To be successful in the social media environment, you need a carefully thought-out strategy — a plan that addresses everything from the images of yourself that you post – to the (online) company you keep. I’m calling this the “Golden Retriever Rule” of social networking, and here’s what I mean: People using social media to expand their worlds have already learned that sometimes, in the process of following or being followed, you crash into an alien world populated by people who think very differently from you. Let’s say, for instance, that I am a fan of Golden Retrievers and I follow, friend and become fans of anyone who blogs, comments or coos about them. One of the Facebook Friends I follow also loves Goldens and writes about them often – but he also happens to be very involved in local politics in a branded/conservative/ideological way. Since we are *friends* because of our love of Golden Retrievers, he can see my friend list and I can see his. And this is where it gets complicated: I am also *friended* by ideologically conservative followers because of my association with this Golden-loving politician — because in their zeal to build an on-line community of like-minded individuals, they “friend,” “follow” or “Tweet” anyone remotely connected to this politician. In the blink of a golden eye I am getting news feeds and YouTube links to nasty Nancy Pelosi jokes and tasteless Obama allusions. Suddenly, and without effort on my part, I am moving in the circles of a political domain I would normally not be associated with.
Of course you can “unfriend” or “unfollow” or “hide feeds” – any number of options exist to make undesirable posters go away. But what if you are using social media to build a circle of supporters for a local political or advocacy campaign? Say you already have locked in the conservative vote but are now trying to appeal to a wider variety of constituents and want to reach out to moderates within your community. How can you manage to not be linked, philosophically or politically, to the fringe members of your party so that all voters have an opportunity to know you and your position without being prejudged by the company you keep? In part, do you let your followers define who you are?
Social media is all about building communities and I have enjoyed some success in advocacy circles doing just that. The beauty and fluidity of Twitter lends itself to opening new doors and experiencing differing points of view. When I describe Twitter to someone I have them visualize a boolean logic set of circles – with intersecting shaded segments where interests overlap. The large circle in the middle is the persona, or public face, with other smaller circles representing the anima, or the different hats or masks we wear. My Twitter community contains people who comment on many different areas I find interesting. Sometimes (but rarely) the worlds of the anima overlap. On Facebook, however, the connection for people is more intimate. It is not unlike the social circles you moved in throughout high school or college… people with similar interests who know where you live and what your major is. Like Linkedin, Facebook is a very different tool in the Social Media sandbox. If you are trying to build a community of people outside of your own comfort zone, Facebook and Linkedin are ideal tools for expanding your connections within a defined area of interest. But entering those Social Media sites without a clear plan can backfire – as it did for my Golden Retriever fan-cum-politician friend. With the intent of appealing to a broader political base the revelation of likes and dislikes in great detail painted a picture of a true branded/conservative/ideological. The fact that he is a fan of Rush Limbaugh, for example, would alienate otherwise moderate voters who find that radio talk show host offensive. Those moderate voters, given an opportunity to read about this politicians’ position, might have given him a chance. Now they have written his candidacy off as too “far right.” And, although that wouldn’t matter to some, for a politician trying to appeal to a larger audience, it can be deadly.
I think that anyone using Social Media to expand their community for politics, advocacy or business needs to tread very carefully and understand the scrutiny by which others will comb through a profile. And I think it is more important to focus on defining yourself or your mission rather than aligning yourself with others who may damage your image by mere association. Really, there is no need to take that risk.
When a Golden (and I am talking about a well-adjusted normal dog here) will enter a room crowded with people, mouth slightly open in a sloppy grin, head held high and tail wagging. They will bump into person after person until someone delivers a pet or treat. Contrast that to a terrier that announces itself with barks and snaps at the intruders and has to be locked away in the laundry room for the party. Be the Golden.