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I find myself  in conversations about social media and its implications occasionally. And I mean: off-the-web, real-life discussions.



Usually one of the pivot points is about whether or not it is a 'good idea' to expose too many information about oneself to public. Many are afraid of becoming completely transparent to the "system" (could be anything from a 1984 scenario down to a governance, agency, cooperation or social platform.) It's the idea of protecting their personal data that prevents them from actively sharing personal or person-related information on the web: where it is there,  forever, in public... irrevocable. It's the loss of control that keeps them back.



It's indeed an important consideration to make and I do share some of the concerns about the lack of a "permanently delete" button for (person-related) content on the web. I do see the potential issues that could arise if all those information being acquired by the big players fall into the wrong hands or it's used for a bad purpose. But that seems to be an uphill battle and in many cases the consumers don't seem to care too much about sharing their data: when it's convenient, when they can save, when it's fun. The same people that refrain from social networking have no problem with bonus programs or online shopping.



So, bluntly speaking it seems to come down to the usual suspect: Return on Investment or "what's in for me?"



Once the conversation is at that point there's suddenly the notion, that there may be positive effects in sharing information as well. So, it's no longer a rip-off, but a trade-off. You get something in return for exposing that data. So let's get to the fine-print!



In general the deal is about exposing some of your personal data and getting something in return. That may be bonus points, miles, coupons, discounts, specials and what else you got. Yet, in terms of social networking the results may not be that easy to put into metrics, there are more of a long-time strategy that could have many positive effects.



If you tackle it from that perspective and start engaging on social networks it can go many routes. It's up to you and what you're looking for. No matter what your interests are - there are other people out there sharing your passion. There sure are plenty of communities on the web on every topic. There sure are things that would be interesting for you too, right?



"OK", some of the skeptics may say" ... but I still wouldn't know what to post there or why to spend all the time?"



Fair enough - and that's ok! Take your time to familiarize yourself with with the communities and platforms first. Start by reading, by searching. You may want to spice up your profile/avatar. Then you may feel like commenting, start doing a bit of curating and who knows ... eventually you feel the urge to post something on your own sooner or later.



"So, what's in for you?"



Only you can find out... yet here's a short list of benefits many people see. Your mileage may vary; but this is why I got active on social networks...



1. Connect with like-minded


When I started blogging in 2007 the intention has been to share and exchange experiences on developing applications with emerging technologies at SAP. Being part of the first wave of early adopters and pioneers in this field requires to constantly having to look out for new technology trends, evaluating their readiness and their fit for business purposes. By nature, at this early point in the adoption cycle there are no best-practices on how-to leverage the tools - they yet have to be defined.



And this is where social network come in: through blogging I have been able to connect to colleagues and peers and find people with similar interests and challenges. By connecting with them I got new ideas, new input, new directions and - hopefully - vice versa. Fellow SAP Mentor Jarret Pazahanick put it down nicely the other day:


Tweet by SAP_Jarret


..which brings us to number 2.



2. Expanding your horizon


Once you start actively sharing some of your thoughts and content - you get feedback and take part in the conversation. You can get to know some really smart people out there. I think I can safely say that my horizon has expanded tremendously since I started to blog and tweet. Especially the concept of following subject matter experts, thought-leaders and alpha geeks on Twitter and periodically tapping into their minds has been something  that sold me for good.



In the area of software development, enterprise software and SAP there is indeed a very active and passionate community on Twitter, including board members, executives, topic experts and influencers such as the SAP Mentors. All of these people are on Twitter to interact with each other and they are usually very approachable. From personal experience I can say that you can indeed engage across companies and corporate levels, raise your voice and eventually ignite change.


3. Gathering information


As I said, a central part of my job is to filter information, gather quality content, provide assessments and roll-out our findings. A perfect match for social networking.



Yet, that's not to say that I can get everything I need to know by just following the right people. I still have to actively and more systematically perform my research using a variety of tools such as RSS readers, newsletters... even email. Social platforms do help though to find new and interesting people or content. They are covering my blind spot if you will. They let me know of the big stories, the talk of the day.



If you are interested in how-to leverage social media for such purposes, I can highly recommend Jon Reed's The Power of Pull, SAP Style: How I use "pull technologies" to raise my game - and how you can too. One particularly aspect of Jon's reasoning brings us to the next point:


As you comment on (and share) information as it comes out, you deepen relationships in a way that is not possible if you are focused only on broadcasting your own messages.

4. Contributing


It's an interesting idea indeed: if one does all that reading, filtering and analysis - why not do so in a way that let others build upon your work? I found that by tagging all the information I process day- in/day-out and by spreading the word about the useful things I find I can actively contribute something valuable. Summarizing my thoughts and voicing my opinion helps me to really think something through - sort of:  "you've only truly understood something you can explain to others!"



As I need to organize all the information anyway, doing so publicly just ensures that I put that extra effort into it (which I may neglect if i'd just scrabble it down for my own eyes!) Plus - I get valuable feedback from readers. Which brings us to the last point...


5. Establishing your Brand


Every link you bookmark, every information you tweet, every topic you blog about... it all adds to your social profile, your digital footprint. Yes, there's gonna be plenty of information about you on the web if you do, but that may not be too bad after all - if it's quality content and something you stand up for, is it?



A friend of mine who happens to make a living with social media says it all in her presentation about Your Brand on Social Media. There's little to add to what Natascha says, yet - let me close it all up by referring back to something I wrote in one of my former blog posts:


... I came to the understanding that I have to be willing to take that aspect [leaving a digital footprint] as an unavoidable circumstance and something that I would not empower to stop me from what I find right to pursue. Instead, I try to turn it around... transform a weakness into a strength, and just make sure that the digital portrait of myself properly reflects me and my believes and values - to sharpen that picture. That does not mean that I'm completely exposing my most inner self... by no means. I still think about what aspects/parts of my private life should be contained in my blog....

Why blog?


The more technical people may call it SEO-fying your digital presence, for the others: it comes down to actively sharing in order to make room for opportunities. Or as John Hagel III and  John Seely Brown call it: Shape Serendipity, Understand Stress, Reignite Passion.



So, whether it's the loss of control or the path to serendipity... or maybe something in between... at the end of the day: life is what you make it!



PS: Posting all this certainly has that "preaching to the converted" feeling to it. Yet, given that Social Media Week is coming up I figured it may be about time to try get some people reconsider their standing towards a more active participation in social media. Consequently, it's up to us... the converted to spread the word. On... but more importantly off-the-web.



Tags: #socmed, #SMW2012, #SMW 



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