Social Networks in 2011 – it’s all about contextual networks

It happens from time to time; I send a Facebook request to someone I know through work and I get a reply by email. It says something like “Hi John, I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t add people from work to Facebook – it’s for my personal friends only”. Each to his own, but I think that it’s missing the point.

Business and personal networks in 2011

One of the biggest problems is that these networks are really blurred these days. I have quite a lot of people that I’ve done work with that I’d consider a friend – and if you’re reading this blog you may well fall into that category. What’s more, I’ve employed or done business with quite a few friends.

There is an old adage that says you shouldn’t mix business and pleasure, and there is some truth to this. It is certainly true that it’s bad to mix business and pleasure in the same sentence.

Creating boundaries

I’m a strong believer in downtime from work and this is the biggest problem if you mix business and pleasure. If you go out with someone that you do some work with, do they know that it’s not cool to bring up some nasty business problem at 10pm in your favourite restaurant? For me, anecdotes about work are fine after hours, but getting into the depths of some unpleasant HR problem can be quite stressful on a Friday night.

But I don’t believe that separating business and work is possible any more – and it’s becoming less and less possible as the years tick by. Social networking means that the personal and work networks are blurrier as time goes by, whether you like it or not. What you can do is decide how you behave and in what network context.

Behavioural boundaries

A year or so back, when I started to add work people to Facebook, it became clear to me that this was how to behave. I interact on some 5 social networks and they all have their place. It looks something like this:

LinkedIn: purely for work and promotional networking purposes. I’ll add anyone to LinkedIn that I have met and remember, but I don’t see the point with networking with people I don’t know.

Facebook: purely for recreational purposes and I don’t promote my work on FB. Actually I hate it when people do, especially when they link Twitter to FB. Because it’s recreational, some of my content requires some context and therefore I only add people to Facebook that I’d stop and have a drink with in an airport. It’s my barometer for how well I know someone.

Twitter: starting to blur the lines here – Twitter is a predominate work focus for me but I have friends on it too. Anyone can follow me on Twitter so I am careful about the content I produce, whilst I try to be “me” and to give a sense of my personality.

Bluefin Blog: this is purely work focussed and an outlet for my thoughts on the SAP marketplace and products. Clearly anyone can read and comment on it and I only screen comments for spam – bring on the criticism.

This blog: my People, Process & Technology blog might have a work bias but it has a very specific purpose: to be an outlet for structured thoughts where my work blog would be inappropriate. It’s only ever written in my own time – evenings and weekends (and on the way into work in this case).

What does this mean to social networks in 2011

I think it’s pretty simple – it’s about authenticity and context and not about trying to create some artificial boundary between home and work – that simply doesn’t exist any more, and fighting it is futile. It’s true that we are likely to have slightly different personas at home and at work but if you segment your behaviour between the different channels, you will find things much easier.

And the other thing you need to remember is that nothing is private on social networks. Facebook, for example keeps changing its Terms of Service and Privacy Settings – last year it put all your photos public and this month it added facial recognition for you.

So if you’re doing things you don’t want the world to know about – throwing up in a bush at dawn or partying with your mistress – then don’t put them on a social network in the first place.

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22 Responses to Social Networks in 2011 – it’s all about contextual networks

  1. What about the use of filters within these social tools to try and continue the barrier? Or the use of multiple accounts on the same networks?

    • John Appleby says:

      Hey Aleks,

      I’m not a big fan of filters – they are so easily reversed by mistake and sometimes the network (esp FaceBook) can remove them for you. For me, if you don’t mind it to be public, don’t post it.

      On multiple accounts I think it’s really relevant if you have mutiple groups of people you want to appeal to – especially true in Twitter if you want to tweet corporate stuff. A lot of SAP accounts for example are run by individuals. I think that’s all good. Again, using this as a means to limit what gets out in the public domain – well you’ve seen what has happened, in the news.


    • That’s a tough one; a personal choice. I think it’s too much effort and mostly you can see through it. I’d rather not be “your friend” than know that I am second class friend.

  2. I agree – it is really difficult to draw a line of separation any more.
    And if you draw a hard line between personal and professional – you risk losing authenticity.
    I try to be the same at work or outside – you see what you get 🙂

    I do not actively seek friends from work to join my facebook network. But I accept friend requests all the time from these folks. On twitter – I think I do mostly SAP related topics, but also other stuff that comes up – like a book review or restaurant review.

