MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc… All social networks designed to let you stay in constant connection with your family, friends, fans, co-workers, bosses, strangers and Tila Tequila. We’ve come a long way from BBS’s and email addresses and how you represent yourself online is clearly visible to the whole world.
You’ve all heard the stories about the girl who blabbed about how much she hated her boss on Facebook, her boss, who was her Facebook “friend”, saw the update and fired her. I believe the story originated in England, but there are many times that the news has reported that it has happened. Or what about my friends who are “friends” with co-workers online and see drunken parties that these “friends” attend only to have those “friends” call in sick the next day. We willingly surrender a degree of privacy every time we log on and, as those examples clearly illustrate, it is easy to forget who our friends are.
I remember my first social network, Friendster. I joined because I was invited by my dear friend Jeff Garvin to help stay connected. I remember the first comments page, which were treated more like compliment boxes, and photos and when I first saw a page that wasn’t a real person – in fact it was a muppet style monster. The owner of the page updated in the voice of the monster and it was a generally funny page, but it was just the beginning of what MySpace made into an art, poser pages! Pages made as characters so people could pretend to be the people they always wanted to be. I was not immune to this. I had, still have, my personal MySpace page, but I have created my share of character pages – sometimes to promote a movie but other times just for fun. The anonymity level was determined by how honest you wanted to be and how you wanted to be seen.
Facebook has changed this, to a degree. It is intrinsically designed to be a page representing the “real” you, but privacy settings and personal editing still control how you are precieved. Oddly there are lots of folks that seem to forget this. In an era where your employers, or potential employers, can do a Google search and see all of your drunken exploits or your family can see where you really spend the weekends you were supposed to be visiting grandma it is amazing to me that people aren’t more careful. To know you is to love you and now people can totally get to know you without ever having to meet you!
When you are in the entertainment industry this can be a great tool. Here’s a little secret, I will “friend” anyone who asks on MySpace and, to a more limited degree, Facebook. It’s in my best interest to be able to connect with as many people as possible, especially if they like me enough to help support my projects. A lot of work goes into maintaining my online identity – and frankly I could be doing more. My pages? All maintained so you, the public, know what I’m doing. This blog? Designed to communicate and report about things I think are interesting or cool. I don’t talk about everything, you don’t need to know about funerals I attend or about all of my political leanings, but the ones that are really important to me I mention and endorse/rebut. I’m certainly not purposely posting embarrassing pictures, although there are a few floating around out there and, though I’m not a fan of censorship, I don’t “drunk tweet” or “drunk update” anymore. There were a couple months right after the divorce where that happened, but… ugh, more trouble than it was worth.
I can’t stand on a pulpit and claim that I have all of this “online stuff” figured out. Like I mentioned, there’s more I could do to maintain my online presence. My personal webpage is a complete disaster and I still haven’t figured out why FriendFeed stopped playing nicely with Twitter and Facebook so that those sites were notified and then broadcast-ed that a new blog post was ready, but I’m not famous enough for people to care… yet. In the end I still need to protect and portray my online persona in a way that lets people see what is appropriate while still letting me connect in an honest way.
So what am I getting at after three posts? Self examination. Take a look at what you have online. Think about what you’re posting. You twenty-somethings who post all the drunken madness, don’t forget that those pictures are online until the servers die – and they don’t do that a lot. Even if you “clean up” your page who knows what your friends still have up – or worse, your enemies. And business folks, don’t fear the social networking! It provides you with an unprecedented way to connect with your customers and, as Pepsi is proving with their bold move to exclusive online advertising, it appears to be the wave of the future. Use the things you are comfortable with. Not everybody is meant for Twitter. MySpace is great for media, not so much for selling mattresses and the whole world is on Facebook. The opportunities are plentiful, but, as with anything worth doing, there is a certain amount of risk to the unwary. Responsibility doesn’t end when you log-in and the internet isn’t near as anonymous as it used to be. We’re used to portraying our “personal brand” in person, but now that extends to the virtual world. Be aware of what you’re putting out there and I’ll see you – or at least the “you” you let me see – out there on the interwebs.
See you tomorrow!