Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Social Networks - The Fabric of My Life

The panel presentation at NY DMA today went well - I met some terrific folks from Save the Children, Doctors without Borders and even caught up with my old buddy Rob Prisament from the March of Dimes at lunch.

I've been wanting to explore and think more deeply my own personal use of social networking sites for a while, because I think something radical has been happening as these new tools and communication channels open up further and further.

It all started with my personal myspace page - some very old friends from High School were already there and we reconnected. What's interesting, is that we are still using the myspace tools to communicate and talk to each other. For whatever reason, those myspace friends have remained locked into myspace - even though I have IM and email info for each of them. Odd.

On LinkedIn, my profile has netted me quite a few contacts from past jobs - but again, much of the contact remains locked up inside that particular site. I can keep tabs and check in on folks without having to call or email them. It's odd again - having a personal connection with someone but not so personal that I ever really have to talk to them - but can know what they are up to.

On Facebook, an entirely new set of friends and colleagues have emerged - and further still, even more on twitter. Twitter may be the oddest - I find myself following certain friends and colleagues much closer than anyone else I know, but never really going any deeper than knowing that they are eating a burrito or seeing a concert.

What seems to be happening is that in addition to email, phone and "in real life" relationships, I'm developing a new set of relationships that are based on these new social networking sites and tools. That all said, I'm pretty selective - I tend to only add people I know and will even challenge someone via email or the site if I don't recognize them.

Bottom line though, I have some questions about all this and where it is going both personally and professionally.
  • What is a friend these days anyway?
    • I follow Lee Lefever and Beth Kanter's twitters and blogs - but have only met them once each in person. We skype and e-mail every so often. How does one define "friend" these days anyway?
    • I have some new RL (real life) friends in Trumbull who don't know me professionally but have stumbled on to my blog. They searched for me for whatever reason and followed a link to my various web pages and profiles and are able to learn more about me than they know from being my neighbor. That makes them really informed - Marc experts to some degree and certainly more informed than some people I've known for years! That's odd isn't it?
    • Just because someone knows my entire history, what books I'm reading and what I think about cheese - does that make them my friend? It just might!
    • And what if these "Marc Experts" don't have a myspace/facebook profile, or a blog I can read? They aren't reciprocating with enough information for the relationship to be balanced - and that isn't fair and can create awkward situations.
This applies to your fund-raising and marketing in one very, very important and distinctive way. Someone in your organization has to run your profile pages. This means that some bits of them will leak out into the narrative, copy and information. It seems to me that this is both a huge opportunity and a huge risk.

On the upside, it gives your staff a way to build stronger, personal relationships with large groups of "friends." It gives you an ear to the ground to see what is resonating and what's not in your appeals, messaging and creative. That's all good stuff.

But it also exposes you to some risk. If your profile pages explode with activity - how are you going to monitor them? What if they don't generate any money? How will you justify managing these sites/pages? That same person who now has a one to one voice with "friends" can also say dumb things.

Another question starts to emerge: "Who exactly then is the relationship with?" If a person adds herself to the IRC Myspace profile and trades e-mails with us (me currently), aren't they simultaneously building a relationship with the International Rescue Committee, and with Marc Sirkin? I think so.

What do you think about all of this?

And if you are reading this blog and don't have a Myspace/FB or LinkedIn profile yet... you really, really, really should. Create one and add me (I promise I'll either accept the invite or ask you who the heck you are!).


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