Does Online Communication Lead To Offline Isolation?

Posted on November 11, 2009. Filed under: Commentary, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Figure in shadow (Big Stock Photo)Recently, while at a networking event, talk turned to whether social media and other means of online messaging actually makes us antisocial. That is, if we are so busy Tweeting, Facebooking, text messaging, and otherwise communicating through technology, are we then less eager to converse in person?

Does our ability to instantly send photos and videos to friends mean we are less likely to visit them in real life? Are Facebook family reunions in our future?

New technology, same old debate

The notion that technology leads to antisocial behavior is hardly new. It heated up when the internet and email caught fire. The same speculation happened when the telephone picked up in popularity — we didn’t have to visit our neighbors, or anyone else for that matter, to talk to them anymore; we could just give ‘em a ring.

The rise of social media — where a network aspect encourages a sense of community– intensifies the debate. We can feel as though we are all together even though we are all apart. We enjoy exchanges with friends and followers whom we never meet in person. Ever.

Does technology lead to social isolation?

Does our propensity to connect through technology imply we are more isolated as individuals?

According to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the answer is no. Released last week, this report, titled Social Isolation and New Technology, notes:

“Today, the number of Americans who are truly isolated is no different, or at most is only slightly higher than what it was 30 years ago. Few people have no one with whom they can discuss important matters, and even fewer have no one who is especially significant in their lives. The more pronounced social change, since 1985, has occurred in the size and diversity of Americans’ core networks.”

Social media and diversity

Following up on that last sentence is where it really gets interesting. The study concludes that overall, the number and diversity of people with whom we discuss and confide important matters is declining. However, the opposite is true of those who socialize through technology. The study found:

  • People who upload and share photos online are 61% more likely to have discussion partners that cross political lines.
  • Frequent at-home internet users are 53% more likely to have a confidant of a different race.
  • The diversity of core networks tends to be 25% larger for mobile phone users and 15% larger for internet users.

Online we are more color-blind than in real-life. Perhaps having distance between one another makes us more tolerant of our differences.

Correlation between online communication and in-person interaction

As for the notion that communicating through technology leads to lower face-to-face social contact, the study indicates it ain’t necessarily so. Findings include:

  • Internet and mobile phone users are as likely as non-users to talk to their neighbors in-person at least once per month.
  • Internet users are 26% less likely to rely on their neighbors for help with small services, such as household chores, repairs, and lending tools, but they remain as likely to help their neighbors with the same activities.
  • Owners of a mobile phone, frequent internet users at work, and bloggers are more likely to belong to a local voluntary group, such as a neighborhood association, sports league, youth group, church, or social club.

Online community forums make us even more neighborly:

  • 60% of those who use an online neighborhood discussion forum know “all or most” of their neighbors, compared to 40% of Americans.
  • 79% who use an online neighborhood discussion forum talk with neighbors in person at least once a month, compared to 61% of the general population.
  • 43% of those on a neighborhood discussion forum talk to neighbors on the telephone at least once a month, compared to the average of 25%.

It really is social media

Technology is not a bogeyman turning us into isolated shut-ins. On the contrary, communication via the internet, cell phones and social media encourages in-person interaction. And it may make us more tolerant of our individual differences.

In other words, it really does make us more social.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think of the Pew report on Social Isolation and New Technology? Do the findings surprise or confirm your own opinion on the topic? Comments welcome.

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Should Employers Ban Personal Use of Social Media While On the Job?

Posted on October 22, 2009. Filed under: Best practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Not Approved sign (Big Stock Photo)Did you know more companies are banning employees from using social networks while on the job?

Oh, really? Not one tweet, or a single Facebook comment all the live-long workday? Surely some folks will go into withdrawal. That stuff is addictive, you know.

Meantime, Iran tried to ban use of social media, and that didn’t work, so what chance does an employer have of making the rule stick?

Yet more businesses are adopting a no-if-ands-or-buts stance on the matter.

Outright prohibition

Robert Half Technology, an agency providing information technology professionals for both part-time and full-time needs recently polled 1,400 CIOs regarding company policy on worker’s visiting social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter while at work. Here are the results:

54% Prohibited completely

19% Permitted for business purposes only

16% Permitted for limited personal use

10% Permitted for any type of personal use

1%   Don’t know/no answer

A press release about the survey notes Robert Half Executive Director Dave Willmer’s sensitivity to employers: “Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access.”

