I was at a conference last week, and a colleague of mine bemoaned that with Facebook and Twitter and the rest of the social media sites, there really is no such thing as privacy anymore-and we've given it up voluntarily.
My response was to ask whether he'd ever lived in a small town. Because if you hail from a small town, you know that there are pros and cons to being in a place where everyone not only knows your name-but where you've been and what you had for dinner last night.
In a small town, people feel as if they know each other because they see one another around a lot. They're not really best friends-but they make small talk, something that doesn't happen much in a big city. And since everyone knows everyone else, talking about what other people are doing is high entertainment.
As a business person, it also means that you have plenty of opportunities throughout your day to make a good impression, say hello, remind someone that you are waiting to hear back from them or recommend a good book. In other words, to make human connections.
Having a good reputation in a small town will get you far. And having a bad reputation will sink you. There's no place to hide because everyone knows where you live.
Where am I going with this as far as business and social media?
I hear a lot of small business owners struggling with what to do with social media and how to use it. It seems alien and mysterious to them. But those same business owners would be right at home in a small town, saying hi to people who are "friendly strangers" and wishing someone a happy birthday and making chit-chat about a good TV show or the local team's win. And business owners know that being seen and being friendly is a big step toward winning new customers.
Has the light bulb gone on yet? Social media is bringing a sense of that small town connectedness to the bigger world. There's a sense of transparency that may be new to big city folks but that everyone from a small town understands. There's a "superficial" friendliness that doesn't imply that someone is a confidant, but that makes a brief human connection. And there's the chance to pass along news, a good story, a funny joke, or something interesting to your friends.
Are you starting to get ideas yet? You use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and the other Web 2.0 tools to create the same sense of community. It's the biggest small town in the whole world. You know how to network with your neighbors. You understand how to being friendly creates new customers. You do it in your neighborhood offline. Now it's time to rethink your boundaries.
Who are the people in your neighborhood? The people that you Tweet each day.