Many people are uninterested in social networking.
For as many people that are joining Facebook every day (about 500 million total have done so), there is an enormous amount of people who want nothing to do with it. Moreover, there are even more people who would never like to see social networking (and the objects of social media) be a part of their working life. Of the 500 million people on that social network, not to mention the hundreds of other networks, there is a significant portion who would rather not have to mix their private and professional lives in such an overt way. They may be able to see the benefit in joining the two for marketing purposes, work related connections, or simply keeping a handle on trends for customers or clients. But, there is immense resistance to placing information on the open web or within a proprietary social network.
While there may be reason to call into question the placing of important communication on social networks, the ones that would make the most sense (we don’t own the data, the service may go down, etc.) never seem to come up. The only ones that seem to get mentioned are ones that reference a lack of control for the content.
Here is my theory: The majority of companies and organizations that are looking at social media as a part of their branding and marketing strategy never pull the trigger because they don’t trust the social contribution paradigm. They want to police the content and moderate all annotations, comments and embeds.
In effect, the same reasons that they want to engage in Social Media (virality, free distribution, and word of mouth) are the ones that they fear. They are uninterested in upsetting their own internal hierarchy with one from their users.
While this may be a widespread problem (and perhaps widely understood as well), there isn’t anything to be gained by this outlook. The most common effect of this fear for social networking even in the face of the benefits of its practice are half-hearted attempts at collaboration. The most typical is setting up a blog and turning on comment moderation. While there may be more personal blogs left for dead, I have a feeling that in the not so distant future, there will be an entire generation of corporate blogs that haven’t been updated in years and have never had a comment because of their arcane moderating practices. The next best thing to set up a blog is to put “follow us on Twitter and Facebook” on every page of an existing web presence. This looks like a social media plan, but upon further inspection, there are only a few status updates and no significant content or conversations contributed by users. By dipping their toes in the water, these organizations can appear to be forward thinking while still continuing to do things the way that they always have with “official communications.”
I am not unsympathetic to the fears that people have for letting their content go and become controlled (at least to some extent) by the crowd. However, I don’t think that locking down content is the way in which anyone is going to take advantage of the social benefits of social media. The alternative to locking down content is not turning over all content to the horde, it is a self-policing community. And I know this is because of red suspenders.
Punk music, or at least it’s late 80’s and 90’s inception, had a huge impact on my life. I dedicated a good deal of time to its ideals of DIY and rebellion, whether that was carving things all over my bedroom furniture or learning how to play the guitar by strumming the wood off of the body of my mother’s nylon string guitar. I let it get to my clothes too.
For a while, I cuffed my dark bluejeans up over my converse all stars. I wore white t-shirts, and on occasion, suspenders. The only ones I had access to were red ones, thick and incredibly out of style, which was all the more Punk.
One night while I was wearing those suspenders, a friend of mine pulled me aside. He told me that only skinheads (racist punks) wore red suspenders. I tried to counter that it was only skinny red suspenders that were the choice of nazi punks, but I was vetoed. He didn’t want me to be associated at all with the dark side of our small movement, and I reluctantly agreed. I never wore those suspenders again.
He had changed my behavior because of our friendship. He caused me to rethink my choices. Even if I didn’t agree with the social norms of our group, I wasn’t going to go against them just so that I could complete an action that I had intended to. Our community kept on going because of this self-policing, and so does every other community online or not.
The only way to combat the folks who are apprehensive of the social nature of social media is to show them that these types of communities are bound by the same types of norms (although not necessarily the same ones) that bind their organization’s groups. I think that convincing folks to step out into the world of social contribution is as easy as getting them to recognize the unspoken rules of blogs and tweets that are so easy for them to pick up on in a face to face meeting. That way, they will see the self-policing functions rather than having to rely on the news and other sensationalized accounts of user control going horribly wrong.
Just to get a better idea of what these self-policing norms are, I would like to contribute a few that I have recognized:
Online communities will self-police according to these norms. They will call individuals into question or simply leave behind those that refuse to recognize the value of the established rules. We need to continue to outline these rules for those who cannot see them, especially if we want everyone to benefit from social media the way that people who are already attuned.
Anyone care to add some norms of their own to add to this list?
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