The Value of Social Networking
This is my site Written by Alora on December 6, 2008 – 12:45 pm

This week a dear friend and mentor commented to me that he had become “a poster-child for social networking fatigue” and that was why, while catching up by phone, he was giving me the last six months worth of updates on his life, many of which were pretty dramatic and a little surprising. I had mistakenly assumed that our brief conversations over the past few months, plus whatever general tabs I’d been keeping on him via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn would at least give me a hint if something major was in the works, so that I could reach out to him for the uncensored versions. I was wrong.

This then tied back to an article I read a few days ago by local Austin entrepreneur, Josh Baur, about his approach to using LinkedIn and numerous conversations I have with my husband on who he feels he should and shouldn’t link to (and why) on both LinkedIn and Facebook. This got me thinking about the value and application of the social networking phenomenon.

As a tech industry entrepreneur, my mentor noted that his interest in social networking was really the enterprise applicability: how do you use Web2.0 (which, to be sure, is much, much more than JUST social networking) for the advancement and development of existing businesses, and what new businesses emerge once there is this type of disruptive technology in the marketplace? Valid and interesting questions, to be sure, and ones that — also as a tech industry professional — I am also passionate about. However, as I pointed out to my friend, there is also the plain old social networking value in them as well. And even those of us who approach this space, first and foremost, as our business, still find value in the social side.

Which brings me back to the question: what is the value of social networking?

For my friends who play Mob Wars on Facebook while sitting in their offices on endless, mind-numbing conference calls, the argument could be made that it is brain candy that helps them get through the most painfully tedious part of their day.

For my friends and associates who build businesses in this market space, they’d probably acknowledge that — whatever personal enjoyments they get out of any given solution — it’s real value to them is a whole new avenue of entrepreneurial opportunity.

For my late adopter friends who use LinkedIn for their professional profiles, but shun Facebook as too “young” or too easy to have something minor come back to haunt you later (after all, in a 24/7 linked-in world, content never truly goes away), they’ve acquiesced in minor areas for the sake of professional value only.

For me, I have found a very simple, straight-forward value above all else: I live more than 1500 miles away (in any direction) from the majority of my friends and family. When I first left Sonoma County in March 2005 for New York City, it wasn’t long before that daily chatter of ‘what’s going on in my life’ ran silent with the people that I loved. Not the big news or the important developments in most cases, but the ordinary banality of daily life that helps keep you feeling connected to the people you care about. That type of idle small talk between friends (many of whom were co-workers I saw on a daily basis) is ultimately impossible to maintain long distance, because no amount of free cell phone minutes means talking to people every day.

So I have found that the value to Twitter and Facebook is that it keeps me feeling like a part of the daily lives of my friends and my father (who I also managed to get on Facebook). I can cheer someone on when they pass their PMP exam, or express sympathy to a friend who is working from home for the day because their kid fell out of the tree house and broke their arm, or offer advice (or an opportunity to vent) to someone who is having a bad day. Most of those aren’t big enough things that I would have known about them now that I am not working with someone every day, but they are part of what I view my role of a friend to be. And they are the things I missed being able to do (and have done for me) when I first moved to New York and away from my loved ones back in 2005.

Sure, like Joshua Baer says in his article, I am fastidious about keeping my LinkedIn profile up-to-date; ditto with JobFox and Naymz (though neither of them are as big as LinkedIn). Unlike him, I am more generous with my connection policy on LinkedIn, but part of that is because I am a person who picks up and moves to new cities more often than most, and one of the best ways to have access to new jobs is by having connections on LinkedIn that can grant me access to less visible job markets in cities where my personal network is weaker.

On Facebook I am pickier. I completely appreciate the concern of my husband and other friends that there is a lot of opportunity for embarrassment anytime you overly mix non-work friends and your work-based friends and colleagues (a fact of which I am often reminded when I see some of the pictures uploaded or status notes edited by some of my younger, hard-partying friends). So I am more careful with Facebook connections.

On Twitter, I am somewhere in-between. I have far fewer friends on Twitter, and even among the ones who are, most don’t do that much updating. But as Twitter gains popularity, there are organizations, professional affiliations, businesses, thought leaders and political/social groups that I follow, and I find some of them use it well and help keep me current on some of what they are doing.

So, to answer my question, the value of social networking is in the network itself. Just like in real life — much as the lines often blur (especially for workaholics) — there are some aspects of my life that are reserved for friends and others that are reserved for work. And while there is often considerable over-lap (after all, all of the closest friends I’ve had as an adult I met at one job or another), there are still times and places where it’s best to keep the two separate. While that may be difficult to do in a 24/7 socially networked world, it is still possible. And sometimes a little necessary.

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  • Carrie Sperlunto

    This is the first time that I’ve actually read/heard that someone else shares my vewpoint on keeping work & social lives separate. I know we’re talking about on the net in this instance & how & with whom we connect, but it also applies in life. Case in point: I own a restaurant. The other day a customer asked how I was feeling. From the confused look on my face she went on to ask if I was pretending to be sick the night last week when I wasn’t in the restaurant. My confusion stemmed from the realization that the staff was discussing my health with restaurant patrons! Why can’t the staff say “she’s off tonight or she’s on-call for the hospital” and leave it at that.

    The lines are indeed blurring on whom we let in our work and social lives and how our friends/employees/contacts/etc share information about us in and across each sphere. Is this the end of privacy? What do you think?

  • Alora


    Thanks for your comment.

    I think the lines are easier to keep clear in some settings than in others. Your example is a good one, and a case in which I’d say that the lines are a bit easier to draw sometimes. For those of us who work and socialize via the web, often times it is extremely difficult to block one from the other; even worse, as I said, since the age of 24, I cannot think of a single friend I have made that was NOT originally from work (most of them) or online (even my husband). So for me, those two are often impossible not to blend. But there is still a line that you have to be careful of, because crossing it leads to Too Much Information. The trouble is that Too Much Information is often very subjective. For some people (like my husband), sharing ANY information is a huge deal and should only be done sparingly. For me, I’m almost an entirely open book — up to a point, and then I’m nearly 100% private. What’s difficult is knowing where your line is and then learning to read the signs and be sensitive to other people’s.

    But, fundamentally, I think that the only way to keep things truly separate is if you keep it ALL truly separate. But that is usually only possible for people who do not use work as a seeding ground for their social life, which I think is getting less and less common with time. I imagine by the time Gen Y reaches their 40s, we’ll have seen almost the total breakdown of a clear work/life division. Mobility in the Information Age makes it very difficult to keep things completely separate, and I don’t think the average person is inclined to see enough benefit in doing it to want to put up the effort.