There are some arguments that won't go away and that over the value of social media seems to be one of them.
Sarah Lacy over at Techcrunch has suggested that those complaining about how the social web does or doesn't work are actually using it incorrectly. She has received a varied reaction and, while I may not see eye to eye with the full post, I would be inclined to agree that some have lost sight of what they set out to achieve on the social web.
As I posted recently, the value you get from social networks is very much determined by your usage scenario. To all those who say that the social web does not work for them I would say that the 500 million people happily sharing, updating and playing games on Facebook don't seem to be complaining. What have they achieved that others have not?
They have found themselves.
It may sound a bit zen and esoteric but your average user on Facebook is there for a specific purpose and the service itself fits that purpose perfectly. They are there as a private individual sharing photos and updates, catching up with their friends or playing games. Usage is casual and many are actually following their "flesh and blood friends" and relatives.
The complications occur when social media is used for business and those involved are not differentiating between business use and their personal activity. We need to decide who we are and why we are using the social web. We need to ask ourselves which hat are we wearing at any given time as our goals and expectations will differ.
Personal or business
For the vast majority, personal use is just for fun - there is no pressure. Conversations are purely ad-hoc and genuine, there is no pretention or sales pitch distorting how they communicate. Value is quickly achieved under these circumstances as expectations are simple and easily met.
Business users will also not have problems when a specific purpose is defined; be it brand management, monitoring the competition or a customer service channel. The goals are set and results clearly identifiable.
Ideally, we should be in a position where we can segregate our usage based on the role we are undertaking - the easiest way to achieve this would be to create a different account for each purpose. Separate accounts, however, are not always possible especially for those in startups or for those people whose persona IS their work - this is why the announcement of the new group functionality in Orkut caught the imagination.
Those crying foul tend to be the new media revolutionaries, the mavens, the gurus who are trying to do everything and be all things to all people. It is impossible for these people to separate business and private use as the two are intrinsically woven. By necessity they are spreading themselves across the social web - an all ecompassing brand - but are being spread too thinly. The ability to interact efficiently can be lost; the balance between broadcast and engagement skewed until, eventually, the audience can become embittered.
Constantly riding the crest of the social wave can only be achieved by allowing the avenues of least effect to ebb away. Attempting to maintain the flow across all services will only result in the wave crashing beneath us.
Image by m kasahara