Friday, October 31, 2008

Society Needs to Catch Up to Social Media, Part 1

Every so often an article or story comes up about how social media sites have affected real lives. We’ve all seen them. There’s the “MySpace Mayor” ousted by her Oregon town for posting racy photos on her MySpace page. HR departments look at Facebook profiles before making job offers.

Sure, dressing in lingerie and taking pictures straddling a fire truck probably isn’t the brightest move for those with political aspirations. Then again, the pictures were taken before she became mayor, and were only available to her friends. I’m also pretty sure the firefighters didn’t mind.

Not offering a job because a college kid has a picture with a beer on their Facebook page? Or because a photo was labeled “drunk pirate” even though there is no alcohol in the photo? I don’t know about that. I think it’s a bit of an overreaction. Again, it’s not the best idea to publish those pictures, but what percentage of college kids don’t have a drink at least once in four years of college?

I’m not going to say these people are totally blameless. However, there is a societal shift going on. More and more people are broadcasting their lives for the world to see, whether it be MySpace, Facebook, blogs, Twitter. Once that content is out, it can never be completely reclaimed.

Maybe I’m ahead of the curve here because I deal with the applications of social media every day, but I think society has to adjust its perception of these transgressions. Who hasn’t done something silly or stupid in their life? I don’t believe posing for a picture at a Halloween party affects anyone’s ability to do a job one way or another. It really shouldn’t be a factor.

The waters get even murkier as we move into microblogging tools like Twitter. In my opinion, the best users have a strong mix of both professional and personal Tweets. I think this is the wave of the future, and we’re going to continue to see a blurring of the lines between personal and professional applications of social media. It’s time for society at large to acknowledge that.

This is the first of an ongoing series of blogs about the effects of social media in corporate culture. Part 2 will explore the business applications of social media and discuss why IT departments need to be less restrictive with those tools.

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