The social media revolution

My email inbox is full. Not of the usual press releases, ideas for articles and spam but of invitations to connect on LinkedIn, comments on my Facebook status and the news that more people are following me on Twitter.

After erring on the side of technophobia, last year I started to embrace social media. I rejuvenated my dormant LinkedIn account and set myself up on Twitter tweeting mini reports from facilities management and workplace events and links to interesting blogs and articles.

Without over-dramatising it, social media has revolutionised the way I work. LinkedIn is one massive database of contacts. If I’m looking to find a specific person, they’re easy to track down on LinkedIn. And it’s a great way to get some background info on someone you’re about to meet or have met in the flesh. LinkedIn, like all similar sites, allows you to get in touch with people you might not otherwise have the opportunity (or the nerve) to meet or say hello to in the flesh.

In the Twittersphere, I’ve had the opportunity to be in touch with people I already know and get snippets of news and links to articles and blogs that they find interesting – and often I do too. But more interestingly, I’ve also developed relationships with people I didn’t know before. At several FM events recently which I’ve been tweeting using the event hash tag (see #wtrends or #worktech on Twitter) I’ve met other people also tweeting the same event and we’ve developed a conversation through Twitter about the event. Another member of the Twitterati described this as the same as passing notes around the classroom, but with the health warning that these ‘notes’ are in the public domain. Some of these people I’ve been lucky enough to meet afterwards and it’s a great springboard to a relationship if you’ve already been discussing ideas online first.

Recently I’ve also had a go at virtual worlds such as Second Life, and from initially being very suspicious, have realised that there are numerous opportunities for the facilities management sector. It’s like an advanced Twitter or LinkedIn, where you get to meet and discuss ideas, but in an almost real environment. Although the technology still has some way to go, I think Second Life will be as big, if not bigger, than Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Which brings me on to a problem with social media. With all this time spent online, will we lose the ability to talk face-to-face? Will the idea of actually having a random chat with someone in the flesh become anathema to some people and will we hide behind our screens? Already people email across offices rather than pick up the phone or walk a few paces.

As Neil Usher from Rio Tinto said at the Workplace Trends conference (#wtrends) we need to “respect the encounters which may be inconclusive” and introduce a bit of chaos into our lives. Nothing is quite as a good as a natter over the coffee machine. We need to remember how to chat.

Cathy Hayward