Smells like social networking to me...In kind of a follow up to the event last week I’ve been having a conversation with an old friend of mine who is a library type, but isn’t working in what you might call a traditional library role.  One of the thing’s she’s been tasked with is exploring social networking for her organisation, which is interesting as she’s someone who doesn’t really like the idea of social networking (despite years of me trying to encourage her to take the plunge).  Not that she’s not social personally, as frankly she’s among the most welcoming, warm and giving of all my friends.  Nor is it that she’s not into technology, perhaps not to my level but she’s certainly not adverse to it.

So colour me surprised when last week she popped up on twitter and followed me.  What a shocker that was!  Sent her an @ message to welcome her aboard…and the next I know I have an email from her saying she’s unfollowed me because…well that’s the long story.  Her explanation:

  • Her organisation is considering looking at twitter for marketing.
  • It’s on the quiet using her personal email as her IT dept consider using social networking a total no-no
  • Professional information that used to appear on email lists now goes out via twitter.  She wants to access this from key feeds like me and CILIP – but keep the number of people she follows to a minimum.
  • Her account was protected so she had to authorise followers – and she’d already had angry tweets from (person or persons unknown) moaning at her for not making it an openly followable account.

Okay, so far so no shock.  many organisations want to use networks like twitter and more than one person who was looking to use it has told me their IT or firewall or the like got in the way.  I was glad she locked down her account, always a good idea if you’re experimenting, don’t want random followers or indeed anyone you haven’t authorised listening in.  I was very interested that she feels being on email lists now means missing out on hot information, i’d agree with her to a degree – email lists still have a role, they’re just not the breaking news/informational bleeding edge any more.

Likewise keeping the people you follow to a minimum is always a good idea – not everyone can cope with the level of signal to noise that some tweeters (yes myself included) put out, and everyone’s threshold is different.  It’s all about experimentation and finding just what it is you can cope with personally.  Some can cope with a dozen or so, some can cope with hundreds; you learn what suits and what tools can help you to filter (tweetdeck and hootsuite for me mostly).  I was a bit shocked (not surprised) that someone had angrily tweeted about her protecting the account – its a perfectly acceptable approach.  I know some tweeters who work for firms that really don’t want just anyone reading its employees tweets.  I also know a fair few people who don’t want their management or colleagues to know what they’re talking about.  I perfectly understand and respect it, even though as an open access and anti-censorship advocate I keep my stream wide open (and yes it has gotten me bitten in the ass more than once, but that’s a story for another day!).

No, what shocked me was the following statement she made right at the end of our conversation

The fear of twitterI DID NOT join this to be sociable e.g. I want to follow you because you have good info but I do not want your followers to be able to see or contact me. I do not have the time to respond to random replies but don’t want to just ignore people so tried to avoid the problem by hiding my account.

Ouch.  Taking the social out of social networking there.  I wonder how many other people have this sort of concern/fear/terror that they only want to interact with a limited subset that they define?  Certainly twitter has pretty good blocking tools so I can screen people out (more if I locked my account obviously) but for me one of the biggest advantages is that I do make contact with people over and above those I know and would normally network on a daily/worktime basis.  That’s the power of the social network after all; to breach the silos and go beyond!

I think it’s that last line that tells the truth – it’s something I actually can recognise, not in social networking but in MMORPGs.  I like playing these on and off (playing Lord of the Rings Online at the moment) but when it comes to meeting random people I get all the same sort of issues, if perhaps not quite as acutely as my friend.  I don’t want to ignore people and breach unknown social protocols but at the same time don’t want to have to react to every single person who /dances near me.

Now some might argue that’s my fault for playing a sexy female minstrel* and that of course I’ll get attention, but I’ve found when I actually manage to get over that “OMG NO!” feeling of  making an error and just going for it.  I have a great time (like yesterday in the Barrows, what an epic battle!).  With twitter I guess in the early days it might have been more of a risk, but today it’s easier I think to be part of anonymous crowd and perhaps a little safer to experiment than people like my friend think.  I’ll certainly be looking forward to having a real-world conversation with her soon and exploring some of these fears and maybe, just maybe, turn her onto the possibilities and advantages.

Hope ringAt least that’s what I hope!

*I always tend to gender-swap for RPGing.  If I’m going to stare at someone’s behind for hours I’ll always take a lovely lady over a bloke anytime.  It’s just the way I’m engineered.  i won’t get into the combat response sound effects, that’s between me and my 7.1 speaker system…


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