A number of people I know have recently left Facebook and/or Twitter. I can understand why, as I left Facebook about eight years ago. I was an early adopter and thought it was going to help make a better civil society — I was naive it seems. I still find Twitter useful but I have to be more careful on it now, especially so I don’t get mired in some toxic thread. Being able to read the threads (comments) of people you do not follow is a feature that only produces more outrage, but that is what engages people and sells advertising. So of course Twitter will reinforce this outrage.
I think it is essential for every citizen to be involved in sense-making in the emerging network society. Currently most of the platforms are controlled by value-extracting corporations focused on procuring behavioural data, identifying social connections, and selling this information to the highest bidder. This makes it difficult to promote a platform like Twitter in order to learn about social networks. But it is still useful, just not an example of a good corporate citizen. The two consumer platforms I use most are Twitter, because I like its asymmetry, and LinkedIn because many of my clients are on it. I find LinkedIn useless for sense-making, as it’s difficult to curate or reference what I find. Engaged citizens have to be active in the ‘Wild West’ of consumer social media while also understanding their dark sides. We need to have a way to connect to new, interesting, and even distasteful opinions and ideas. This requires practices that are directly opposed to the algorithms that drive these social media platforms.
In addition to engaging on social media platforms, we need curation practices. Social bookmarking tools like Diigo are good for this, as well as collection tools like Pocket. Just ask yourself, where is that interesting article you read two weeks ago and now want to share with a colleague? If you cannot answer this, you need to start an online filing practice.
While social media networks are great for getting a diversity of opinions, they are not safe or trusted spaces. We need safe communities to take time for reflection, consideration, and testing out ideas without getting harassed. Finding these spaces is difficult, but becoming essential for all professionals. I belong to several online communities and have been active in recruiting new members. But too often you have to know someone first. Also, some communities want to stay small. Without a barrier to entry, communities will sprawl and may lose their value of more intimate conversations. I have started the perpetual beta coffee club as an attempt to slowly grow a community. The $10 monthly fee is a good barrier to ensure it grows slowly. If you cannot find a community, consider starting one yourself.
Both professional social networks and communities of practice help us make sense of the world outside the workplace. They also enable each of us to bring to bear much more knowledge and insight than we could do on our own. One hiring question that I think should soon become the norm is — tell us about your professional networks.
As we become more connected we should not be cutting out social media, instead we should be using them in smarter ways. In 2010 we wrote The Working Smarter Fieldbook. Today we all have to work smarter, by connecting our networks, communities, and work teams. Use social media to seek diverse opinions, but also find safer spaces to make sense and integrate your learning with your work. Too often the workplace does provide provide time and space for reflection or deep conversations. Make or find one, as this is essential to ensure that you do not become drowned in what others tell you to think. Become a practitioner of intellectual craftsmanship.