Wednesday Aug 08, 2007

Keeping the Social in Social Networking



Sunday night, my son and two of his friends joined us for dinner.  Over barbecued chicken and corn-on-the-cob, we swapped stories about jobs we'd held, places we'd been, meals we'd eaten.  But the most interesting part of the evening - at least for me -  was the conversation we had on communication and the role that social media plays for these twenty-somethings.

Their take, in a nutshell:

  • Text messaging:  Air and water (btw, dinner was eaten to the background music of cell phones beeping, singing or tooting alerts of new messages coming in).  How you know where to meet your friends, where the best band is playing tonight, what time to pick up a friend to go out.
  • MySpace:  The ultimate site with the best functionality and the most friends
  • FaceBook:  Used mostly because photo-sharing was better, but features such as "poke" were met with rolled eyes and groans:  "What kind of loser 'pokes' someone?  If you have something to say, be sociable and text message!"
  • Instant messaging:  IF you have a pc and IF you happen to be using it, a good way to multitask conversations with a variety of friends
  • Will you be my friend?:  Friend lists also elicited groans.  Why do people you haven't heard from in years now want to be your "friend?"  Is it a contest to see who has the longest list?
  • Twitter:  Huh?
  • E-mail: E-what?
  • Second Life:  A dangerous addiction.  The heroin of the electronic community - once you get started, you may find hours of your life gone.  But very interesting, and the idea that one can make a living in a virtual world quite fascinating
When I explained that part of my job at Sun is to build communities and that meant helping non-networkers learn some of these tools, I was met with expressions of disbelief and astonishment.  Why, they asked me, would Sun care?  All this stuff is just their way of keeping in touch with each other...what does that have to do with business?

Such an excellent question.  My dinner guests see social networking as...social.  A way to communicate, keep in touch, know what's going on.  That's its power.

And that's my takeaway from Sunday night.  Relationships drive our business.  And healthy relationships are built on common knowledge, trust, respect and a large degree of likability.  These tools can help us find common ground with each other, learn about each other, and as a result, possibly quicken relationship building and trust development. 

Over 3,000 Sunnies now use Facebook.  For the most part, we use it because it's a fun way to exchange information, share photos, learn about each other's interests.  There's not a big business side to it.  But that's OK.  Because it's keeping the social in social networking.

We have a lot to learn about this world, but let's not forget what we already know - that we want to work with people we respect and like.  Getting to know someone is a big part of that process.  How social media can help us expand our relationships and expand our worlds   - and how to keep the joy of interpersonal, inperson relationships sacred - are the really big issues we'll need to tackle in the months and years ahead.

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terrymckenzie

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