Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is your Social life a Caricature of your Real Life, or a Mirror Image?

April is Digital IBMer Awareness month at IBM and, while this is an internal initiative, I felt its equally important to share some best practices with my social communities on what it means to live our values in the digital world.

One of my favorite things about IBM is it trusts it's employees to do the right thing but to take personal responsibility. We don't have social media policies per se. The spirit of the guidelines is to live by our values online the way we do offline. As a senior executive at a reputed global company (and a self respecting individual), it is my responsibility to conduct myself appropriately at all times, in all settings. To engage in smart yet secure social practices, preserve trust, protect IP and excerise good judgement. Sounds reasonable, right?

As I look around, I find many of my Desi friends and industry colleagues at similar professional levels don't manage their digital activity the same way. Some of the most serious, seemingly private senior professionals I know share crude jokes on Twitter, post and tag pictures of their kids at family events, send and accept prolific friend requests on Facebook and distribute their BBM pin like candy. You won't see them go over their self imposed drink limit at public events but they will unleash their wild side on their social networks at 1am in the morning., What's worse is that many of them aren't even concerned about this. But I worry for them.

Paul Adams explains this phenomenon well in a talk he gave on "Bridging the gap between our online and offline social network" He says that to understand what is happening on the real life social network, you need to understand sociology and not technology. And that in real life most of us have multiple independent groups of friends or relationships. Most people have between 4-6 groups with approx 10 people who are mostly independent. We have strong ties with 4-6 people (people we would interact with regardless of social media or not), weak ties with 150 people (people who we are now likely to stay connected to thanks to social media) and temporary ties. You need to interact with each of these groups differently. Your temporary ties don't want to know where you spent your weekend. Likewise your strong ties don't want to be spammed with industry news on who got millions of $$ of VC funding. And I doubt anyone wants to read your drunk tweets.

I applied his framework to my context and it held true. This week, I spent Monday and Tuesday with a group of IBM volunteers in Indore who have been selected from around the world to work with local NGOs for 6 weeks. This is my IBM DesiCorps Group. On Wednesday, I was with with a group of CMOs in Mumbai designing the agenda of an industry marketing conference. This is related to my DesiCMO group on LinkedIn. On Thursday, we launched a new line of expert systems that will change the economics of IT. We have an internal social network on IBM Connections to gear up for this (only IBMers can access this). On Friday, I am attending the IAMAI Marketing Conclave where I will probably run into many of my tweeple. Finally over the weekend, I will be attending at a Goa wedding, dancing the night away with some of my Facebook friends.

There is little to no overlap in every one of these groups so there is no surprise that I use different platforms to stay in touch with each group. If I used the same platform, the conversation would be totally mixed up and my social identity completely confused. It's not just about professional and personal - even within these spheres we need to manage our social conversations and identities.

Friendly advice, if you haven't thought about this, you need to, before it takes a toll on your family or your career. The next time you share something socially, post a picture, send or accept a friend request, pause and think, would I share this, do this in my real life network?


  1. @ Virgina: interesting post, points raised by you are certainly valid however what you are referring to is a classic example of a human life cycle stages in the digital or social context. If we close our eyes for a while and go back in the memory lane do we use to behave or act in a similar fashion as a infant, as a adolescent or in adulthood. No right? Our Priorities were different so was the behaviour and even the dressing style. Same goes for an individual when they exposed to digital or social media life. Newcomers tend to behave differently as what a experienced (a mature) will do like how a toddler will behave as compared to an adult. One can contradict my point of view with reference to a FB profile of a teenager and a FB page of CEO. But this is not what i am talking about. My point is people need time to get mature, understand the functionality of each digital platform and adapt themselves accordingly, it has nothing to do with age, their profession or even the post which they holding!!!Consumption pattern of social media tends to change with maturity/ exposure and so do the persona.

    Today we understand what to post ( for example: profile pic) with respect FB, linked-in or twitter this is probably because we are adults in the digital life and those who don’t probably they are still adolescents.

    So next time if you come across
    A drunk tweet- consider this gentleman as a teenager/ a rebel in digital life - venting out anger like we used in college days and create ruckus. This whole word is wrong except him so he can whatever he wants to.
    Come across a seasoned professional posting his son’s birthday post on twitter – he will remind you of a youth who has only one ambition i want to be famous and of course rich but don’t know which path to choose or HOW?? A confused one in digital life.
    Those who are distributing BBM pins like candy – they will remind you of the days when guys (including me) used to enter yahoo chat rooms and our first ping was ASL?? If the reply is F. She was our dream queen and lady love!!

    Just for your reference I stumbled upon another interesting post – i second that too, it’s high time we should also know how TO COMMUNICATE on various platforms.

    Twitter - I'm eating a donut
    Facebook - I like Donuts
    Foursquare - This is where I eat donuts
    Instagram - Here's a vintage photo of my donut
    YouTube - Here I am eating a donut
    LinkedIn - My skills include donut eating
    Pinterest - Here's a donut recipe
    Last FM - Now Listening to "donuts"
    G+ - I'm a google employee who eats donuts

    ref: Warholian (contemporary art and culture photographer Michael Cuffe - aka Warholian - and his team)

    would appreciate your comments on the same.


  2. Interesting post. Hadn't thought of social media interactions as being segmented, but makes a lot of sense now.

  3. Virginia, and about a month later your twitter feed was on LinkedIn sharing TopPunjabiLines :-) famous last words eh :-). I was thinking of dropping you a note that day wanting to confirm you were aware that they were replicating over on LinkedIn as well, then I read this post and had to comment ;-).

    P.S. The top punjabi lines were very funny though.

  4. This is great validation because unconsciously I've been following this segmentation rule of fb being for personal circle, linkedin professional and twitter a bridge between them both. Ofcourse, it gets diffi when all your work colleagues don't understand why you aren't adding them on fb and maybe it's time to use all the privacy filters fb offers :) Would appreciate knowing how you refuse fb friendship requests from weak-ties-kind of-IBMers, but maybe thats the next blog on how to say no diplomatically?