I just posted this on my blog about local elected officials who use social media. Any thoughts on whether I am making too much of the language within Facebook? The original post is at http://electing2blog.blogspot.com/2009/08/facebooks-missing-noun.html
As Facebook becomes more popular, it seems to become more effective. I posted a note asking for volunteers for our city’s transportation board, and I already had a person respond to the Facebook post. That’s better than I’ve seen via blogs or email.
Obviously, more testing is needed, but this is a good sign.
Yet I am leery of putting more time into Facebook. Here’s where I see a problem with Facebook as the definitive networking solution. You can be a friend or a supporter, but you can’t apparently just be a contact or monitor. The language used within Facebook has not caught up with its popularity. That can create awkwardness both in business and politics.
This has been nagging at me awhile, but a casual chat last night really brought it to mind.
One of my fellow Lakewood city council members has been on vacation in Hawaii. He has posted some pictures of himself scuba-diving. I mentioned after the meeting last Monday to the city manager that I was enjoying the updates on the councilman’s trip and mentioned the pictures on Facebook. The city manager said something about how he really needs to get on Facebook, but then commented, “But that raises the question, should I be a “friend” of a council member?”
Well, that’s a darn good question. The city manager directly reports to the city council. In a way, it’s like asking if an employee in any job should friend a supervisor. And yet when public officials are in a spotlight, it seems reasonable to me that government employees would want to keep in touch with what they are doing via Facebook.
My inclination would be to tell the city manager, sure, ‘friend’ me and the other council members. But let’s say I run for re-election …. would someone accuse me of being “too close” to the city manager? What do people, particularly those unfamiliar with Facebook, consider a ‘friend?’
The reason this has been on my mind at all is because there are a couple of organizations I’ve thought about following on Facebook but haven’t. That’s because of how Facebook describes someone who follows a page. Right now, if you decide to follow my City Council page, you are listed as a “supporter” of Walter Neary, the councilman. Well, I’d love that … but it also seems that someone who might want to withhold judgment or someone who might even want to run against me would want to follow my page. It’s very strange for that person to have to sign up as a “supporter.”
Myself, I’d love to follow a couple of business competitors of my employer, Comcast. I know people who work at some of the other companies; it’s not like business competition has to be personal. I’d love to know what they are up to, and would be delighted if they showed interest in my company’s local Facebook page. But it seems odd and awkward that I a Comcast employee have to sign up as a “supporter” of Verizon.
Here’s a bit of an unusual wrinkle on this matter: There’s one business competitor of ours in Tacoma that twice mailed to people attacks on the effectiveness of what I do for the company, community relations. Needless to say, I sure don’t want to sign up as a “supporter” of folks who put out a mailing that misled my wife when she read it. That hurt. I’m no supporter of that. But I’d like to follow their page on Facebook, if only to see if they continue to say anything misleading about me or what I do.
So in business and politics, I see a disconnect between Facebook’s use of the terms “friends” and “supporters,” and it’s growing use as a broad social portal and town hall. What do you think?
A postscript: Some of the readers who have been at politics and social media for awhile will have another question. If the city manager and I are friends on Facebook, might we generate email to each other outside the city email system that would have to be disclosed through the public records act? And wouldn’t that be an archiving nightmare? Yes, and yes, so that alone might settle the question. But my point remains, does Facebook have the best language for its role as a social portal?)