The Cons of Social Networking?

Earlier today Ed Stetzer, the President of Lifeway Research, wrote a blog post entitled “The Pros and Cons of Social Networking.” While I agree with his pros (and would probably add in a few of my own), many of his cons strike me the wrong way. I’ll dive right in. (Bolded and italicized content is Ed’s, emphasis mine.)

  • When Twitter friends ask me to promote their product on my blog or Twitter.
    Stop it.

    Sometimes people ask you to do something for them on Twitter. You’re free to take a look at the product/service and accept or deny their request. You can also ignore all of these entirely. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. If all someone ever does is self-promotion, that’s pretty frustrating, but if someone asks for something once (or every once in a while), I don’t have a problem with that, especially if it’s someone who dialogues with me regularly on other issues. In fact, Guy Kawasaki just wrote a post on using Twitter as a promotional tool, and he says the exact opposite:

    Ask for help. Don’t be shy about asking people on Twitter to spread the word for you. If they like what you do, they will. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s as simple and transparent as that. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for some of us), most people don’t have the chutzpah to ask for help.

  • When conferences ask me to promote their conference on my blog.
    Stop it.

    See Above

  • When people want to argue with me through Twitter.
    Here’s how it goes down: “Do you really think it is right for LifeWay to not sell this or that product?” Yes, let me think, could I have the privilege of debating you about this while 2000 people watch and we put our thoughts into 140 character Tweets? Genius.

    I realize that Twitter is not always the best forum for debate, and that some issues are best not discussed quite this publicly, especially in a format that removes a great deal of nuance. I think I know the issue Ed has in mind (although I obviously could be wrong about that), and it is a sensitive one.

    I do need to mention that before publishing this post I got in touch with Ed. I always want to be careful when being critical. He happily gave me the go ahead to post this criticism, so it would certainly be unfair to say that he’s unwilling to deal with criticism, but rather that he particularly dislikes Twitter for this type of dialogue. When I initially read this point, it seemed to be a repudiation of all public criticism or questioning online.

    That said, I think we can only expect that just as our Twitter followers will say things like “Hey great decision!” or “Loved your blog post on missions!”, they will also actively disagree with and question us as well. We’re free not to engage them if we so choose, but just like in the real world, people are going to express their opinions on social networks.

  • When people do drive by questions.
    For example, I tweet, “Going to be in Chicago for a week teaching at TEDS.” My next tweet is, “Just landed in snowy Chicago.” Then, I get two replies, “Ed, how long will you be in Chicago?” Three words people: READ THE FEED. It’s not as violent as a drive-by shooting, but it’s just as impolite.

    I’m not sure about comparing a drive-by tweeting to a drive-by shooting, but regardless, it’s tough to follow everyone’s complete twitter feed. While I don’t follow as many people as Ed, I do have a few hundred, far too many for me to read every update or visit every profile. Yes, I usually visit the profile before asking this type of question, but if you tweeted about going to Chicago two hours ago, and I sign into Twitter just in time for your “Just landed in snowy Chicago” tweet, then I might ask what you’re doing there. It’s fine if you don’t want to answer. (Although continually ignoring people’s questions on Twitter is rude. Note that I’m not saying Ed does this. He responded to my inquiry.)

  • When people try to discuss blog posts via direct message on Twitter.
    Look, if I wanted to have a private chat about it I would not have posted it on the blog.

    I’m not a big fan of DMs either, but it’s not that big of a deal. (Yes this is serving as notice to my Twitter followers that I prefer to discuss things in the open unless they really are private. Had a lengthy conversation [for Twitter] last night, parts of which were better left for DM.)

  • When people ask me random questions via Twitter.
    “Ed, we have 300 people in our church. How many students should we have in our youth group?” My name is Ed, not “google.” And, that has a lot to do with your community, by the way.

    People are following you and interacting with you because they value your opinion. If they wanted random information on youth groups, they would Google it. They’re asking Ed Stetzer because they want Ed Stetzer’s opinion. If you’ve already answered that question somewhere online or in a book, you can kindly refer them there or simply tell them to search for that content.

    Although, Ed is right that certain questions can’t be answered without context, his youth group example being one. My church of ~1250 as a youth group of around 6. Then again, the average age is something like 27, and I’m glad most people in our congregation didn’t have kids at 15! So I agree, think before asking.

  • When Facebook friends ask me my email address.
    Look– if we are friends, it is right there. This is almost like someone calling me up on my cellphone to ask what my area code is. *sigh*

    Okay, this one I completely agree with. If my e-mail address is on my Info page, then you don’t need to ask me for it. Don’t be lazy.

  • When Facebook friends invite me to an “event” they should know I cannot attend.
    If it’s not a real event, I don’t want to “attend.” If it is a real event and it’s out of state– it’s irrelevant to me.

    When it comes to non-real events, people may not know that you don’t want to “attend.” It’s easy enough to ignore these or simply decline. Yes, if I obviously can’t be there (and it’s not a significant enough event that people would travel for it), then don’t invite me.

  • When people invite me to join their “cause.”
    I am not joining your crusade for or against the “new facebook,” the “reason for the season,” or anything else. You aren’t going to change hearts and minds and overcome the evil one with what amounts to an electronic petition that no one cares about.

    Fair enough, you don’t like it, some do.

  • When people invite me to play some kind of a Facebook game.
    Look– you may enjoy Dungeons and Dragons but I don’t want to play it with you at this stage in my life. I’m not networking here to see your magic castle, become your squire, or fight your mob war. Just sayin’

    Once again, a personal preference (one that I share). I recommend the “Block” feature for most Facebook apps. That way you won’t get that one again. A side note, if you want to play Scrabble or Boggle with me, I might be up for that! But I’m not going to zombie bite anyone.

Ed obviously has a bigger influence than I do online and a MUCH bigger influence offline. I’m sure he is bombarded with far more questions and requests than I am. On the other hand, it seems unreasonable to expect people to only interact with you on your terms.

I suppose the tone of this post is more what I take issue with. It doesn’t seem to be just a listing of things that are/could be frustrating about social networks. It’s not a kind ask for people to stop doing these things. It seems to be a series of complaints about people not acting the way you want them to, and most of the things listed aren’t inherently rude. I don’t always like the way people interact with me online, but that doesn’t make them wrong.

I don’t mind if people ask me to help them promote something. If I like it, I will; if not, I won’t. If you want to ask me my opinion, go ahead. I may or may not have a good answer. Don’t ask me a factual question that Google answers in the first result, but if you want my take on something, go for it. Social networks are communities. Communities are full of people. People dialogue with other people. People ask people questions.

I hope that I have not been overly critical in this post. I suppose that I am not giving Mr. Stetzer the benefit of the doubt at most points, but the way his post is written it doesn’t seem that he is giving his online community that either. Perhaps I misunderstood and there was more humor intended in his post than I give him credit for.

What are your thoughts about social networking etiquette?

Posted at 3:53 PM on December 12th, 2008
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