I find myself  in conversations about social media and its implications occasionally. And I mean: off-the-web, real-life discussions.

Usually one of the pivot points is about whether or not it is a ‘good idea‘ to expose too many information about oneself to public. Many are afraid of becoming completely transparent to the “system” (could be anything from a 1984 scenario down to a governance, agency, cooperation or social platform.) It’s the idea of protecting their personal data that prevents them from actively sharing personal or person-related information on the web: where it is there,  forever, in public… irrevocable. It’s the loss of control that keeps them back.

It’s indeed an important consideration to make and I do share some of the concerns about the lack of a “permanently delete” button for (person-related) content on the web. I do see the potential issues that could arise if all those information being acquired by the big players fall into the wrong hands or it’s used for a bad purpose. But that seems to be an uphill battle and in many cases the consumers don’t seem to care too much about sharing their data: when it’s convenient, when they can save, when it’s fun. The same people that refrain from social networking have no problem with bonus programs or online shopping.

So, bluntly speaking it seems to come down to the usual suspect: Return on Investment or “what’s in for me?

Once the conversation is at that point there’s suddenly the notion, that there may be positive effects in sharing information as well. So, it’s no longer a rip-off, but a trade-off. You get something in return for exposing that data. So let’s get to the fine-print!

In general the deal is about exposing some of your personal data and getting something in return. That may be bonus points, miles, coupons, discounts, specials and what else you got. Yet, in terms of social networking the results may not be that easy to put into metrics, there are more of a long-time strategy that could have many positive effects.

If you tackle it from that perspective and start engaging on social networks it can go many routes. It’s up to you and what you’re looking for. No matter what your interests are – there are other people out there sharing your passion. There sure are plenty of communities on the web on every topic. There sure are things that would be interesting for you too, right?

OK“, some of the skeptics may say” … but I still wouldn’t know what to post there or why to spend all the time?

Fair enough – and that’s ok! Take your time to familiarize yourself with with the communities and platforms first. Start by reading, by searching. You may want to spice up your profile/avatar. Then you may feel like commenting, start doing a bit of curating and who knows … eventually you feel the urge to post something on your own sooner or later.

So, what’s in for you?

Only you can find out… yet here’s a short list of benefits many people see. Your mileage may vary; but this is why I got active on social networks…

1. Connect with like-minded

When I started blogging in 2007 the intention has been to share and exchange experiences on developing applications with emerging technologies at SAP. Being part of the first wave of early adopters and pioneers in this field requires to constantly having to look out for new technology trends, evaluating their readiness and their fit for business purposes. By nature, at this early point in the adoption cycle there are no best-practices on how-to leverage the tools – they yet have to be defined.

And this is where social network come in: through blogging I have been able to connect to colleagues and peers and find people with similar interests and challenges. By connecting with them I got new ideas, new input, new directions and – hopefully – vice versa. Fellow SAP Mentor Jarret Pazahanick put it down nicely the other day:

Tweet by SAP_Jarret

..which brings us to number 2.

2. Expanding your horizon

Once you start actively sharing some of your thoughts and content – you get feedback and take part in the conversation. You can get to know some really smart people out there. I think I can safely say that my horizon has expanded tremendously since I started to blog and tweet. Especially the concept of following subject matter experts, thought-leaders and alpha geeks on Twitter and periodically tapping into their minds has been something  that sold me for good.

In the area of software development, enterprise software and SAP there is indeed a very active and passionate community on Twitter, including board members, executives, topic experts and influencers such as the SAP Mentors. All of these people are on Twitter to interact with each other and they are usually very approachable. From personal experience I can say that you can indeed engage across companies and corporate levels, raise your voice and eventually ignite change.

3. Gathering information

As I said, a central part of my job is to filter information, gather quality content, provide assessments and roll-out our findings. A perfect match for social networking.

Yet, that’s not to say that I can get everything I need to know by just following the right people. I still have to actively and more systematically perform my research using a variety of tools such as RSS readers, newsletters… even email. Social platforms do help though to find new and interesting people or content. They are covering my blind spot if you will. They let me know of the big stories, the talk of the day.

