This is my 500th post, and a good occasion to write something different.
As I do cover government 2.0 and social media, I feel it is fair to share with people a few personal experiences that, I hope, can give a sense of how these tools can transform our professional and personal life.
Readers are welcome to reflect about how this may apply to their personal experience.
The apple incident
Some time ago I was in Walldorf, at SAP headquarters, and saw something quite interesting. There was a basket full of apples with the SAP logo engraved on the skin. I was told they use to put some sort of sticker on the apple when it is very small, and the apple grows with the engraved SAP logo.
I found that interesting enough to take a picture with my smartphone, and to post it on my Facebook wall. I also added a little comment to that picture, saying “Is SAP buying Apple?“. Of course it was meant to be a joke, just playing with words, but believe it or not somebody took me seriously (“do you have any insight about a possible acquisition?“) and I had to explain the joke.
That’s when I decided to add a disclaimer to my profile in Facebook and all other social media I use, clarifying that what I express are my personal opinions and they do not represent my employer’s ones. Jokes included.
Cute girls from nowhere
About a year ago I started receiving friendship requests on Facebook from girls and boys, clearly underage. As I could not figure out where they were coming from, I told my wife and she recognized some of her students. She teaches in high school and has most of her students as friends. Funnily enough, she had asked me upfront how she had to behave, when she started receiving the first requests a while ago. Being a social media analyst I could not but encourage her to accept. Unfortunately I did not teach her how to use Facebook lists and privacy settings.
Solving a glitch in corporate processes
As an analyst covering global topics for which there is a substantial client demand, I do travel a lot. I probably travel much more than the second most frequent traveler in Gartner Italy, and most people, except for a handful of analysts, tend to travel locally or at most to mainstream European destination. As I cover government, I happen to travel to mysterious places, such as small US state capitals that many folks in Europe ignore (actually, I had a case of a US person who did not know that Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky and insisted to book me for Frankfurt, Germany…).
As a result, over the years I have experienced a few issues with our travel agent, such as impossible or wrong connections or inaccurate hotel bookings. I had complained multiple times to our local administration, but as I was the exception rather than the rule, they would just tell me that I – and not the travel agent – was the problem
One day, the travel agent wanted to send me from Perth (Australia) to Singapore via New Delhi (India), and I found it so weird that I posted the proposed itinerary on my Facebook page. One hour later I got an email from a member of the Gartner executive team, asking me if I had really been proposed that itinerary and if it was the first time. Upon his request I sent him a list of little (and not so little) hiccups I had gone through over more than two years.
Well, he took action and in a week’s time we changed travel agent, finding out that other colleagues had experienced issues, and now have a much better service.
Interesting that something I had asked to look into multiple times through our internal channels, got resolved thanks to Facebook.
Arranging a client meeting on the spot
When I visit a city, a number of Gartner sales executives and executive program directors book meetings with clients and prospects, to fill my agenda. Meetings range from a minimum of three to seven or eight in the best organized and less logistically challenging sites. At times clients cancel meetings very close to the date, and it is impossible to rebook me for another meeting.
Recently I tried something different. As soon as I heard that a meeting for the same day had been cancelled, I tweeted that I thought it was a pity I could not meet anybody involved in open government and government 2.0 in that country: in half an hour I read a tweet sent by a person working for that country’s open data initiative suggesting a meeting for the same afternoon. It was an interesting meeting indeed where I learned a lot and that I hope my counterparts enjoyed too.
Staying in touch with clients and colleagues
Quite a few of my clients are my friends on Facebook. I know that many people are quite religious about not blurring personal and professional life, but I find that knowing each other beyond the pure professional relationship helps develop the latter. We exchange tips about music, airports, restaurants, places to visit, as well as causes or issues. We wish each other happy birthday or share prayers when a relative is sick or passes away.
I try to be selective with the clients and colleagues I socialize online with. In particular I am a fan of reciprocity: if a person changes his or her privacy settings and get me out of the inner circle, I do the same.
I am careful about what I post and share. In the recent past I have had somebody from management quietly suggesting that I may wish to reconsider what I share. Well, like in my travel example, I never name names or places, but I am pretty precise about the actual episode. Maybe one day I will get myself in trouble, who knows?
Staying in touch with my family
Given the amount of traveling I do and the many week ends spent far from home to optimize traveling, Facebook is a primary tool to remain in touch with my family, by keeping me up to date on what’s going on with my kids as well as to share with my family some of my experiences, including funny pictures, hilarious moments, beautiful views.
But then, as those same wall updates are also accessible to some of my own friends and colleagues, they become part of a dialogue that involves other people, giving my family insights about aspects of my life that we would not normally share otherwise. So when I write on my Facebook wall that I’d rather be home with them rather than in the beautiful city I am visiting for work, the many “likes” by my friends make that message so much stronger, echoing through the thousands of miles that set us apart.
Correcting nasty neighbors’ behaviors
I live in a non-detached house, where we share part of the property with other homeowners, such as the pathway for cars to get to our garages, some of the sidewalks and the concierge.
Soon after I moved there I noticed that a few folks were disregarding the homeowners code of conduct which prevents people from abusing common areas, e.g. parking their cars outside and sometimes obstructing the passage for other cars. Despite a few notices to the guy who was in charge of administration, some people remained non-compliant. So I started taking pictures of cars parked in breach of the homeowners code and posted them on Flickr., of course deleting driving plate numbers and any element that would allow people or places to be identified. While a couple of folks threatened me, this turned out to be quite successful at changing attitudes.
Another example that I witnessed was that of a neighbor who was being criticized for distracting our concierge by spending too much time chatting with him, and was caught by a Google Streetview camera while he was doing exactly that: while this could be a pure coincidence, it certainly did not look good for the poor neighbor.
We are all on a journey and we are learning along the way. There is no right or wrong way to use these tools in our personal lives, provided we are respectful of our and other people’s privacy, and use them for a purpose.
I am sure that the way I will use these tools and any new one in two years from now will be different. And I do not even dare imagining how that might look like.