Dragging Management Into the New Information Age

I am not an expert on Web 2.0, social networking, blogging or any of the other time-sucking web-based tools on my computer desktop. I am however becoming an avid user. I am not a fan of the time-sucking part, so I have devoted some (Time) energy into learning how to use these tools so they do NOT take so much effort. The key is to not hunt for things to read, but wait for them to come to you. Or search for specific topics when you need them.

This doesn’t change the fact that many of us thrive on the constant electronic updates of friends and family. It is also true that our co-workers are often our friends. Hence, there is often a blurring of lines between someone’s business and personal posts. This makes MANAGEMENT nervous. It has been difficult enough keeping employees from blabbing about a difficult client or secret initiatives at public events or in incriminating email. Now they are doing it on semi-public social networks or completely public micro-blogs like Twitter. I bet HR managers are inundated with requests for “Appropriate Use of Social Networking in the Workplace” clauses in employee handbooks.

The reality is – I believe – that these managers are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. If they knew how pervasive their perceived “problem” really is, they would curl up in a fetal ball and surround themselves with lawyers. I think their concern is founded, but a better response is to learn how this all works. What I have discovered is that I can connect a lot of news, blog, and personal streams down to one or two readers and scan for what matters to me today. If I find I want to know more about a topic, I can search through past postings and gather them in one saved listing. Let me give an example:

In my home of Dallas, we are having some challenges in the school district that would affect funding at the Magnet school my kids attend. What has been frustrating is that the school board relies on its information from the administration, which only tells the board what the superintendent wants them to know. The public can read and research and find out more using the very tools I have described. The board could do this themselves, but they are not the most electronically connected people – kind of like many business managers.

So, yesterday there was a public rally outside the district headquarters prior to a board meeting. My oldest daughter attended and signed up to address the board. Back at home we felt cut-off from the happening. All the local news stations were there and reported briefly on their newscasts, but it wasn’t very satisfying. My daughter did send us text messages from inside, but I wanted more. So I got onto Twitter and search the district name (DISD) and found a reporter that was posting from the meeting. I let her know I was reading and she increased her posts. I also discovered – by checking her Twitter profile – that she had a blog page. I went there and found she was updating it from the meeting with even better blow by blow reports. I scanned her earlier posts and found other writers who had been documenting the controversy. I ended up adding my reporter’s blog and several others to my RSS feed page in my Google Reader. I now have a saved Twitter search on the topic. This helps me keep up with relevant tweets instead of just scrolling through the (gasp) hundreds of daily posts I subscribe to. Now if I want to tweet something on this subject, I just add a “hash” – in this case, #disd. When other twitterers do the same we can all easily find each others posts even if we are not subscribed to each others’ feeds. Just this morning I have found several relevant blogs and people I want to follow. It is all gathered onto one screen that I can scan when I have time to see if there is anything worth reading. If I can figure out how to do this, so can you.

So let me get back to the management issue (I am picturing a bunch of middle-age white guys like myself). Guys (and Gals), we are not that old. We may have started our careers before personal computers, voicemail, and email, but we adapted. We may have fought PDA’s and email on the phone, but we can’t live without them now. We are pretty well connected technology-wise, but our brains are still wired to a logical, linear stream of information. The younger crowd (you know, 30-somethings) and the real young crowd (Gen-Y) continually process data and update their conclusions all the time. They don’t wait for the compiled code to see if the program runs. If it makes sense to them, they go with it. No point in trying to stop them. We have to adapt.

Here’s what I would recommend to anyone who has been reluctant to get involved in all this. Work your way into the early part of this century. Do these things, in this order:

  1. Go to Google. If you do not have a Google sign-in, get one. All it takes is an email address and a password. Click on News. See if there is a news source that you like. Click on an article then find the RSS feed. Subscribe. It will ask you where to put the subscription. Google Reader is easy to use and you are already signed in.
  2. You are reading this blog. Maybe you read others. They all have RSS buttons so you can add them to your Google Reader. Do it.
  3. Take a break, that was hard.
  4. Go to Linkedin. Build your own profile. You do not need your whole life or work history, but at least post a nice picture of yourself.
  5. Add your employees as connections on Linkedin. Read their profiles. See if any of them are connected to your competitors – you know you want to. Notice that if your connection is connected to someone, that you can connect to them to. Think about the networking possibilities.
  6. Spend a week or two checking your Linkedin homepage to see your connections’ updates. Join some networking group. See how little they actually do. Invite a few more business associates to connect to you. See what they are up to.
  7. Feeling brave? Go to Facebook. Works just like Linkedin in terms of getting started, but has a very different flavor. Get your teenager to show you around. Smirk. Connect to some friends. Get sucked in.
  8. Notice how people post their status as if other people cared. Find yourself pondering someone’s post and feeling the need to comment. Do it. Feels awkward at first, but you will get the hang of it. Notice how many folks seem proud of you for FB’ing (facebooking).
  9. Twitter. It is just a bunch of updates like on FB and Linkedin. What are these tiny url things? They are shortened web page links created to stay under the 140 character limit. Everyone uses them in text messages and postings now. Google “tiny url” to find out how to make them. Hmm, could I post a tiny url that directs people to my press release?
  10. Search Twitter for a subject. Try InfoComm. Lots of chatter, marketing stuff, this and that. Anything you are interested in? Click on the screen name of the person that posted it and see what else they have to say. Follow them – it’s like subscribing, but now their posts will show up on your Twitter home page.

I can go on like this for a long time, but you have been a good reader and have a lot of things to do. Mark this blog as a favorite so you can come back to it. Happy Web 2.0’ing.

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