The trouble with social media is, well, people.

Last week introduced a whole new twist on the social media pretzel for me. Social media was great when it ran on positive mental attitude and a go-go economy, but now that people (the stuff networks are made of) are acting like humans, well, harrumph, it’s time to re-examine this social media phenomenon, eh?

Jive Software, a company I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, had to face an uncomfortable RIF (Reduction in Force: a euphemism for layoffs; this decade’s answer to downsizing) and let go 40 or so of its employees. I’m sure the company wanted things to go as smoothly as possible, as these things are never easy. Trouble is, one of the RIF’d employees blogged the experience and it got picked up on the mother-of-all-exposure tech blogs, TechCrunch not once, but twice kicking up his blog stats 10-fold.

The topic surrounding the sanctity of transparency in bad times bounced through our company like a hot potato. Our recruiter eventually posted this piece essentially alleging that sour grapes employees should use caution when airing their laundry for fear of future employability or any potential career repercussions.

The individual in question, Chris Kalini, along with his wife Jessa, are both what we’ve come to know as “Gen Y” employees. Chris is a web designer and now happily employed at Euro RSCG as a front-end web developer/designer. The problem with Chris is, well, he blogs his life. Everything gets published– from playing pool, to helping friends move, to ordering pizza, to cooking with Jessa.

Did anyone expect him not to blog losing his job?

Here at nGenera, we have two world-renown experts on this cohort. First is Don Tapscott, who introduced “paradigm shift” into the management lexicon and authored over a dozen best-selling business books, most recently, “Grown up Digital” which is a follow-on to his earlier work, “Growing up Digital.” Second is Tammy Erickson, McKinsey Award-winning author, and President of nGenera’s Innovation Network. Tammy blogs as a discussion leader on the Harvard Business blog and is coming out with a new book, “Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work” in November. I’ve heard both of these Gen Y gurus speak and they both will attest to how young adults of this generation live freely, openly, transparently. It’s partly what defines them as one of the most interesting generations to study. This is also the generation that will lead 21st century politics and drive innovation.

I asked Chris if all this sudden web-celebrity bothered him. His answer was just what I predicted, “I’m totally cool with it,” he said. As for the transparency possibly being an impediment in his life? He said, “I love that my kids will be able to see my blog one day. I wish I could have seen my grandfather’s blog… to have known what he was thinking and doing every day.”

So brace yourself. As the economy squeezes and the RIFs roll in, Gen Ys and all members of the digital community are going to be Facebooking, Tweeting, Friendfeeding, Plurking, MySpacing, and yes, blogging their exit with your company. Put a little thought into making it a humane and respectful departure– if for nothing else, your adoring grandkids’ sake.

Author: Susan Scrupski

Longtime fan of technology to improve humanity.

11 thoughts on “The trouble with social media is, well, people.”

  1. Hi Susan,

    On the flip side.. isn’t this going to make us all better… ? Aren’t organizations going to get afraid that whatever they do wrong will immediately hit a blog or Facebook or MySpace or… ? If so, then they will strive to become better and do things better.

    I do agree, however, that you have to be careful as to what you blog. I know some universities and prospective employers use social sites to learn more about their candidates before admitting/accepting them.

  2. When Chris said he was totally cool with it, I think that answered every other question. I’m totally cool with a new generation coming along that is one more step removed from the fears faced by the previous ones. Helen Keller said, and I’m paraphrasing, security is a superstition. It sounds like Chris understands that and is willing to be honest in public about it. Management and HR departments should take note.

  3. Good analysis Susan. I’m wondering if the real question beyond all that is not what Gen Y should or should not say (considering it’s their way of life, period) but how “non Y people” may understand (and use ?) what Gen Y say simply because they don’t share the same paradigm at all.

    The one says “this is my life, nothing more”, the other wants to find unspoken ressentments for the only reason he’s not used with such transparency.

  4. Great post, Susan. I think you’ve captured something quite important here. It has always been clear that social networking can be both a positive and negative force – but you have nicely connected that to global mindsets, and how our attitudes to social networking (and ways to use it) might shift in a recession.

    Thanks for that insight!

  5. Well said, Susan! I gotta tell you, we at Jive were a bit surprised with the TechCrunch phenomenon, and marveled at how quickly the grapevine went from “RIF” to “they’re closing their doors” – obviously not true.

    Anyway, I hope all the HR folks out there read this. Excellent advice.

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