Thursday, 15 September 2011

When Social Networking Goes Wrong

Things have been going very well on Empire Avenue. Having broken through the 30 Eave barrier, the share price of DUNNY has accelerated, as I predicted, through to 43.91 - which was a rise of over 5 Eaves yesterday alone.

I have blogged regularly and submitted around two original Tweets a day but followed some Social Networking advice and got retweetng at a great rate by using Flipboard for  iPad. This latter effect has been a crucial factor in the rise of the share.

As a consequence, my Ecademy score has risen sharply also and I have moved from 100 in their ranking to 59 in around a week with my score now at 38.26. On Klout my score is 39.95 and Peer Index has shot up to 47. My blog is far more widely read on Ecademy and my Calx Europe blog has had a very dramatic rise in readership.

On Linked In, my activity level has shot up as my Tweets appear for all my contacts to see while I now get around 3-4 enquiries for my services a week (including two offers for paid talks) - most of which are not applicable but this is a marked difference to Linked In's passive nature of the past.

So everything is on the up. This has to be good news. Or does it?

This week, the firm I have done a good deal of work for, considered me for a contract to do some specific work. It's fair to say that I am expensive to keep being engaged and so the HR Director 'benchmarked' my Linked In profile against other possible candidates. And the fun began.

I was pulled aside by a senior person in the company who gently warned me that my personal credibility in the organisation had nose dived. The HR Director had circulated observations that my activities on Linked In and blogging sites were indicative of me a) being desperate for work or to be recognised, b) too prodigious to believe I am giving the contracts I work on my full attention and c) the subject matter varied from expertise to the bizarre. The assessment was that I was probably not worth the money I was being paid and that the organisation would no longer be happy for me to be so active in Social Networking at minimum while under contract.

It is not the first time the organisation has had worries about levels and use of Social Networking. The feedback was given to me positively and with the caveat, 'If we hadn't known you personally and what you are capable of, we would have considered you a prat (or stronger) and never considered you for work here.'

The advice is not lost on me. On the one hand, my Social Capital and online standing has risen sharply - many people have 'invested' in me, read my blogs and Tweets and followed me. Inquiries for services have risen. But my actual credibility and suitability for work directly related to my expertise has dropped.

Not just dropped but threatened my livelihood.

The last few months have been part of an experiment in many ways. In my line of work, I get strong recommendations by word of mouth but until about two years ago, before the Q&A section on Linked In was hijacked by attention seekers who volume-answered questions with no-value inputs, 40% of the revenue I had made as a Company had come directly from Linked In. One of my clients today was originally attracted because of my apparent online knowledge.

I have deliberately upped my activity and profile. It's cheap marketing and I had believed the value of increased Social Networking Worth. But the feedback from my clients is actually more valuable. If I am being actively considered for my abilities, my online activities will hold me back, even potentially ruin the credibility I have with existing clients who know me.

This is a huge wake up call for me. Immediately I have stopped links on Tweets to Linked In and have stopped linking to Facebook - these are where the real problems lie as Facebook is considered non-value. I still have some issues on blogging and volume of these as I write blog articles around now, at 5.00am in the morning, before the working day has started or in breaks.

But it has certainly caused me to revise my thoughts on my attempt to increase my Social Networking Capital and my opinions on whether such indices actually hold any credence when people are trying to either get inbound business for their expertise or be compared to others for specific work or jobs.

My eave valuation is at a record high. But it has come at a heavy cost which nearly scuppered my real net value which is in my credibility with the clients I work with. That would have almost certainly negatively impacted the strongest real-life recommendations I have which come from word of mouth. That would have impacted my actual net worth very negatively.

It's something we should be very careful about. I have had a feeling about this for a while and much of what I have done lately is actually born out an experiment that I and a few online colleagues have talked about. To some extent, some of my initial views have been vindicated on Social Networking indices, although I had begun to believe in them because of the new interest and following I had created. It is clear that I was right in the first place and that following alone is false flattery.

My advice:

Nurture and protect the credibility you have in the companies you actually work in. It is word of mouth and strong personal references from people who matter that are more important than online followers or the number of contacts in your Linked In account. 

Blog carefully and within the confines of your expertise and balance volume with value. Tweet wisely and with original thought as the rest is not just worthless, it detracts from your credibility. Retweet carefully.

But above all, think of who you don't want to see what you write and then think again about sending out the information as the internet is a public world. Word does get back and there is such a thing as bad publicity in the online world.

Finally, my strongest advice, don't adopt a dual or multiple persona stance to try and separate business from personal networking. The nature of the internet inevitably links these persona and so never be a person that your business world does not want to see. This reflects real life far more than we would ever would like to think. But if you behave badly in your private time, it inevitably impacts your career and credibility at some time. It's just a fact.

If anyone has opinions on this, I would love to hear them and get a good debate going.

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