Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Social media – genius to gunpowder

Written by Rachel Quinn, Chief Executive, One East Midlands

At home I am quite an avid Facebook user. Yes you get lots of random rubbish popping up on it but if you manage your friend lists well and block the requests for games and shares that often flood out then it’s actually a marvellous social tool. For me it’s been a great enabler to keeping in touch with friends and contacts I have all over the country and world. It also allows me to build social contacts and social capital linked to my personal hobbies that would otherwise be impossible. I’ve received great advice, information and support from people I’ve never met before yet we share much in common.

In contrast I was recently ‘unfriended’ through Facebook by someone whom I have known for many years. Elements of my lifestyle, namely the rearing of free range animals for table, were at odds with their personal beliefs. In reality this was not a personal rebuff just a decision that we don’t need to be friends using this mechanism. Facebook amplifies the way in which you experience other people’s lives and I believe in this case it only served to amplify the bits that this person found distasteful. The result is that Facebook has become an online community for me with many people I barely know but share interests and values with. This is quite separate from my local community where personal relationships develop regardless of the lack of common interests outside local proximity and history. For me I value both and am stronger for them.

Just occasionally Facebook also throws up an interesting thought, dilemma or question. Recently an example of this popped up in the form of a cartoon with caption that summed up my current work related frustrations perfectly.

The cartoon showed a man and woman walking where the caption from the woman reads:

“My desire to be well informed is completely at odds with my need to remain sane!”

This is where my home use of social media immediately tips into work context and where, for me, this statement is currently right on the money. I need to know, I’m paid to know but quite often the more I know, the more disillusioned I feel.  This then leads me to the next type of social media where more trouble can start……

Twitter……still considering myself a novice I am nevertheless becoming a fairly consistent user of Twitter for work. It has limitations including irritation, failed links to online material and the potential to amplify your mistakes very far and very very quickly. However, it’s also the easiest and fastest way to make your point to key decision makers I have ever come across. For this reason I bear with it.

But Twitter sometimes gets me into trouble and I have learnt that it is an easy way to unintentionally undermine other organisations. Last week I let myself become annoyed at the number of “please like us on Facebook” style tweets flooding out from certain national orgs. I shouldn’t have bit but I did and publicly asked them to pack it in. It did the lead balloon thing is all I’ll say.

So what have I learnt – if social media brings us together and helps us build networks and articulate our thinking and dilemmas then that’s great. But bear in mind it also holds the potential to pit us against one another and damage relationships. All social media is a megaphone for our thoughts and opinions.

Remember - it’s so easy to post that tweet or status update but it’s a lot harder to later have to retract it. Use it and use it confidently because the benefits can be quick and effective but occasionally be ready to back track if you haven’t completely thought it through.

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