Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Socializing with an Agenda

There are certain situations in life that we go into with a clear agenda in mind. While dating, especially speed dates, blind dates and Internet dates, we're trying to find a compatible partner. Networking and self-promotion are the focus of most business-related happy hours, lunches and other conference events. Then there are purely social occasions where the only agenda is fun. Socializing with an agenda happens on social media as well. On certain platforms and in certain circles (Google+ pun intended) the agenda is clear, while other times it's more of a gray area. Having a clear agenda can make it easier to interact for some, while for others it may be uncomfortable because it may come across as an impersonal and artificial form of interaction. Some users welcome the mix of personal and business posts created by networks like Facebook, while others are so turned off by it that they leave those networks entirely.

LinkedIn provides the clearest example of socializing with an agenda. For the most part, users are interested in establishing themselves as professionals, displaying their virtual resumes and, ultimately, getting hired. This business-focused social network provides a space for virtual networking and connecting to past and present coworkers, colleagues and employers. Users can join groups, ask and answer questions, ask for and give recommendations, post to and browse a Facebook-style news feed, and search for jobs, all with that business-focused agenda in mind. There are some gray areas, but for the most part, LinkedIn is all business.

Other social networks, however, are one big gray area. Certain networks like Pinterest are mainly being used for strictly social purposes, although businesses and business topics are starting to have more of a presence there as well. Facebook tried to help users separate personal from professional by creating Pages and making strictly business use of a Profile a terms-of-use violation, but there are still people who post business-related topics to their personal Profiles. For some people trying to keep things friendly, seeing their friends socializing with a business-related agenda can be a turnoff. In other circles, bringing the personal into a business-related conversation is a faux pas. Then, of course, there are posts by businesses that people have liked or followed. Networks like Twitter and Facebook that mix conversations into one feed of information make it harder to draw the line between uses.

To prevent confusion and frustration, it may help to identify for yourself what your agenda is on each social network and stick to it. This will help you curate your accounts and hone your information feeds and contact networks. To be even clearer, you can also identify your agenda right in your profile. Personally, I have a personal Profile and business Page on Facebook, a professional and a personal Twitter account, a personal Pinterest account, this blog, and my LinkedIn profile (which I use to connect with current and past coworkers, clients, classmates and colleagues.) I make it clear to people what my agenda is on each network, and I am not shy about redirecting them to the appropriate place to connect with me. For example, if someone sends me a friend request on Facebook and I haven't met them, I politely decline with a message directing them to my Page instead. Because my business is social media, but I also use it to socialize, this helps me separate business and pleasure.

In this digital age, socializing with an agenda allows us to clearly delineate the various facets of our personal and professional brand, and helps us make sense of the flood of information created by social media.