Three things brought social media to the front of mind this week:
First, I've been reading a lot in the last few days about Google's Buzz, a new social media site launched on February 10. Mainly I've been interested in the approach Google took to getting people hooked into it. The whole storm about automatically linking connections to the people someone has email conversations intrigued me and I can't imagine why Google engineers would think this was a good idea. I think it was the standard form of "cock up not conspiracy" – there's no reason why Google would want to invade the privacy of citizens lives and risk countless lawsuits – which is the consequence they seem to be facing.
The Independent has a calm report on the launch, including this paragraph that makde me laugh. "Further changes under consideration include setting up Google Buzz as a standalone website, to further untangle it from Gmail. But, even as it was dealing with its public relations nightmare, Google was trying to look on the bright side. At least many of the Buzz users who were venting their fury were doing so on the new social network.
"We've been getting feedback via the Gmail help forums," said Mr Jackson, [his is the Buzz Product Manager and posts on the official Buzz blog] "and we've also been able to do something new: read the buzz about Buzz itself."
However, I wonder what's going on behind the scenes in terms of "learning from our mistakes", "not assigning blame", "accepting responsibility", "being held accountable" and all the stuff that when things are normally stable look like sensible approaches, but when a crisis erupts usually turn into knee jerk reactions, swiftly followed by heads rolling.
Second, someone told me (via an ordinary email, not on Twitter or something) about a very helpful beginner's guide to why businesses should use social media. It is Euan Semple's series of one minute video clips that answer 15 questions like: How do social media affect the business culture? How practical is social media to business? How do I justify social media in terms of ROI?
He talks very well on the changes to management style that use social media implies. He says that the potential for the more connected conversational tools is that more people will be able to do things together with an awful lot less management. But, in his view, there's no real difference in the amount of control that managers will have – using social media may, in fact, allow them more but different control. Its value lies in giving them a place and a tool for expressing and discussing their challenges, what they're trying to achieve, how and why they are thinking of doing this – and getting support and involvement from their team members. In Semple's opinion, if managers become good at using the tools it's a much more productive way for them to achieve what they are trying to.
Third, I've had several invitations to be LinkedIn to people from my past roles, and two people have wanted to follow me on Twitter. One of the LinkedIn invitations came from someone whose name I remembered but couldn't think where/when I'd worked with him. As a memory jog I looked him up on LinkedIn before accepting the invitation. It transpired that we'd worked together 15 years ago and that he'd bought a croquet set from me which I had totally forgotten. But not only that, in a subsequent (email) exchange we found out that the person who taught him croquet I also knew but in a completely different forum. So that's all good fun and …. I'm wondering what the connection is for. What do I do with all these connections? It's not that I don't like them – I'm waiting to find out what happens next.
Which seems ok and is a tack that Semple suggests. In answering the question "How should businesses get involved with social media?" he says it should be slowly. People should be watching, learning, experimenting, and seeing what other people are doing i.e.don't rush in. That's good advice for me because I am not a committed user of any social media. I have Twitter and a Facebook account but so far I haven't tweeted once, and I can't yet see why I would want to and who would want any tweet from me, and haven't used Facebook at all either. (I guess it doesn't help that I have activated the highest level of privacy possible on both).