Willmer goes on to state, “For some professions, however, these sites can be leveraged as effective business tools, which may be why about one in five companies allows their use for work-related purposes.”

Why single it out?

Social networking for personal purposes is a diversion from work responsibilities. So is making a personal phone call, replying to personal email, engaging in small talk around the office coffee pot, taking a cigarette break, surfing the Net, and any number of other ways that individuals may not be 100% on the job while on the company clock.

And let’s get real; outright prohibition is impossible to enforce given the prevalence of smartphones, which offer ready access to the Internet, and hence all those social sites.

The trend is only going up

Social media is undeniably an ever-growing mode of communication. For many, it’s as familiar a way to converse and share information as the telephone and email. That goes for personal and business use.

Risks are real

Companies are wise to be cognizant of social media — to promote their own purposes, and as pertains to the potential for it to turn into a time suck on employee productivity.  Even if someone intends to jump on just for a quick jolt, it’s easy to get entranced on these platforms.

There are reputation risks. Workers may post comments that reflect badly on their employer, and perhaps themselves. Anyone can do the same offline. Bad judgment isn’t limited to the social media sphere.

Establish a policy

When change happens fast, and with force, it can be difficult to know how to handle the disruption.  That’s what’s going on here. Two years ago Twitter’s audience was limited — now, it’s where major news breaks. Facebook has in excess of 300 million users.

Companies do need to devise ways to deal with all that comes with this new circumstance.

But a ban? Well, that’s just plain crazy talk.

The sensible thing to do is to create and publicize a policy that establishes reasonable practical parameters for employee use of, and behavior on, these networks. I wrote a post about this in August. It spells things out nice and simple.

For additional resources and actual examples of social media policies, hit these two links:

Social Media Governance: Online database of social media policies

List of 40 Social Media Staff Guidelines (from blog of Laurel Papworth)

Companies are made up of people, not robots.

Bottom line: Organizations must be mindful about what is a realistic solution here.

Employees may be resources, but they are human resources.

– Deni Kasrel

Related post:

How To Create A Winning Corporate Social Media Policy

Do you think employers should prohibit personal use of social networks while on the job? Is it even possible to enforce such a policy? What do you think? Comments welcome.

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Book Review: The New Community Rules, Marketing On The Social Web

Posted on September 18, 2009. Filed under: Best practices, Books, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

There’s debate about whether anyone can be deemed a social media expert because the field is relatively new, and continues to evolve so rapidly, that it’s too soon for anyone to claim that label.

Well, if you go by what’s currently happening in the social media sphere, Tamar Weinberg is an expert.

Book cover to The New Community Rules:Marketing On The Social Web

Steeped in social media

Weinberg proudly proclaims that she’s “a member of just about every social network that has a name.” Along with being a prolific blogger, she’s the Director of Community for Mashable and is an independent social media consultant.

She’s steeped in social media.

This comes through loud and clear in The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, where she proffers observations that could only come from someone who understands the real intricacies of scores of social media outlets.

Acute insight

Wienberg’s expertise is trenchant. When discussing the topic of return on investment for social media (an oft-cited sticky widget) she reinforces and elaborates upon a comment by Social Media Explorer Jason Falls about how “The problem with trying to determine ROI for social media is you are trying to put numeric quantities around human interactions and conversations, which are not quantifiable.”

She covers how to properly engage in social media — the ol’ it’s a dialogue not a monologue — then digs deeper with knowledge and tips that provide true keys to success.

Throughout the book she drills home crucial aspects of effective social media practice, such as recommendations and the numerable ways these may occur, along with the unspoken rule that you need to discuss issues not only of your own interest, but also those of the community at-large. “Altruism rules above all,” she wisely writes.

Weinberg consistently explains how various elements relate to search engine optimization; the outcome of which can play a big role in the visibility of your web site and provide a powerful tool for reputation management, if you know how to work it right.

Delving under the radar

Discussion of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, videos and podcasts are to be expected in a book of this title. Though again, Weinberg’s perceptions are a cut above the rest.

With Twitter she advises not to dive in head first and instead begin by listening to conversations going on about your particular industry, to include seeing what your competitors are up to. She tells how Twitter is great for tapping into prospects and influencers and calls out tools to search for topics, trends and people.

Her attention to the assorted platforms includes outlining specific advantages; the “why should I care” proposition. With Twitter, she says, “One of the biggest benefits of using the service is the ability to get people to answer questions quickly.” She shows how it can be like an instantaneous focus group, not to mention an invaluable customer service tool.

