Trust me, the irony that I am writing this in a blog is not lost on me. It’s just that lately I have been considering social networking and what role it does/should play in our professional lives. At 24 years old, I am among the first “adults” to have had a Facebook account the entire time I’ve been working, though its only recently gained relevance in my professional life. I am working this summer in a position with a local nonprofit organization actively engaged in philanthropy throughout our state. Many of the grantmaking organizations we are affiliated with and the major philanthropic news sources we rely on have Twitter accounts, bloggers, and live news feeds on their websites. In fact, I heard of more than one internship position this summer that essentially revolves around being the organization’s Facebook/Twitter/blog person.
Easy, fast sharing of information undoubtedly has its benefits. I am largely responsible for news updates to my organization’s website, and I know that pulling from the Twitter feeds of other organizations is a convenient way to get the information I need. In broader terms, our society places much value on being “connected” “networked” and “engaged,” and so it may be said that social networking tools are valuable in-and-of-themselves for an organization. One might argue that simply maintaining a Facebook page (regardless of the content) says to viewers, “We care enough about what you have to say that we’ve put this platform up on the Internet for us to have an ongoing conversation with you.”
Of course, these tools have their limits. While being an active presence in social media shows engagement, there are limits to the sway that outsiders can have on the organizations they engage with. Inviting feedback and implementing it are two very different things. In addition, I recently read an article that found that 7% of the U.S. population logs onto Twitter in any given month. You could certainly use this number to show how fast technology like this has spread, but to me 7% demonstrates that maintaining an active Twitter feed is not going to be the make-or-break factor for most organizations (at least not yet).
It is with that point that I lead to my final thought on social networking. While I certainly see value in it, the time that it takes away from other things concerns me. A few months ago, I pulled the book “What Matters Now” from Seth Godin’s blog (again, the irony), and one essay, by a man named Steven Pressfield, really stuck with me. In the essay, called “Tough-Mindedness” he writes,
“We live in the age of distraction, of Twitter and multi-tasking and short attention spans. […] The antidote to these scattering influences is tough-mindedness, which I define as the ability to draw lines and boundaries within which we protect and preserve the mental and emotional space to do our work and to be true to our selves. Not to the point of insanity (we gotta keep a sense of humor about this stuff), but we also desperately need the ability to play real hardball with ourselves when we need it. Otherwise, we’ll all expire from sheer shallowness.”