    Again, this is all a point-in-time view – I hated twitter and facebook few years ago, and only used Linkedin and SDN. That has changed. So my current view will probably change too.

    • John Appleby says:

      Thanks Vijay and this is from someone who has got it pretty much spot on, in my opinion. Authenticity is the key – and transparency. That’s different from putting your heart on your sleeve!

      Not sure I agree with your FB strategy – why should you only accept friends – do you not care enough to add some to your FB? If you’re going to accept, you should look to add people worth adding too :=) – just my 2 cents.

      I’m quite selective on those work people I add on FB though. I only add those that come up as “People you may know” and only those I’ve spent some time with and know well. I see plenty there that I “sort of” know and would stop to chat to at a conference.

  3. Totally agree – I’ve always kept business and pleasure separate. I VERY rarely ever use my work email for personal reasons. Your breakdown of social networks is pretty much exactly what I do. I think it’s effective and the “way it should be”. At the end of the day we are all social human beings right?

    • John Appleby says:

      I’m not sure there’s a right way and a wrong way and certainly there are probably ways in which we could both improve. But I suppose the point is we can’t change human nature. Also, our usage is bound to change as social networks change and we will have to reinvent ourselves.

  4. Jon Reed says:

    John, I pretty much agree with everything you have said here and I use the tools the same way. I agree with Vijay’s take on authenticity and that you pretty much “get what you get.” I use a very non-corporate picture of myself on Facebook to make pretty clear that “you get what you get” if you friend me there and that I’m not there to build up a business database. However I do know folks, particularly artists and those in entertainment fields, who use Facebook friendship in what I find a spammy and tacky way, constantly sending promo event invites and getting away with it, perhaps, because they are in creative fields. It’s tedious.

    Ergo, Facebook poses some real conundrums. I think it depends on the person, but once I started letting business colleagues friend me on Facebook I reached a turning point there – even though these were colleagues that easily passed the “airport beer” test. I continue to say pretty much the same things on Facebook I always did, including things that I know bother people., but there are certain personal things I just won’t share anymore. That’s how it goes, and you could make the argument I shouldn’t have been saying them in the first place there anyhow, so maybe it’s for the best, but if you don’t think through that kind of thing, I you’re gonna find trouble. I have a friend who lost a client on Facebook due to a political fight on their profile, and the list goes on. And what of those that don’t pass that “airport beer” test? I have a bunch of business colleague invites I haven’t accepted. I have no desire to hurt any feelings but I don’t know them well enough to pass whatever airport bar test I have. Some of that might have blowback, I don’t know. But the alternative to me is to let everyone in and thereby diminish what “friendship” means even further.

    I keep my SAP work out of Facebook aside from the photos I get tagged in. I agree with not piping Twitter into Facebook as a stream, though some do it selectively and manually and that can work. As for me I use a JonERP Facebook Page for Twitter integration. I don’t send all my tweets there but some of them do go there, but I figure folks are opting into that page and they can opt out anytime.

    Having multiple Twitter IDs can make sense if you are managing a corporate account with a specific purpose and need a more freewheeling alternative ID and/or an ID where you can riff on more subjects. However those corporate accounts (unless they are clearly feeds like my jonerpnewsfeed) should have some personality. I don’t really like “Logo” corporate Twitter accounts, I’d prefer to see a picture. Even if multiple people are posting, take a picture of those people and put that up there. If it MUST be a corporate logo, I still want to know who’s tweeting, I want to see initials or something that tells me who is tweeting. Put a face on it somehow.

    One “worst practice” in my opinion is creating an alternative Facebook personal profile for work. I recently got a friend request from someone’s “work” Facebook profile. I was offended to be honest – basically they were saying “I like you but only in a professional context, so I won’t friend you from my real Facebook account but please be friends with my work persona.” That’s a total fail (as well as a violation of the Facebook TOS FWIW). In that case they should have created as Facebook Page and sent me an email invite to like their page. Don’t pose as a “friend” in a work persona. I wanted to take a shower when I got that invite which is ironic given that they were implying we should put on suits and ties and relate as business personas.

