Social media: A CRM system from hell?

Twitter has been buzzing about the changes to Facebook and Google+ becoming available to everyone who wants it. It has been suggested that Twitter and LinkedIn become Facebook apps, so that we can bring together all our social media into a single communication channel with lots of different lists, the idea being to have all our contacts in one place. I am not sure about this. It seems to me that integrating social media would give every user their own personal client relationship management (CRM) system from hell.

Most of us compartmentalise our lives, at least to some extent. I use LinkedIn as a professional networking site. My connections list is not my contact book – it doesn’t even include all my clients – but it is a good way of keeping in touch with the many interesting people I encounter professionally.  I can see their profiles and they can see mine. It’s a good way of sharing my features and columns with an interested audience and finding out about important events in the industries I cover. Although some of my connections have become friends, I also remain LinkedIn with former clients and associates, even ones I am unlikely to work with again. Conversely, I am not LinkedIn with any of my personal friends where there is no professional connection.

I’m not a big user of Facebook – perhaps for generational reasons as it didn’t exist when I was at university (for either of my degrees) – and my friends include actual friends who prefer to get in touch via Facebook and some friends and contacts that live abroad. I post links to my writing and status updates. I like reading other people’s updates, especially when I haven’t seen them for a while.

Whereas only your chosen connections on LinkedIn and Facebook see your updates and your connections lists, Twitter opens up a  wider community. As a writer, it doesn’t make sense for me to protect my tweets, and I’m always looking to expand my readership, but this means that I cannot control or determine my audience – i.e. you don’t have to be following someone to read their tweets. Interaction on Twitter is different too – you build yourself a community of professional and personal interests.

Twitter is more and less personal than LinkedIn and Facebook. I have met only a tiny proportion of the people I interact with on Twitter, whereas I have met all my Facebook friends. News travels fastest on Twitter. I follow newspapers and websites for useful real-time updates. People on Twitter don’t just talk about work and share work-related links: they review and recommend books, music and restaurants – everywhere. They chat about movies, sci-fi, dance, fashion and even swap recipes. I have given and received the online equivalent of tea and sympathy and exchanged ‘virtual hugs’. And those online messages of support have meant a lot.

Professional discretion is a key consideration in the way we use social media. Several people I’ve encountered in the professional services sector have told me they avoid LinkedIn because they don’t want their competitors to see who their clients are, or their clients to see each other. It’s why some people also avoid Facebook. Others have separate business and personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. They want to differentiate between their professional and personal lives.

Do people really want to share the random updates they post to their friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter with their clients, employers and other professional connections? Do they want them to see their photos – and the ones they’ve been tagged in? I wouldn’t spam my LinkedIn connections with my tweets and status updates – and I don’t need to see theirs.

A compromise would be to decide which groups of people should have access to every update. Which means categorising your connections into lists – which you can do on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  And if you categorise your connections into lists of people with different levels of access to certain information, apart from potentially damaging the spontenaity of Twitter, you’ve just created a new task and the equivalent of a personal online CRM system owned by Facebook, which Facebook can then use for its own purposes. My connections are already categorised by whether I am connected to them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any combination.

In an article in The Observer today David Mitchell describes Facebook as a monopoly and highlights his concern at its use of advertising. Equally important is its use of data. If Facebook ends up including LinkedIn and Twitter, and continues to change its terms of use, it will have something close to a global personal data information monopoly – on the data that millions of people choose to share with each other. As someone wrote in response to Mitchell’s article, “Someday anonymity will be as precious as liberty”.



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