I'm back after taking a few weeks off for vacations, business travel and just generally getting some down time. I certainly wasn't disconnected, though. I just didn't blog since late June. What I did do was spend a lot of time looking into the plethora of social networks that have been knocking at my door for a while.
At least weekly for the past couple of years I've received invitations to join all kinds of networks beyond the standard: Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. People have tried to link to me through ecademy, Plaxo, MyYearbook, Classmates, Networking for Professionals, and on and on. I decided as an experiment to set up profiles and get to know these sites personally so I could see what all the hub-bub is about.
If you spend any time at all online, you've probably noticed yourself the explosion in online networks that encourage people to connect, share information and search for - or post - available jobs. The media would have us believe everyone over 35 has a Twitter account now. (For the record, I have one and have several followers, but have not yet tweeted, even though I do follow some favorite tweeting journalists.)
So, what are all these "connected" people doing? According to new research by Anderson Analytics, revealed at emarketer.com, boomers largely use social networks to keep in touch with friends and family. Using the networks "for fun" drew only 38%, as opposed to 61% for Gen Y and 51% for Gen X. That suggests that boomers see social networks in much the same way we see the Internet in general - it's a tool to accomplish something in particular, not just a place to hang out to see what happens. Meanwhile, LinkedIn reigns supreme as "the" professional network (with 43 million current users).
I think it is particularly interesting to note that women over 55 are now reversing a trend they started earlier this year. After becoming the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook in the first quarter (to 1.6 million) , during April and May this same group DROPPED by 650,000, according to Inside Facebook.
Having spent several hours a day on various networks for the summer, I think I know why many boomers are jumping ship. Many just aren't interested in the constant stream of "status updates" that amount to boring noise. Thankfully, after a flood of complaints, Facebook, the grandaddy of social networks, did alter its site so that users can "hide" friends who post too often. Other sites with similar functions aren't quite as invasive, but I found a lot of "junk" there too.
I use the Facebook hide function a lot. I have some connections who post more than a dozen times day. Often, the updates are actually annoying, especially the ones designed to share political views, "inspirational messages," and brag about business deals.
Frankly, it can be incredibly time consuming to try and keep it all straight and check in on the various networks regularly. I frequently read advice from the uber-connected who suggest that you should maintain a presence on every network you can. The theory is that the more places you appear, the better known you'll become and the more branded you'll be.
Here's what I've concluded: most boomers who do well to just pick a lane and drive in it. In other words, select a couple of networks and master them, rather than trying to be everywhere. I've chosen Facebook and LinkedIn, but for entirely different purposes. For me, Facebook is a place to meet up with friends, goof around with stupid (but often entertaining) applications, declare I'm a "fan" of favorite brands, and stay in touch with my family, whereas LinkedIn is where I connect with professional colleagues and business contacts. Only a few people appear on both networks, since I think it's wise to keep your true "social" network separate from your business network.
What do you think? Do you make an effort to separate your personal and professional networks? Why or why not?
P.S. In case you haven't seen it, check out this article about the most annoying types of facebook posters.