Know your audience

Our friend and colleague, Allison Graham, recently wrote an interesting column about the relevance/appropriateness of social networking for building business relationships in the first of her new syndicated business column for SunMedia. Allison is an executive coach and professional speaker specializing in networking and relationship-building. In brief, her column gently chided a young professional for saying "he would facebook" to make contact with a prospective client.

Her opinion, with apologies to her for the quick paraphrase (full version here) was that business networking and social networking have distinct and separate purposes and that the two should not be blurred.  Further, that becoming connected with someone socially is a contradiction if your goal is to form a professional relationship. All fair points.

Allison also admits annoyance, as someone who built her network the self-described "old fashioned way", at having to check her Facebook profile to reconnect with this individual. And she's probably not in the minority of traditional business professionals here.

Know your audience is good advice. People don't want to, for example, give their money to an investor whose weekend drinking pictures they can see online. Fair enough. We've all heard stories about CEOs and HR execs using social sites to check out current and prospective employees. (We're not big fans of this practice but it definitely happens and may affect one's professional prospects.  As usual, one of our readers summed it up better than we ever could.  For more of his insights, go here.) However, in an environment where there is really no such thing as privacy anymore and where the retirement of baby boomers en masse is going to give way to a whole new crop of under 45 execs, we may just see a shift in the seeming prejudice against, and misuse of, social media.

So what's the point? Perhaps knowing your audience cuts both ways. What do we know about the other half of the audience -- the young facebooking professional?

He's a digital native.  He is part of a generation that has never known a home without a personal computer, and for whom being online is not a thing you do, but how you live.

This is far beyond the infamy of generational culture. It's not polyester bellbottoms or legwarmers or rap music, it's a way of life.

Of course the net gen has a bad rap.  They are apparently, because of technology, the most malsocialized generation of all time and lacking work ethic, respect and loyalty, among other undesirable traits (the prejudice against pants hanging down showing one's underwear we might agree with.)

In fact, they are the most well-socialized and connected generation of all time (so far.) Recall the hours spent by teenage girls talking on the phone to one friend? This generation is using technology to chat with and maintain a network of hundreds, even thousands of contacts...many well outside their postal codes. (All this while listening to their iPods, texting on their phones, and making vids for YouTube...that's decent multi-tasking.) They will easily stay in touch with friends from pre-school and little league well into their adult lives and will find new ways and new models for social, cultural and yes, business collaboration. And people do business with people they know and like, right?

Since this is our next generation of leaders, maybe we should start considering their model? We'd love to hear your thoughts and know Allison would too. (With great thanks to her for inviting this response.)

Finally, some perspective on the enormous technology-driven change this and future generations will see, experience and lead: This gen makes fun of typewriters; if the folks at Canada3.0 have it right, our 9-month old son will make fun of typing.