I spent a “long weekend” with the car at a racetrack – the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. This was the site of the NASCAR Auto Club 500 event held in late February and the plan was to spend three full days learning the course, as I hadn’t previously driven it. The picture on the left is of my car on a hoist, as mechanics give it a thorough track-worthiness inspection.
But this weekend didn’t go to plan. While nothing on the car failed, and there were no incidents, I never made it out onto the circuit itself. Even though the car was prepared mechanically, it turned out that I wasn’t prepared emotionally. On arrival Friday morning, instructors approached me and proposed I pursue a different schedule; to better prepare me for future participation with more advanced drivers.
This was a real surprise and a little intimidating, catching me completely off guard. Especially as only a few weeks earlier I had been informed that continuing in the program, driving the car I had, was only going to make further progress questionable.
Having never driven on this circuit, and only six weekends into the High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) program, I was overwhelmed and mentally unprepared for these changes to my program. So I balked, not at all confident with the information provided and made the decision not to participate. Driving onto a racetrack when not in synch with everyone is never a good idea.
For nearly two years, I have been blogging on this site. I have also been active on other NonStop-related community sites – Connect, the ACI Forum, as well as in discussion groups that are supported by these sites. I have also been active in a number of user groups associated with online communities such as LinkedIn. And I have been a regular contributor to electronic newsletters like TandemWorld. For more information about these sites, to the right of this posting you will find a selection of links under the heading of “Links to related sites.”
And just as with taking a car onto a racetrack, I thought about how much preparation any of us makes before engaging in social networking. What preparation do we need before we put our thoughts and ideas into the public domain – essentially for all time?
I had an email exchange recently with Randall Becker, well known for his contribution to the Canadian Tandem User Group (CTUG). Randall just launched his own blog site Indestructible computing and we talked about adding links to each other’s sites. But when it came time to talk about content and what Randall was considering covering, he remarked to me “right now, I’m having a crises of … well … shyness! Posting to blogs is rather permanent and we are what we post.”
Within my own company, GoldenGate, there’s been a substantial investment made in wikis, and everything I ever wanted to know about the company, its products, and its customers can be found there. But adding a blog to the web site is an entirely different matter as it does open up issues – and not just the shyness of the company’s executives.
As anyone that regularly blogs can attest to, the commitment in time is significant and developing stories that hold the readers attention doesn’t come easily for most executives. And then there is the need to provide something of quality that marketing can expend energy on promoting that doesn’t end up embarrassing the author for the same reason Randall noted – it’s all rather permanent!
HP too continues to assess, and test, the use of social media. As one manager I know suggested “it has an important place as one method for communicating with each other and with customers.” While it would be difficult to associate shyness with any of HP’s product managers there’s some of the same concerns as has been raised within GoldenGate – commitment, good story telling, and marketing resources.
Probably the most vocal advocate of social networking that I know is Mark Whitfield of Insider Technology – there’s barely a week that passes without an email about a posting Mark has just published. “I read an article that businesses were not taking enough advantage of social and business networking sites,” Mark emailed me before adding “there is no doubt in my mind (and) based on my own experience, that LinkedIn has the lead here for professional-fronted networking … it seems a professional necessity to collect a higher number of connections and recommendations than the next IT Guru!”
Business may not be taking full advantage of social networking, and often for good reasons. In a recent article in InformationWeek (March 23, 2009) “Can Enterprise Social Networking Pay Off?” the writer points out that “suggest bringing in social networking tools into your company and wary corporate managers are likely to raise a host of issues …. (and it) also raises policy questions around content control, compliance, and moderating employee behavior. These are important concerns.”
In a posting I made on March 30, 2009 (and re-posted April 1, 2009), Social NetWorking "NotWorking"? I referred to the same article and suggested “for executives of any company, there's always the concern that they may look foolish or poorly describe something about their company or products that is already widely known across their community.”
This was born out when one blogger told me of a CIO who was let go after commentary he had provided in a blog – nothing to do with shyness apparently but simply a case of being poorly informed. Along similar lines, and being cautious, Lisa Partridge of XYPRO Technology added “my concern with Facebook – I don’t use twitter – is that a person only has a single profile; it’s very personal … maybe (it’s better) to join a ‘HP NonStop’ fan page!”
Maria Olivero, a former colleague of mine at Tandem Computers, pointed out that it wasn’t just CIO’s who had to be careful. Given the permanent nature of anything written to social networks – particularly the more popular ones like Facebook and MySpace “you don’t want a potential boss refusing to even meet with you because of something published on Facebook!”
In talking with Randall, he made it very clear to me that for consultants like him, differentiation becomes a major consideration. “While it is easy to disappear within the fog that develops quickly at sites like Twitter and Facebook, other sites like LinkedIn are gaining traction across the industry and are becoming important for consultants,” adds Randall before adding “it’s one way to build credibility for those consultants looking to become industry leaders, and much sought-after for speaking engagements.”
But the stakes are becoming a lot higher. Fortune magazine (March 30, 2009) published an op-ed piece by Glenn Hutchins, co-chief executive of technology investment firm Silver Lake, titled “After the Panic, Innovation” where he suggested that innovative technologies on the immediate horizon include social networking along with cloud computing, software as a service, virtualization, etc. and how the “economic and social benefits that will flow from this tsunami of innovation stand to propel another quarter century of prosperity."
There are still limitations to social networks, however – not every user can gain access to the information being provided. Sam Ayers, a former ITUG Board Member, explained how “companies, such as banks, telcos, etc. actively work from both, a technical and policy perspective, to prevent their general employees from participating in external social networks and forums during normal business hours.” For Sam, there still needs to be support for traditional means of sharing information adding “really good email lists and web sites are more important at this point (to these users) than social networking.”
As I think back on the weekend and how I had prepared everything but myself, I can’t help wondering about the misgivings that I had and what steps I could have taken to mitigate the impression I had of impending doom! The actions of my instructors were probably well intended, but all the same, I needed to walk away and regroup. But just as taking a car for a high-speed lap of a racing circuit generates a lot of satisfaction, those who manage their shyness and actively engage in open dialogues with the community, experience emotions that are very similar.
Social networking is not going away as it heads towards even tighter integration with traditional applications, and the more at ease we all become with using the tools, the better off our community will be. After all, there really isn’t a monopoly on good content or on profound perspectives, only the potential for a vast sea of varied opinions and shared experiences that can go a long way in helping us develop more confidence with the decisions we make.