More added value of this text comes in Weinberg’s coverage of topics that are somewhat under the radar. She delves deep into the bookmarking services StumbleUpon and delicious. She calls attention to Mahalo, a not so well known site that’s good to get a handle on because its results can achieve high rank on search engine results pages.

Her discussion of how social news sites operate — digg, mixx, reddit, Slashdot, sphinn, Tip’d, Yahoo! Buzz, and others — is a true revelation. Here’s an area gaining in adoption that can make a significant difference in attention to your brand. However, it’s tricky business: There’s a boatload of do’s and don’ts that can make the difference between wasting your time or having a big hit.

Injecting case studies to illuminate certain points, Weinberg covers a tremendous amount of ground. So much so that you might want to devour the material in bites.

Weinberg stresses that “social media marketing is a comprehensive effort,” and the same goes for this book.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think of The New Community Rules? Have you also read it? What’s your take on the book? Comments welcome.

Related post:

Wonder Gals of Web 2.0

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How To Create A Winning Corporate Social Media Policy

Posted on August 26, 2009. Filed under: Best practices, Blogs/Blogging, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Nearly every day there’s another research report raving about how corporations are getting into social media. One study — Social Media: Embracing the Opportunities, Averting the Risk — dares to be different.referee signaling a touchdown- image by bigstockphoto

Yes, it includes those juicy numbers that gets everyone all exercised about the speed at which social media acceptance is accelerating. But then it pokes under the covers to reveal how deep-down, many executives think social media is risky business.

The biggest fear factors concern how use of social media while on the clock diminishes productivity as well as increases an IT infrastructure’s odds of being hit with computer viruses, and that corporate reputation can be damaged based on what employees post to their personal online accounts.

The report, prepared by Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law, notes that the majority of these leery leaders are apt to visit social media sites to suss out what’s being said about their business — by outsiders and staffers alike — or to check out the competition.

Source: Russell Herder/Ethos Law, Social Media: Embracing the Opportunities, Averting the Risk, August 2009

Source: Russell Herder/Ethos Law, Social Media: Embracing the Opportunities, Averting the Risk, August 2009

Meanwhile, only 13 percent have included social media as part of the organization’s crises communications plans.

All defense and no offense

It’s wise to be concerned about chatter a company is instigating in cyberspace. Monitoring should be ongoing, findings analyzed and replies registered when warranted.

However, to trot out a familiar sports analogy, engaging with social media strictly to see what others are doing is akin to having a defense and no offense. You’re not being proactive and are at risk of enabling the competition to succeed at your expense.

Plus, if a crisis does occur, isn’t it better to know from experience how the game is played rather than sitting on the sidelines and then trying to figure it out under pressure, on the fly?

A better game plan

You can’t play the social media game from a distance. It’s imperative to get involved to advance your goals.

Here’s where the report really shines by spelling out best practices of good corporate social media policy. These include:

Maintain a consistent attitude

Social media guidelines should reflect the general corporate culture. For example, if your credo is all about being flexible and open-minded, then continue that mindset with social media.

Set rules and be sure everyone knows what they are

Because it’s an informal means of communication social media can be an easy if accidental conduit for exposing confidential information. Ensure it’s understood that any existing regulations regarding the disclosure of proprietary information also pertain to social media.

Be clear about when players can wear uniforms

Employees have professional and personal identities. A business may not go so far as to try and regulate the personal part, but it can establish what’s in or out of bounds. If employees makes personal posts that blast a political party should they be allowed to identify their business title and the company they work for? Is it okay for employees to list their work email address when making personal comments on controversial blogs? Good policy addresses potentially contentious issues and defines what’s prohibited.

Focus on performance

Engagement with social media can impact productivity. But a total prohibition of its use during work hours is not only impossible to enforce but also onerous. It’s okay to set restrictions, such as saying employees can only post to personal sites during a lunch break. Whatever the procedure, the focus should be on job performance rather taking a hard line about “company time.”

Be transparent

Companies that spy on employee usage of social media should let it be known that they are doing so. Disciplinary actions that can result as a breach of protocol should be clearly spelled out.

Run a training camp

Guidelines are all well and good, but risks are mitigated and compliance better achieved by clearly stating the rules of the game. Create a comprehensive training plan to let everyone know the playbook.

Get in the game

The best way to succeed with social media is to be a player. Establish a scheme to meet your objectives. Then grab the ball and run with it.

– Deni Kasrel

What type of social media game plan do YOU think a company should have? Comments welcome.

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