An interesting Linkedin question

An ex-colleague of mine asked an interesting question today:

What are your observations regarding AEM member companies’ 1) attitude toward social media 2) adoption rate of social media 3) ‘wiifm’ based interest in social media?

This was interesting to me because when I listen to Total Picture Radio, or read many blogs, it’s easy to get the idea that only a few gnomes living under rocks have yet to get onto Linkedin. Everyone else has been indoctrinated that social media is a Must Do, therefore the adoption rate is exponential, and of course ‘What’s in it for me?” is a punch-line.

The people on TPR and on most blogs are enlightened, web-savvy folks who’ve been using social media since its birth. It’s second nature, and we’ve all been using this stuff for so long it’s easy to brand the folks who haven’t as backward.

The problem is that the ratio of us to ‘normal’ people is still 1:50,000 or so if you consider the whole population. Normal people look at us as, well, hobbyists. Over enthusiastic technophiles. Maybe even cult members – which is easy to understand when you listen to the most vocal zealots for social media. Normal folks don’t quite get social media yet. They hear about a lot of not-quite-tangible benefits, but hard evidence that being on social media is a must is not easy to come by. I even know a Gen Y’er who didn’t really know what Linkedin was, even though Facebook was old territory.

It is easy to see how social media carries risks. We are drowning in stories of teenagers posting stupid things and getting in trouble so bizarre our legal system doesn’t quite know how to handle it. It’s easy to see this stuff as scary. With no clear upside, it’s easy to see the people who are deep into it as a bit reckless.

So, while the questions asked above might seem a little silly, I don’t think they are. Most of the working world still doesn’t see social media as a Must Do, and that’s a fact that all of us enlightened web savvy folks need to keep in mind. For every dot-com startup or tech company there are hundreds of small manufacturing and service companies. Internet use is widely restricted, and many social media sites are blocked.

In answering the questions I will first state that AEM (my employer) has nothing to do with my replies, although they have a social media effort underway. I will also restate (as I do in the ‘About’ page) that these are my views, not my employer’s.

The attitude about Linkedin seems to have shifted from ‘What’s Linkedin?’ to ‘Yeah, I heard about that. You aren’t actually on that, are you?’ to ‘Yeah, I probably need to get on that one of these days.’ Maybe it’s more accepted lately. In the current economy, everyone will flock to anything that might give them an edge in the job market.

I see the adoption rate as generally inversely proportional to age and level within the company. Older folks higher on the ladder arguably have less need for social media, and they certainly have more to lose. They do have a lot to gain, but most of them didn’t get where they are by being stupid, and social media isn’t yet something all smart people do.

Overall though, the adoption rate is higher now than it was before. I see people joining Linkedin now who never would have a year ago, and many seem to be paying attention and doing it with their eyes open. I see less dead accounts than I used to, but part of that is less usage of Linkedin on my part (I don’t do as much research as I used to) and that I shrank my network a while back.

The ‘What’s in it for me?’ attitude is there, but it’s there in smaller quantities than you might expect. Unless you are a spammer it takes a lot of work to be a visible pain on the internet, and it takes a lot of effort to get a network large enough to really cause annoyance. Most WIIFM people aren’t so industrious, and even so once they make it clear they’re in it only for themselves, they’ll see their network shrink faster than it grew. The good news is that for anyone who wants to make an extra buck or two coaching people, these folks will be easy customers who probably won’t require much after-sale support.

In my experience, the benefits from blogging and social media have been totally unexpected and unpredictable. Along with persistent effort, social media and networking take a lot of faith. The lazier folks just don’t stick with it.

This also makes social media in general a hard sell for some people. They want to know what they’re going to get out of it – that’s only logical, right? The idea of putting personal info on the web seems crazy, and therefore the payoff must be immediate and huge. When they hear that it isn’t, they balk. It’s not hard to see it from their point of view, but it can be hard to get them past that.

Did I answer the questions?

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