Monday, November 13, 2006

Some More Thoughts on Social Networking

I've been reading all the great posts on today's carnival and have been absorbing everything and learning a lot- great job everyone!

Here's a nugget to chew on that's been festering in my head for a while.

When you sign up your organization for a social network, it's both YOU signing up and the organization. Problem is that it's YOU that approves friends, responds to emails and posts blogs. This may cause your organization some consternation (what! no approval process!).

It gets worse in worlds like Second Life I think. My avatar, Cram Doctorow is functioning as "me" in the virtual world, but also as the representative from LLS. Sure, I could create a "fake avatar" but that wouldn't be authentic - and based on my own strong opinion, if you aren't being authentic, you are making a big mistake.

I've thought hard about how to represent the organization on sites like Myspace and SL but haven't come up with any perfect answers yet. In most cases, you can sort of fix it but in others, you have to make decisions like:

  • What age to put
  • What sex to put
  • Is the organization married, single or divorced?
  • What to dress your avatar in when he/she/it is associated with your organization.

There's no perfect answer here, but I do think that you should at least consider a few things before slapping up a profile page on a networking site, or creating an avatar in SL.

Here are some starter questions. Please add more to the comments:
  • How will you answer those demographic questions? Age/status/sex of the organization or age of the person currently driving the profile?
  • How will you integrate comments and questions into your existing email flow?
  • What rules do you have of whom to accept as "friends" or not?
  • Whose voice will you use when posting blogs? Your own personal voice, a "media" safe version or a mixed up hybrid? This is a tough one!
  • If you have your own personal profile or avatar, will you both link it to your organization profile AND be transparent enough to be a friend of your own organization? This could be tricky if you aren't careful!
  • Do you put a general email address in, use your main work email address or use a personal address? I've done both and prefer to use a secondary email address.
Here are some specific examples of what we're actually doing:

Our LLS Myspace page says "57 years old." That's how old LLS is as an organization but I think that's pretty confusing. I personally respond to emails and comments and approval all our friends. I also post the occasional bulletin or blog, as myself. My own personal profile IS linked so folks can see who I am. We have no approval process on any of our Myspace pages. Two of the guys who work for me each manage Hike for Discovery and TNT.

On Second Life, I personally manage the group and answer emails (to my personal email address at that!). Donations come in to our group, but there has been confusion around my avatar vs. the group for some reason.

I think there is both a big opportunity and some risk for organizations who are jumping into these networks without thinking some of these issues through.

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