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Social Networking: Balancing Profession and Play

Posted on July 8, 2009 by Sean

Social networking has afforded post-modern escapism for millions. From novice to savvy and catering to dozens of demographics, there is a site geared towards connecting all of us with all of us.

Though MySpace didn’t exactly pioneer social networking, it’s largely responsible for its ubiquity. The site allowed users to easily upload pictures, biographies and customize their "space" in such a way that their space was, well, uniquely their space. A user could conceivably surf to another user's MySpace page and view the content the user wanted the viewer to see. Social Darwinism was one of the only worries; if a user was naive (dumb) enough to upload scandalous pictures of themselves, they suffered justly for their blunder. With Facebook came another level of social Venn-diagramming. The site functioned largely the same way, save much of the aesthetic customization options. But, now, users could upload and "tag" other users, rendering the "tagged" image visible for anyone in the tagged user’s network. 

Example: John gets a little heavy-handed with the party punch one Saturday evening. His mischievous friend, Mary, snaps a picture of him mid-cartwheel and, in a fit of hilarity, uploads the picture and tags John. Now, John's drunken Olympics are visible for everyone in his network, despite his acknowledgement or permission.

Invasive or intuitive?

Just yesterday, I realized that Facebook also “conveniently” scans your email contacts and "suggests" potential friends based upon their findings. This means that, for those of us who've ever used our personal emails for work-related content, we might find our boss, employee or co-worker as a suggested friend on the right-hand side of the most popular social networking site. Of course, there should be nothing to worry about, right? Right.

There's dozens of articles written about the inherent dangers of reckless networking. Curious parents, hiring managers and college admissions counselors have found a useful research tool in social media. Thanks to the excellent organic search results returned by the engines for the most popular networking sites’, oftentimes “Googling” a person’s name is enough to return dozens of links to their online profiles.

The latest social media site to gain solid traction is Twitter, a "micro-blogging" service that allows users to punch in a 140 character message and immediately send it to all of his/her "Followers." Ironically, the medium was originally designed for work. Now, what was once a way for project managers to simultaneously communicate with dozens of colleagues is now fodder for pedestrian updating. From celebrities to CEO's, pastors to pundits, Barack Obama to Joe the Plumber, almost everyone's got a Twitter account and uses it liberally. For those of us contributing to Twitter’s meteoric rise to banality, we should be conscious of our content.

The problem is, like any other social media, a user’s persona is created through updated content. The danger with Twitter is that it allows for silent commiseration. Voicing complaints is normal, perhaps even necessary, but it's another story when users can see that (during work hours) on June 11, 2008, you "Hated your boss sooo much!" 

The bottom line is that social networking can be fun or even profitable when approached with caution and purpose. Taking a macroscopic look at what a certain Twitter or Facebook update might cost is the key to keeping the necessary division between work and play.

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