Reasons to use social media

I’ve been away from social media* for a month now, and I’m wondering whether to go back. I’m not convinced I should. I just don’t know whether I find it valuable enough to compensate for the downsides that it causes for me.

Here’s what I find valuable about social media:

  1. It helps me keep connected with friends.
    I actually met some of my closest friends (hi @dylanreeve, @parsley72) thanks to social media, and keep up with others using it. It’s not that I can’t catch up with people without using Twitter, but I do miss that ambient intimacy. I’m not convinced it’s as good as real intimacy though.
  2. It’s (currently) the best way to advertise your company and connect with your industry.
    With Codemania looming, I’m wondering if the lack of last-minute ticket sales is partially because I’m not spamming away on Facebook and Twitter. Possibly? Probably? Also we have some open roles at Vend that I’d normally tweet about to spread the word.

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Use Your Inside Voice

There’s something about Twitter that brings out the troll in me. I’m not sure what it is, but it feels like more often than not I’m responding to public figures with ranting negativity.

To be fair, I’m often responding to examples of deep stupidity, but that doesn’t mean I have to reply likewise. It shouldn’t be surprising, but a calm open-letter to an MP (also sent directly) received a significantly more constructive response than would a ranty 140 character tweet.

I’ve had a few conversations recently, which — combined with my own unease at being “that guy” — have me trying hard to be more careful in my responses. Here are my tips on being less of a troll when responding to stuff that makes you grumpy:

Engaging Governments

With government interaction, a calm, considered approach makes a lot of sense. I imagine politicians are almost immune to shouty rants, due to their daily exposure in the house, and no doubt regular dose of crazy constituents.

One might get the impression that MPs are “listening” on twitter because we are able to interact with them so immediately, but the truth is that using the processes we already have in place for legislation will always get a better result. These include (among other things) submitting to select committees, official information requests, and of course emails and letters directly to MPs.

If you haven’t engaged in lawmaking before, it’s actually not at all daunting. All opinions are valid, and in many cases expert opinion on your particular area of expertise are appreciated. A good place to start might be Mai Chen’s recent book: The Public Law Toolbox. Email your local MP. Look into what processes are currently underway in parliament, or even adopt an MP.

Engaging Corporates

Unfortunately we don’t have the same level of mandated transparency with corporations. The good thing is that they seem to be a lot more sensitive to reasonable social media feedback. If you need to add more detail, a blog post or email to elaborate on a couple of level-headed tweets is a great idea. The key thing to remember is that there are real people with real feelings behind even the most “faceless” social media presence.

Besides, being a troll is a near-certain way to get ignored by corporate social media. Take a look at this classic (did social media even exist in 2008?!) response chart from the US Air Force. Their suggestion for obvious trolls: “Avoid responding to specific posts”.

The other approach to consider is accessing a true inside voice: can you get in touch with an acquaintance employed by the company? Can you get them to see your point of view and work as an ally to foment change? This approach works particularly well for socio-economic or policy issues (as opposed to specific issues with products or services, which you should take through the existing support channels).

So yeah, thanks Koz and Nigel. Like I tell my four year-old: I’m gonna use my inside voice more often. How about you?


Speaking all over the place

It’s a busy month of speaking/panel engagements for me, so I thought I’d throw them all down here. Most of them are open invite, so if they tickle your fancy feel free to sign up and come along.

Tomorrow (Friday 9th April 2010) I’m on the closing panel for the Australian Software Engineering Conference, on the topic of Engineering Software for Economic Growth. This should be an interesting panel, with representatives from Microsoft, IBM, Mozilla, and myself. At Datacom we see some incredible work from the Auckland Uni software engineering grads, so I’m more than happy to talk them up. It’s a brilliant course. Aside from that, I’ve got some vocal opinions on the importance of design as a component of software engineering that I’m planning to put forward.

Then on Saturday (10th April 2010) it’s the topic of SQL Server Integration Services at the Auckland SQL Saturday (organised by the ever enthusiastic Dave Dustin). I’m not going to pretend this will be an exciting and amusing talk, but after knocking off some epic SSIS projects this year, I’m really keen to share what we’ve learnt (including a still outstanding SQL2k8 bug) in the process.

Roll on Tuesday the 13th, and another panel. This time Social Media Club Auckland is having a panel on Social Media for Journalists. This one should be fun. I’m quite frankly getting a bit fed up with the goldrush mentality around quote capital S social capital M media unquote at the moment. I use it because I enjoy it. Any benefit is secondary.

Wednesday the 14th is my TVNZ Breakfast Gadgets day. If my iPad isn’t in my hot little hands, I’ll be coving (loosely) travel gadgets, including the Canon 550d, Vodafone MiFi, and some walkie talkies (great for cruise ships apparently).

Then later in the month, on Wednesday the 28th, the (deep breath) New Zealand Computer Society Artificial Intelligence Special Interest Group is holding a – frankly – bloody interesting panel titled How intelligent is business intelligence today? The real-world BI stuff we do at the moment is largely deterministic. I’m really keen to see how the AI academics would approach some of the problems that we encounter. I’ll be talking through an actual case study and explaining how we solved it, then the AI specialists will talk about the approaches they might use with some of the cutting-edge science they are developing.

Phew. No wonder I’m feeling a bit overloaded at the moment. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t bloody good fun though!