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Social media: What is personal and what is professional?

In this expert response, Lisa Crispin discusses the personal and professional uses of social media and the benefits of the blending of these two areas of our online lives.

Do you think social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook blur the lines between personal and professional lives? What do you see as the pros and cons of such tools, particularly for professionals in the IT field?

Social media helps us build large professional and social networks. The downside is that it’s hard to have enough bandwidth for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, mailing lists, instant messaging and email. Dunbar’s Number claims that we can have between 100 and 230 social relationships. I’m pretty sure I’ve exceeded that!

That said, I’ve found social media immensely valuable to me professionally. I’ve met so many terrific software practitioners via Twitter, in particular. Every day, tweets lead me to blog posts and articles I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise that provide valuable learning for me and sometimes for my whole team. I’m able to virtually attend many conferences by following the conference hashtag. The actual conference attendees tweet quotes from speakers, photos of exercises, links to slides and videos. It’s really amazing to get all this information so easily and instantly.

I’ve received much direct help from people via Twitter, so it’s hard to choose just one or two examples. Here’s one: It’s 4:30 PM, the day before Thanksgiving, 2009. I need to finish a webcast course before I head off for a trip. Everyone in the office has gone home. I need to use Camtasia to record my webcast, and I can’t get it to work on my Macbook Pro. Frustrated, I tweet, “Everyone said Camtasia is so easy to use, I can’t get it to work at all on my MBP.”  A person I know only on Twitter, who is sitting in a pub in Manchester, England, tweets back: “Share your desktop with me with iChat and I’ll show you how.” In ten minutes, he had my Camtasia up and running, and I was able to finish my webcast. Now, is that amazing, or what? Similar scenarios have happened to me over and over again.

I try to keep my professional world on Twitter and my personal, social world on Facebook, but they inevitably mix. I don’t think this is bad. Everyone knows me as the tester with the miniature donkeys. If I’m working at home and have a bad day, I get virtual hugs that cheer me up. Every time I travel, I get to meet tweeps in person, and they already seem like old friends. It’s wonderful to be part of a large global supportive professional community. We’re sharing ideas and experiences at a rapid rate, we all learn and grow faster. This will help our whole industry.

For a comprehensive resource on social media, see Social media: A guide to enhancing ALM with collaborative tools.

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