Who We Are On The Social Web
I’m a different person at work than I am at home. I tell different jokes. I have different stories. I share different experiences with different people in different ways depending on a host of different factors (e.g., how well we know each other; where we went to school; what our shared interests may be, etc.).
The context in which I know people is different from one person, one situation to the next. By and large, this is a good thing. I wouldn’t want my co-workers to know all that my wife knows and my wife wouldn’t be interested in all that my co-workers know.
Not surprisingly, online these relationships play out differently through different social networks. As a fairly engaged social networker (and dork), I recently tested my own social networks for what I’m calling, "social overlap" – the percent of overlapping "friends and followers" I have between the three social networks I am engaged in most: Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. (I highly recommend doing this exercise yourself, it shows a number of revealing insights about yourself. Here are some of mine. I’d love to hear your findings in the comments.
This analysis shows how few of my contacts overlap between different social networking platforms. This online fact echoes my offline reality of having different kinds of relationships with different people depending on the context of how we know one another.
My own lack of "social overlap" is complemented by a recent report from Forrester. Analyst Jeremiah Owyang (who recently left the company) suggests, "Today’s social experience is disjointed because consumers have separate identities in each social network they visit." Owyang goes on to say, "This creates friction for consumers who must now manage multiplying personal information and username/password combinations."
As a solution to this "friction" Owyang predicts that people will bring a single online identity from one social network to the next. Early examples of this prediction coming to light are "Facebook Connect," which allows users to "connect" their Facebook identity to any site, and "Open ID," a potential social network standard for a shared identity system.
However, a single online ID seems out of synch with how we (or at least I) naturally relate to others in our offline/real world lives. Maybe I like having different platforms on which to interact with co-workers vs. family members. Maybe I’m not comfortable showing the same side of me to everyone I know, regardless of how I know them. Maybe my lack of "social overlap" online is a good thing…much as it is offline.
The point here is not to knock a single online ID, it’s to ask bigger questions about who we are on the social web. How are we different consumers in different contexts? What permission do we give different brands on different sites? How does your brand fit in with your customers on Facebook differently than it does on Twitter? Because it’s not just a different tool, it may be a "different person" with whom you’re connecting.
These questions point to the critical need to listen first before coming to market with a social media strategy. To understand how your customers think of your brand, product or service as relevant and meaningful in different social media contexts. Because maybe your customers are not the same people in one context that they are in another.