If you are interested in how-to leverage social media for such purposes, I can highly recommend Jon Reed‘s The Power of Pull, SAP Style: How I use “pull technologies” to raise my game – and how you can too. One particularly aspect of Jon’s reasoning brings us to the next point:

As you comment on (and share) information as it comes out, you deepen relationships in a way that is not possible if you are focused only on broadcasting your own messages.

4. Contributing

It’s an interesting idea indeed: if one does all that reading, filtering and analysis – why not do so in a way that let others build upon your work? I found that by tagging all the information I process day- in/day-out and by spreading the word about the useful things I find I can actively contribute something valuable. Summarizing my thoughts and voicing my opinion helps me to really think something through – sort of:  “you’ve only truly understood something you can explain to others!

As I need to organize all the information anyway, doing so publicly just ensures that I put that extra effort into it (which I may neglect if i’d just scrabble it down for my own eyes!) Plus – I get valuable feedback from readers. Which brings us to the last point…

5. Establishing your Brand

Every link you bookmark, every information you tweet, every topic you blog about… it all adds to your social profile, your digital footprint. Yes, there’s gonna be plenty of information about you on the web if you do, but that may not be too bad after all – if it’s quality content and something you stand up for, is it?

A friend of mine who happens to make a living with social media says it all in her presentation about Your Brand on Social Media. There’s little to add to what Natascha says, yet – let me close it all up by referring back to something I wrote in one of my former blog posts:

… I came to the understanding that I have to be willing to take that aspect [leaving a digital footprint] as an unavoidable circumstance and something that I would not empower to stop me from what I find right to pursue. Instead, I try to turn it around… transform a weakness into a strength, and just make sure that the digital portrait of myself properly reflects me and my believes and values – to sharpen that picture. That does not mean that I’m completely exposing my most inner self… by no means. I still think about what aspects/parts of my private life should be contained in my blog….

Why blog?

The more technical people may call it SEO-fying your digital presence, for the others: it comes down to actively sharing in order to make room for opportunities. Or as John Hagel III and  John Seely Brown call it: Shape Serendipity, Understand Stress, Reignite Passion.

So, whether it’s the loss of control or the path to serendipity… or maybe something in between… at the end of the day: life is what you make it!

PS: Posting all this certainly has that “preaching to the converted” feeling to it. Yet, given that Social Media Week is coming up I figured it may be about time to try get some people reconsider their standing towards a more active participation in social media. Consequently, it’s up to us… the converted to spread the word. On… but more importantly off-the-web.

References:

Tags: #socmed, #SMW2012, #SMW 

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23 Comments

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  1. Kevin Grove
    Excellent content, thank you. Your points exactly match my experience of the last year. For too long I was timid with my online activity for the reasons you mentioned. After wading into online communities, I wonder if selfishness was the real reason. Jarret’s tweet was one of the “ah-ha” moments that really put things into a proper perspective.
    Thanks for the link to the article on Serendipity – that is a worthwhile read. One additional point, serendipity is used as a synonym for luck. I believe the Roman philosopher Seneca (a few centuries before the internet ;)) said “Luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparation.” That,to me, summarizes this blog post nicely. The preparation through being active in online communities leads to opportunities that can be quite exceptional.

    Best regards,

    Kevin Grove

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    1. Kumud Singh
      Hi Kevin,

      This is a beautiful comment. Enjoyed reading it.
      Luck indeed is intersection of Opportunity and preparation. This has happened to me in real time. If I anytime write that in my personal blog, will share the link with you (twitter).
      Matthias, can’t thank you much for writing such a thoughtful blog. Thanks.

      Regards,
      Kumud

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  2. Sascha Wenninger
    Hi Matthias,

    thanks for so clearly and convincingly outlining your thought processes. I’m often conscious that there are so many highly knowledgeable and passionate people working with SAP software who remain more or less invisible on SCN because they are for various reasons hesitant to contribute in a social media environment. Sadly, this means we never get the opportunity to learn from them and as a result the community is poorer for it.

    I hope at least some of these folks will take your blog as an impetus to reconsider their position and jump in.

    Sascha

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Hi Sascha,

      absolutely agree with you on the “loss for the community” aspect of it.

      And about making people reconsider their minds… a blog can only do so much, so it needs the converted to continue to spead the word.

