room in my comfort zone for experimentation, for being more chatty with people whom I don’t know than I am in person, for daring to state my opinion on a topic clearly and simply. I’m not running for anything. I just feel fortunate having the opportunity to try out out these brand-new new ways to be human.

  2. True story, Len. There are definitely big parts of my life I have no intention of bringing to the internet, and that is certainly as it should be. I’m not advocating for full self-exposure (as it were) – just for a basic premise of openness and approachability in whatever aspects of our lives (I’m mostly talking professional here) we choose to engage in online.

    I guess I’m talking more about being welcoming of others and their opinions than of being revealing of oneself.

  3. Hi Beth,
    Another Beth in the nonprofit sector. 🙂 Beth Kanter introduced herself to me & we’ve been talking about networking.

    Great review of Chris & friend’s discussion. I was tempted to leave a response to CC’s comment, but closed the window instead. Personally, I’m very thankful for these people who practice inclusion. It’s quite humbling to be a part of their networks. They have a gift for pushing us to learn & in turn we give back. So I think that these people with mega-networks (megabloggers?) receive back in return.

    I had the good fortune of meeting Jeremiah in person. And he’s absolutely as authentic in real life as online. Watching him interact with people underlined the presence he’s established online.

  4. Pingback: A very slow week

  5. Beth, thank you for noticing.

    I’m not measured on my performance at my employer for my blog, although I’m encouraged to keep it up. So any effort I put into it is outside my paycheck.

    Thanks for noticing, you made my day!

  6. It’s my pleasure, Jeremiah. Keep on keepin’ on.

  7. Thanks for that – I’m new to Twitter (and actually found you there so now read your blog), and not quite “getting it” when it comes to the social networking revolution. So I will take your advice. I think the “nice” idea is a great one, and embraces some social ideas that we don’t have as much offline anymore. Much to our detriment. I shall henceforth be nice!

  8. But here’s where it gets tricky: including everyone means that I can no longer focus as well on people who matter. Having a few thousand conversations means that I miss the sense of community that comes from a few dozen good conversations in a confined space. A few thousand friends means that I can’t scale very well.

    So the conversation started from the idea that these guys do it quite differently from me, and that some of being nice means being less efficient. And is that okay?

    I’m still keeping things going the way they are right now, but it’s interesting to see where folks went with the conversation.

    Thanks for the post and further thoughts.

    Oh, and Jeremiah would do that kind of writing if he worked for Burger King. : )

  9. Thanks, Chris. You know, I do have some thoughts about how to scale one’s own very large Twitter feed – no idea how to build it, but I could draw it for somebody who did – but I also get that this isn’t about Twitter, per se.

    I’m sorry that you feel you’re missing out on the sense of community that a smaller followers list can bring. It is tough to scale intimacy.

    Also, I only mentioned where Jeremiah worked to give an idea of how hard he has to work in his day job, which is in *addition* to his blog, which is clearly an avocation. I’ve been reading Jeremiah since before he was at Forrester, and I’m mightily impressed with how his output hasn’t changed in either quality or quantity.

    Part of why I think it’s valuable to keep the flood gates open is because you just never know who is going to “matter” on any given day, who is going to be able to answer that question, or say the words you need to hear. If we only ever listen to our own inner circle, we’re limiting our chances for innovation.

  10. Beth,

    I agree with Len – this is really well said.

    One thing, I think my updates on Twitter are protected — not because I don’t want to be transparent .. I do put myself out there. I’ve had some bad experiences and being on the public timeline initially creeped me out ..

    So, how do balance the urge for transparency with cybersafey?

    Waving at Connie ..

  11. I’ve had good and bad experiences. Hubpages, for example, has a tight clique of members who ban together to exclude anyone they don’t agree with. Other sites welcome diversity with open arms and open minds.

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