Wireless doesn’t mean there aren’t knots

Posted on 04/05/2011

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This is what my “online social presence” looks like.

Bit of a mess really, and that’s not just down to my drawing skills. There are arrows all over the place, shapes, dots and it’s impossible to tell what’s going on.

I never planned for it to be like this. Thousands of tiny advances have resulted in hundreds of different adjustments to my online profiles; everything from features to profiles. I’ve also got a whole range of different profile pictures, and not all are of me. “Needles to say”, it’s confusing. The internet has thrown us into a situation we’ve never experienced before. Socially, we’re still not sure how to act online and where, if at all, the boundaries lie.

The problem with getting stuck on the web and channel hopping is that there is no structure. There are too many social platforms to chose from and infinite ways of using them. One person might be a:

“Facebooker that tweets, and occasionally Instagrams lunch”

one of their closest friends might be a Tumbl-er that uses Flickr a lot and occasionally posts on Facebook. We’re actually more likely to behave the same way as people we’re physically closest to (colleagues, family, neighbours) than our friends. This can make the overlap between what we use and what our friends use surprisingly small.

Since we humans have a tendency to tie ourselves in knots I’ve been trying to untangle it by looking at how I’ve ended up using the social networks I’m on. The idea is that by finding out how someone else uses social networks, you might find better ways to use them yourself.

I’ve tried to stick to three principles online:

  1. be where you want to be
  2. sort and separate
  3. saving effort

1) be where you want to be

As an individual there are only two reasons to join a network*:

  • you want to participate
  • you’re going to get something from it (enjoyment, money off, information, etc.)

It’s worth pointing out that “because everyone else is” isn’t a proper reason to join or do anything. If you want to take part, do it. Just don’t enter into anything half heartedly. Stick to your guns and focus on other places that you can add value to or benefit from online.

Where I am and why

My social life is more or less all on Facebook. I was in my first year at uni when Facebook arrived on these shores so it’s second nature to check my feed and friend’s profiles to see what they’ve been up to.

On the odd occasion that my fingers in the way of the lens, I upload my photos onto Flickr. These are mainly holiday photos or shots I’ve taken because i’ve seen something neat. I try to keep them relatively tasteful so anything from nights out is reserved for Facebook.

LinkedIn is a way to remain connected to people without them having to see photos of my nights out.

Twitter, strangely, is more of an information resource than anything else. I love that I can talk to anyone from strangers to big corporations but most of the time I just listen.

Good work/ a good idea deserves credit, and at the moment the main way to do this is by sharing. I use Tumblr for all those “OMG this is AMAZING!” (not my words…) moments where I want to thank someone for making me smile.

My therapy (otherwise known as blogging) is done on WordPress. It’s a great platform for serialised content (diary writing, weekly news) and with hundreds of styles and plug-ins, it’s given me an excuse to avoid building my own website.

2) sort and separate

It’s hard to know where to draw the line when it comes to work, play, family and interests. Even though my friends know me as a bit of a geek, I still want to keep some things separate from Facebook. Likewise, I try to keep my work and social life separate online. It means I don’t have to worry about what I say to friends, and at the same time I can at least appear professional online.

Firstly, you have to know what you want to keep separate. How divided do you want your work and personal lives to be? Are the certain groups of friends or sides to yourself that you want to keep separate? Given that there’s a network for everything, it’s a case of choosing who you want to be with for each activity. If there’s anything you want to keep private from one group or another, it’s a case of increasing your privacy settings on the relevant network.

how I sort and separate

Facebook- friends and the odd colleague.
Flickr- anyone interested in photography
LinkedIn- colleagues and people I’ve studied with
Twitter- anyone, everyone, anything
Tumblr- the modest but growing tumblr community. A couple of friends who Tumbl
Wordpress- colleagues and other industry professionals. Not all my friends are interested in the same things so i tend not to share it with them.

3) saving effort by connecting networks

I’ve only listed 6 communities here that i’m regularly active on, but i’ve got tens of other accounts and profiles on too. If you’re hoping to spend any time away from a computer or mobile screen then you’ll find you can’t use and be active on all of them at once.

But thankfully you don’t have to. Facebook Connect, and Twitter login details mean you can avoid creating new profiles, usernames and passwords each time by using an existing one. It can also connect your activity on on network to the other, so you don’t have to be in two places at once. A “like” or a comment on YouTube can also be connected to appear in your Facebook feed by making a few minor tweaks to your settings. This way what you do on one site can be shared and centralised with other sites.

When I do connect profiles, it’s a conscious decision. I want to keep an active profile online and share relevant information with the right group. This is why I’ve gone for the following “hook-ups” between my different profiles:

WordPress- this pulls through my latest photos from flickr, latest tweets and in turn posts links to my latest blog posts to Twitter.
Twitter- given that it’s a bit of an information free-for-all, I’ve connected it up to anything that takes my fancy (32 different plug-ins and apps to date, including Four-square and Gowalla)
Tumblr- uploads get posted to Twitter
Facebook- this one’s kinda out on its own. I’m keeping this space uncluttered for friends and things everyone would be interested in.

This is just once way to manage your portfolio of online social networks, and it’s by no means the best. If you’re happy merging your social and work life you’ve no need to keep these separate, saving yourself time and letting you be yourself whoever you’re with. Whatever you do, try to know why you’re doing it. This way you might avoid getting caught in knots.

* I’ve bastardised Shib Hussain‘s concept of participation and rewards here. All credit has to go to him for distilling all the waffle around social networks to these two motivations.

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