      Cheers,
      Matthias

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  3. Jens Steckhan
    There is a lot of truth in your statements. I like the idea of connecting with people on the same wavelength.
    And contribution bit is a strong motivator, it makes you feel good:
    you become a participant rather than a passive beneficiary.

    Personally, I use Twitter as a source of inspiriation, of diversion mixed with useful information.
    It might be a pun that makes me smile or an observation that would have otherwise escaped me,
    It might be a piece of news that doesn’t make it to the main headlines, but is interesting to me.
    Or an idea or trend that is relevant for my life as a software architect.

    But you also touch upon another subject: the use of social media for self promotion.
    To tell you the truth this is something which rather puts me off.
    I have read too many tweets that shout ‘LOOK AT ME’, ‘I KNOW SO MANY IMPORTANT PEOPLE’ or ‘I AM SO AWARE OF THE LATEST HYPE’
    it makes me feel annoyed. This competition for attention feels a bit desperate.
    I find self promotion acceptable as a side effect, but it shouldn’t be a main purpose.

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Hi Jens,

      happy to see you join in and sharing some your personal use-cases for social media and especially Twitter. It underlines that everybody needs to find his own way of useing the tools.

      Concerning your last point: interesting to hear! A few remarks:

      a) it’s as simple as stop following people if their “content” is not interesting for you

      b) and yes, it should be a positive side effect of your engagement and not the reason. Plus I doubt that such self-promotion w/o any value would be very succesful.. well, unless maybe you’re Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber et al 🙂

      Cheers, Matthias

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      1. Jens Steckhan
        Hey Matthias,

        always fun to have a discussion with you.

        a)
        Thanks for the hint, I know how to stop following people 🙂

        b)
        I wouldn’t ask myself “what’s in for me”, but rather “how can I share stuff that moves me”.  Maybe it’s just me, I have issues with too much noise and ego. Too much wrapping and not enough content.

        I totally agree: it can be fun to follow a single Lady Gaga. Even more fun to be her.
        But it would be very dull if we all acted like her.

        J.

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        1. Matthias Steiner Post author
          Hi Jens,

          well, I sure know that you know how to stop following people (by personal experience might I add.) I didn’t mean to sound harsh, yet I just wanted to re-emphasize that’s within the user’s control to tweak their own timeline so that they get the best user experience. If some of teh people you follow overdo it in self-promotion and have nothing valuable to share (for you) then it makes no sense letting them increase the ‘noise’ on your end.

          Concerning the “what’s in for me?” – Now, that may  sounds rather dull if you limit it to “building your brand”. Yet that was not the intention of teh blog. I think the “what’s in for me” is a valid question to be asked. After all, social networking and blogging do require some time.

          Sure, “sharing” implies that there is someone to share with. So, that may just be your reason right there… you may be able to find someone to share with by engaging in social media.

          I have little to add to the post as in a nutshell it boils down to “give it a try and find your own answers.” There are many reasons to share, yet I find it hard to believe that if there’s nothing “in for you” that anyone would be putting all the time, energy and passion into it to make it a worthwhile experience.

          That’s not so say that there must be tangible results… it may just be that warm fuzzy feeling of having done something good, of having contributed something meaningful, or whatever…

          Cheers,
          Matthias

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        2. Matthias Steiner Post author
          Hi Jens,

          well, I sure know that you know how to stop following people (by personal experience might I add.) I didn’t mean to sound harsh, yet I just wanted to re-emphasize that’s within the user’s control to tweak their own timeline so that they get the best user experience. If some of teh people you follow overdo it in self-promotion and have nothing valuable to share (for you) then it makes no sense letting them increase the ‘noise’ on your end.

          Concerning the “what’s in for me?” – Now, that may sounds rather dull if you limit it to “building your brand”. Yet that was not the intention of teh blog. I think the “what’s in for me” is a valid question to be asked. After all, social networking and blogging do require some time.

          Sure, “sharing” implies that there is someone to share with. So, that may just be your reason right there… you may be able to find someone to share with by engaging in social media.

          I have little to add to the post as in a nutshell it boils down to “give it a try and find your own answers.” There are many reasons to share, yet I find it hard to believe that if there’s nothing “in for you” that anyone would be putting all the time, energy and passion into it to make it a worthwhile experience.