    I think it’s ok to have some personas out there, authenticity matters but how many of us truly bare our souls even on Facebook. I think that’s ok and doesn’t contradict your point about the blending of the two. Authenticity and discretion are not necessarily contradictions.

    • John Appleby says:

      Fantastic analysis – as always Jon. I think you added some great stuff in particular on how not to use FB.

      Your example of not sharing personal stuff though I think is much more about how we have to be careful on how we share information in general on social networks, rather than something specific to adding your business community. Once information is out in the wild, we have to be prepared for other people to share it.

      • jon says:

        John, agreed. I think what I’ve noticed is that there is much more of a jugular immediacy to today’s Internet. For example, I used to have a personal writing web site that included scathing critiques of companies that in some cases were clients of mine in a different business context. 🙂

        That web site is down now but I will bring it back at some point, and if/when I do, I’ll have to be much more aware of what I say on it and more prepared for blowback. That’s the Facebook/Twitter effect in a sense. Prior to that, I accepted that my clients might find that kind of thing, but only if they searched hard for it. Now it’s so easy to share content that anything you post can quickly find its way into wide circulation as you point out. It’s an important reality to keep in mind and as you say, that reality has more to do with why discretion matters more than letting some business colleagues onto Facebook.

        – Jon

  5. golasalle says:

    Great post! I have noticed the lines blurring more and more. I have tried to keep the mantra ‘Facebook for personal and Twitter for business and the two shall never meet’. But recently I have found this to NOT be the case and I need to adjust my outlook. I think I’m going to follow Jon Reed’s approach. He makes sense and the more I put myself out into the social media realm, the more that seems to be a good way to handle it.

    But I do think that as these technologies become more embedded in corporate environments, they are going to intersect our personal lives more and more. I can’t decide if this is dot

    • John Appleby says:

      Great Derek, this is exactly the sort of reaction I had expected and no doubt your experiences as a new SAP Mentor are playing their part – SAP Mentors have a habit of creating deep friendships with a business context, and that blurs this line so much farther.

      I think the blurring might be a good thing or it might be a bad thing – but like many social shifts, it’s just the way it’s going for the masses. You can choose to go that way or not – that’s your choice, but what you probably can’t affect, is the wind of change!

  6. This is a good topic as I think the lines can easily become blury especially as more people start to use social media. In my case I follow a very similar “strategy” to you though I am very active on Twitter which is 99% work based and very light on Facebook (18 posts in 2yrs) which is 99% personal. I have often wondered if I am missing the boat not being more active on Facebook from a work perspective (with a FB Fan account or something as such) but have got the impression that isnt the case at this point in time.

    The interesting thing for me is on Twitter I share a lot of information because it is work based and on FB very little as I like to keep my personal life somewhat private even to my FB friends as all my “real” friends/family communicate over the ‘old school” channels like telephone, email and face to face and dont need a FB post to know what is going on. That said I am a FB lurker and do enjoy seeing what my fringe high school friends are up to 🙂

    I am very open to changing my “strategy” but this has worked well for me up to date and my plan is to continue unless there is a shift where SAP folks are using Facebook as their main tool.

    On a side note I got a laugh out of Jon R’s comment “I wanted to take a shower” 🙂

    • John Appleby says:

      I think your experiences match mine. FB is my “public” private life and I share the sorts of things I would share in a public setting like a dinner or with a wide group of friends, not all of which I know that well. This means I’m not that active.

      I don’t share stuff about my personal life and I ask those close to me – that I implicitly trust much further than any social media – not to put this stuff up on FB or anywhere else.

      Some SAP folks are using FB as a main tool and I don’t like that all that much – it clutters my stream with work stuff, which isn’t why I go to FB in the first place.

