Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This Social Networking Thing

After reading Matthew Creamer's article on Ad Age on the role that social networking sites play in search engine optimization, I decided to try this whole social networking thing. My search results on Google are pretty good - I sometimes have to compete with a high school lacrosse player from Canada, but when you Google my name, you pretty much get me.

But as I spend most of my time writing about the impact of technology on retail, and I spend a lot of time telling retailers that one of the first places that consumers bring new technology is to the shopping experience, I figure I better put my money where my mouth is. So I signed up for Twitter. With this post, I've moved from my company's blog site, which is still a work in progress, to this one. And I already do a few things in other sites like Linked In, Plaxo, Pandora and Second Life. Facebook and MySpace are coming soon, I guess, along with a couple mobile sites (I just need to figure out which ones). But as I spend more time talking about "me" and "what I see" and "what I think", the more nervous I get.

I was vetting survey respondents to my most recent retail survey on pricing, and in searching on a respondent's name to figure out if he was a legitimate retailer, I found his MySpace page, which had a ton of pictures of him out with his drinking buddies. Hmmm. And while testing to see where I came up on that Google search (I know, I need to check the others too, but there are only so many hours in the day), I found this site that aggregates content about a person - again, competing with the Canadian lacrosse player, it wasn't a complete reflection of me, but it was kind of disturbing to see quotes from me that it had pulled from articles, and there were tabs for pictures (empty, phew!) and a bunch of other stuff. I also just saw on TechCrunch the company Spokeo, which basically becomes an RSS feed for keeping up with your friends, pulling in pics they load on Flickr, their Facebook and Twitter postings and a ton of other sites - all without requiring their permission (it's all basically publicly available).

I know I'm late to this game (I'll defend slightly by saying that I've spent a lot of the last 4 years on planes, which makes it hard to keep up with the online world. The wireless card alone will make a huge difference.), but I can't believe the amount of information you end up revealing about yourself the more you get roped into social networks. I consider myself a relatively private person - I'll use some of my personal experiences in my work, but I do so carefully, both because just because I'm a consumer doesn't mean I know everything about consumers, and because it's just none of other people's business!

So as I embark on this journey, I find myself approaching this from a "public persona" and a "private persona" perspective. If it's publicly available info, the info I'm putting out there is going to be work-related. If it's personal info, then I'm going to be looking for sites that are invite-only, so that I can share with my friends and family and not the whole world. But, as usual, I think of my (still learning how to read, let alone type) kids: will they ever approach "the world" with that kind of distinction? It doesn't seem like today's kids do, as myriad Facebook and MySpace faux pas demonstrate. I guess I'm going to have to amend my mother's platitude: "If you can't say something nice - and professional, like it's going to be there for the rest of your life - then don't say anything at all."

As Twitter nudges me to make a post, I have to ask myself, I wonder how that's really going to work out?

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