          That’s not so say that there must be tangible results… it may just be that warm fuzzy feeling of having done something good, of having contributed something meaningful, or whatever…

          Cheers,
          Matthias

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    2. Natascha Thomson
      Jens, I agree, it’s annoying to hear where people have lunch or why they are so great. But, it’s also a culture thing, us Americans are more into self-promotions than many Europeans.

      For us to land a job, for example, we have to praise ourselves in an interview in a way that would be inappropriate in Germany. We act the same way on social media.

      Social media is just another platform where all the other rules in the world still apply (I like to say it’s like high school). The good thing, you can unfollow people :-).

      Best,

      Natascha

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  4. Kumud Singh
    Hi Matthias,
    As usual wonderful blog. There is just one aspect where I get stuck and that’s Brand. I believe, one should not run after it rather it should come on its own. If we focus on the work or anything for that matter qualitatively, I think everything follows.
    Well,this is entirely my opinion.Great read! Thanks.

    Regards,
    Kumud

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Exactly!

      The “Brand” thingie is just a consequence of your actions and shouldn’t be the reason to get started. I just included it as it’s a positive side effects I see in engaging and especially if you look at it from the “personal data” point of view. The rational is: your data is out of your control anyway, so the good in participating in social networks is that your digital profile also contains a lot of the content you have been sharing (which hopefully you have put your best effort into.)

      Yet, if self-promotion is your only goal then you’re up for a tough ride. It takes soo much time, energy and passion to regularly share good content that I doubt anyone will make it if she/he is in for the wrong reasons. Just my 2 cents…

      Cheers,
      Matthias

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  5. Natascha Thomson
    Matthias:

    interesting thoughts and well put.

    One thing to add could be that it’s currently still possible to benefit from the novelty of social media.

    For example, I often contact people during webinars or events via Twitter on the hashtag (or sometimes simply Tweet people I would like to talk to/meet). It’s amazing how many times I get a response and I have build many connections and even friendships this way. One social media group I started in Silicon Valley was initially exclusively recruited via Twitter – I Tweeted people, asked them to have lunch with me – then to join the group :-).

    Just like SAP TechEd is the heart of SCN where we all meet, it’s important to have human touch points in-between.

    Off my soap box,

    Natascha

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Hi Natascha,

      happy to see your here! After all, you’re one of the people I got to know on Twitter first and look at us now 🙂

      And great point… tapping into Twitter during events like conferences etc. makes the whole experience so much better.

      In fact, my whole recap blog about Impressions from SAPPHIRE NOW + SAP TechEd – Madrid 2011 tries to show how much more immersive such events can be if one is connected to peers in real-time!

      Cheers,
      Matthias

      PS: Keep doing your thing -> it’s great AND matters!!!

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    2. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Hi Natascha,

      happy to see your here! After all, you’re one of the people I got to know on Twitter first and look at us now 🙂

      And great point… tapping into Twitter during events like conferences etc. makes the whole experience so much better.

      In fact, my whole recap blog about Impressions from SAPPHIRE NOW + SAP TechEd – Madrid 2011 tries to show how much more immersive such events can be if one is connected to peers in real-time!

      Cheers,
      Matthias

      PS: Keep doing your thing -> it’s great AND matters!!!

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  6. Gali Kling Schneider
    As always love your posts Matthias!

    The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle and everyone must find their own way…but I advocate trying social media since I find it fun and rewarding.

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Thanks Gali!

      Oh, and without you advocating this blog wouldn’t have seen the light as it was you who got me into all this 😀

      All the best,
      Matthias

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  7. Sarah Otner

    Thanks for tagging me on Twitter so that I found this! You already know that I face the same issue when explaining the “point” or the “value” of my research. Social scientists study individual and group behaviors, looking for causes, consequences, and connections; without individual-level data, this would be impossible. I find that you are absolutely correct about the issue of control – that it is uncertainty which makes people uncomfortable, even afraid. I hope that social media is new enough that fear will abate over time.

    Keep up the excellent writing!

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

      Thanks for the kind words – I’m happy to know you found the content worthwhile.

      So, how is your study coming along? You know several of us here are interested to see the results 🙂

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