  7. Guys,
    So although we all try to keep the grey areas of our lives as close to the black or to the white to limit ambiguity in relationships – they always bleed over and will do so with increasing regularity.
    It is important that people recognise what their relationship is between themselves and another person and how that relationship started – that can help to smooth some of the wrinkles in miscommunications or perceived inappropriate comment.
    Persona’s are very important in everyday life, we are not the same person with everyone and so why should we be expected to behave differently in our online presence – I do not tend to swear on Twitter because it looks bad, I do not swear in front of my boss for the same reason. I am selective of the pictures I put on the web, because not everyone wants those pictures seen and I ask the same of my friends. My brother-in-law has many embarrassing photos and videos of me (no you cannot have his name), but he respects my online persona is strongly linked to my work so he lets me post them if I want to.
    I find it very interesting that despite all the evidence and best practice advice out there, tools like Klout and PeerIndex all want you to link your Facebook account, your Twitter and your LinkedIn account. This does nothing to separate your lives, only complicates it and besides why the hell do I care about my influence with regard to my personal life/downtime – oh yes I forgot, I don’t, but how much longer can I ignore it?

    Thanks for starting this conversation – I wonder where Natascha is on this one, she’s usually got words of wisdom.

    p.s Jon, that whole thing about a work Facebook page, I considered it for about 2 seconds, then thought about something Natascha said a while ago and you re-iterated. I gave it up as a very very bad idea and wrote a new blog post instead 🙂

    • John Appleby says:

      More great comments here. You’ve got it right – it’s about the persona on a network and how you want to appear. We are all social chameleons and we react different ways to different social scenarios and groups of people.

      Klout isn’t changing anything in my opinion, it’s just pointing out that all social networks form part of your overall persona and that they are interlinked by some people that sit on more than one.

      I will ping Natascha!

  8. Chris Paine says:

    Worth noting that it’s much easier to accept, “sorry family only”, than, “hey, I just don’t think you’re someone I’d like to have a beer with.
    Working at various sites, I often work with people that I would not choose to socialise with and need to maintain a friendly working relationship. A family friends rule here can save a lot of bother.
    great post and comments.

    • John Appleby says:

      Totally disagree with you on this one mate – that’s a cop out. I don’t mind if someone ignores my request or says “I really don’t know you that well”.

      Obviously there’s a difference between that and “I don’t like you”. But on the other hand if your filter for FB is different to the “drink at an airport” filter then that’s fine – although I think it should be around social context rather than business/personal context, because those lines are already blurred and will become more and more so.

  9. Jonathan Wilson says:

    While each channel (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs etc) has specific capabilities, it makes sense to me to use a specific channel for specific content (and therefore audience). It’s not about different personas, it’s about different topics and relevance. Not sure about you, but most of my friends really aren’t that interested the detail of my SAP work life. If someone is both a friend and a work colleague, then let them use multiple channels.

    If I don’t want someone to use a specific channel (e.g. Facebook) then it’s because I believe that the content isn’t relevant for them, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Of course, if I’m wrong, then stop me and buy me a drink next time we meet at the airport.

    • John Appleby says:

      Totally agree! I don’t want to hear about your SAP life on FB! Or the football scores on LinkedIn. On Twitter though I do want to know who you are as a person and if you mix SAP, football and whatever else then I think that’s all good.

      And really that’s the point of this blog – create networks of relevance – or context.

      Strangely I almost never meet people at airports, despite spending quite a lot of time there. If we do meet, I’ll get you one, how’s that :=)

  10. John:

    As a social media professional, I’ve been struggling with this separation of work and private life.

    Your blog and the many comments confirm that everybody has their own comfort zone when it comes to whom to accept on which social network. The question you bring up, and that I think about the most, is the separation of work and private life. Social media makes that hard, especially if you have a mix of friends and work acquaintances on certain social channels.

    Most people I am friends with on Facebook don’t talk much about work, so checking FB at night or on the weekend is a “go”. But Twitter is a different story; it’s hard to check in without being reminded of work-related topics (then again, it’s great to connect on DM Twitter, as you know); the same with LinkedIn.

    I guess, we just have to make a personal choice of when we want to be on and when off; watching ourselves closely, to make sure we get the rest we require to function well and be happy.

    I read that Generation Y does not make the same distinction between work and life as we often do, and I wonder how that will affect our future. Will it become expected to be on even more?

    It’s definitely annoying when people are constantly fiddeling around with their cell phones on the weekend instead of being in the moment. I am guilty of documenting moments with pictures frequently and posting them on FB right away; because I like to feel connected but it does take away from the present moment…

    Thanks for writing this blog, the topic is an ongoing conversation as social media evolves and affects our culture,


  11. Pingback: Google Plus and contextual networks – analysis of the major social media websites | People, Process & Technology

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