I may be in over my head. It occurred to me today that no one is driving my social media bus.
It started yesterday when I received a Twitter message. The advanced users call these "tweets," but I am having a really hard time using the term seamlessly and straight-faced in a sentence. My children are already in therapy over my Facebook page; to start talking about "tweets" and "twits" in public and at my age would put them over the edge.
So, the Twitter message I got said something about hoping I was serving food at my open house. Huh? My only plans for the day involved meeting a stager and preparing a comparative market analysis (CMA). The only message I had posted this particular morning was related to a Web site formatting issue I was having. But being a good little networker and not wanting to appear antisocial to my Twitter friend, I feigned a knowing response, something like, "I can’t afford to serve food because I am saving up for a Web designer." I signed off very proud of myself indeed.
A couple of hours later I was back at the computer, and now I had another Twitter message. "Good luck at the open house! It looks nice!" she said. Now, I am quite used to being confused. Befuddlement is my life partner. I spend a good chunk of each day trying to make sense of stuff, find stuff and remember stuff, but a quick trip to my calendar confirmed that I wasn’t holding any open houses today, or in the foreseeable future for that matter. Then it dawned on me. My social network has taken on a life of its own. It no longer needs me.
I forget a lot of things. Some of it is admittedly related to my high-mileage odometer (I’m definitely low Blue Book), but mostly my forgetfulness stems from trying to do too much and be too much. It seems in this case I had forgotten about enabling a clever little feature on my Web site a couple of weeks ago that automatically posts a Twitter message every time I add a listing or publish an upcoming open house. And, unbeknown to me, one of our buyer’s agents had used the set of keys to the Web site that I gave him long ago to promote his own two upcoming open houses. To make matters worse, I had linked my Twitter account to my Facebook account sometime last summer, so all Twitter messages are relayed, through the miracle of technology, to my Facebook page as status updates. Let’s review. John modifies the Web site, the Web site calls Twitter, and Twitter puts in an order to Facebook, all while I am at a listing appointment, blissfully unaware that I am at this very moment a maniacal networking genius.
This auto-posting, reciprocal-linking thing is starting to worry me. With all of this automation comes efficiency, of course. One message becomes a two-fer or three-fer deal. On the other hand, my newfound networking efficiency also has a tendency to leave me looking like I am one noodle short of spaghetti night. Anyone who has a Facebook gig knows that status updates are preceded by "User Name is …" So, when I post on Twitter, "Does anyone know how to set fire to a desktop running on Vista?" the resulting nonsensical string of words often leaves my twit-less Facebook buddies thinking I have officially gone mad. Sometimes this little cross-contamination bug stifles my participation in the social space lest my message get lost in translation; most often it just inspires me to be ornery, resulting in my message making a final, garbled stop on Facebook along the lines of "Kris is @ PhoenixREGuy looking for Kennebunkport agents." I have come to accept that my "network" will either consider me a really deep and complex thinker or they will conclude that I am a raving lunatic crying out for help.
All things considered, though, I am reluctant to relieve my social networking autopilot of his duties. At least it’s something, and I simply don’t have time to do it "right." Social networks have to be nurtured. To make things more manageable, I have started applying some strategies I picked up during Merlin Mann’s "Inbox Zero" presentation at last summer’s Inman Connect conference in San Francisco to my social networking obligations. I do see similarities. Each day, I get a dozen or more requests to be Facebook friends or to be LinkedIn, and I get a never-ending stream of notifications that I am being followed by someone new on Twitter. To click the acceptance link on each of these as they file through my inbox would not only fill my day completely, leaving little time for other trivialities like work and sleep, but it might leave me looking desperate. To accept a friendship before they have finished typing the invitation seems a little pathetic.
Mr. Mann said of the e-mail inbox, "It’s not like your local bar. It’s a place to get into and out of as quickly as possible." I am starting to see my social networking portals in much the same way. So, absent a product that accumulates my invitations, puts them in a tidy little Zip file, and delivers them to me once a week, I have had to adopt my own bulk acceptance practice.
Once every lunar cycle or so, I log in to my various accounts. Time does not allow for proper vetting, so I have a simple three-part screening process. First, if the requester’s screen name clearly tells me that he is associated with real estate in some, albeit loose, fashion, even three degrees removed (think Kevin Bacon), he’s good. In the case of ButteBrokerBetsy, she’s in (while I sit crossing my fingers that her screen name isn’t an unfortunate spelling mishap). If I am still uncertain (WichitaHouseStalker), I check his thumbnail photo to see if he is wearing business clothes or a ski mask. Finally, if all else fails, I resort to the "friends and followers in common" test. One shared connection is risky, mostly because my vetting rules were only recently implemented, and I regret that a few sketchy socialites have infiltrated my inner circle. For instance, I am pretty sure that "@Mature_Sexy" is not a business associate, but I really don’t have time to go back and clean house. So, it’s five from now on. That is the minimum magic number of buddies we must share before I bite, but only if you fail the first two tests.
I wrote awhile back about my failure in the BrightKite space, a site where you can update your physical location for the world to see. Not wanting to miss that boat, I signed up and checked in (at home) four months ago. As far as the other BrightKite disciples know, I am still at home, by all accounts an agoraphobic, yet I really did leave my house — once (for take-out sushi). More to the point, I received two invitations yesterday to be a BrightKite friend. Why me? Can’t you see I am housebound? I have clearly demonstrated that absent a GPS device hung around my neck, I will always be at home. There is nothing to see here. But if my Outlook calendar could talk to my BrightKite account, that might get interesting!
I am seriously considering putting this whole social networking mess I have created on my spring cleaning schedule. I could blowtorch the entire disaster and start over, but I fear my social networks would just reemerge as new and more resilient strains, ones that disintermediate me altogether. What if my Facebook gets access to my Skype account and starts calling my contacts lists while I am out showing property? What if my Flickr photos, the ones of me wearing the green foam Trulia marker in San Francisco last summer, start embedding themselves in my EditGrid spreadsheets, which in turn begin updating, real time, my Web site, which then starts e-mailing my grandmother? It could happen. Face it — my social network no longer needs me.
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