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Social media, participation and the free-rider problem

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Story Article in the Times about blogging and how you can go from being very interested in writing, to not very active at all. It probably spends too much time talking about people who blog because they wanted to get rich and famous, but it’s a pretty good article anyway. The quote I liked most was from Nancy Sun of Saladdays.org

“The Internet is different now,” she said over a cup of tea in Midtown. “I was too Web 1.0. You want to be anonymous, you want to write, like, long entries, and no one wants to read that stuff.”

I started my first blog, mostly by accident. I’d been writing an online newsletter from about 99 to 2001 and after I changed platforms, decided quickly to take the niche production and put it into blog format. I used Movable Type and the blog was pretty popular for what it was and I met all sorts of random people. For me, a bigger issue is the problem of social media and the free-rider problem. I mean, we all know of the 90-9-1 rule that:

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

But what does this mean for people how continue to develop a footprint in a world where they’re just not fully developed yet? You see it all of the time with these so-called social media guru who aren’t quite 30, have had maybe two jobs in their entire lives, yet have branded themselves as experts in the field and who will tell anyone who will listen the “keys to success.” Age has nothing to do with this, but it’s sorta funny. We’ve shifted from an era where blogging, tweeting and other sorts of venting was under the radar. It’s becoming mainstream. As a result, people who are looking for a more complete snapshot of you, will read what you write and use it to judge you. For better or worse. The difference here is, not everyone will participate. And those who do, might only do so to keep tabs on you. So while it’s fine if your entire social sphere is interactive and on the web, it’s not as good if you’re something of a trailblazer in your own world. Your seemingly innocuous tweets or blog posts where you rant out ideas about this or that, might be evaluated by people who have no context for how you communicate ideas. It’s a worrysome trend, but what can you do? You can’t expect everyone to start participating. And does participation really level the playing field? Not really. It’s about exposing yourself. If you’re going to blog, tweet or use other forms of social media, you have to have a purpose and understand why you’re doing it and you need to get something measurable from it, because there are costs to that blog that you think no one is reading. The more established you are in your career and the more integrated your web presence is to your offline persona, the more latitude you have to use social media as a tool to advance your career. But even then, there are limitations and challenges embedded in it. I recall a few years ago, I had a job interview at an institution. The first set of interviews were almost all about my blog posts. They’d printed them and were just asking me all sorts of questions about my thoughts and insights. It didn’t seem to be a negative and I appreciated the opportunity to flesh out my ideas a bit better. But it was at that time, that I realized how serious this all was and I hadn’t prior to that. What you have to say, really matters. So be thoughtful and conscientious about what you’re saying and why you’re saying it.