IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure if this is a trend that I have missed until now, but in the last few weeks I have seen a huge increase in the number of adults using social networking tools like Facebook. By adult, I mean professionals, working mothers and fathers, stay-at-home moms, community and political leaders, and teachers and professors.
Until recently, online social networking was a realm wholly owned and operated by the college age crowd and those younger (so young, in fact, that my friendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fifth grade sister sent me a friend request a few weeks ago - awkward). This makes sense because of the nature of social networking Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it demands the time necessary to create and manage a profile, the ability to quickly master new interfaces and the drive to continually improve upon the services and use them for new purposes.
In my experience, Ã¢â‚¬Å“adult technologyÃ¢â‚¬Â (and I use that term for lack of a better categorization, perhaps Ã¢â‚¬Å“professional technologyÃ¢â‚¬Â would work as well because Ã¢â‚¬Å“adultÃ¢â‚¬Â may include a group of users and uses that I hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t intended) included things like pagers, car phones, and for the very modern crowd, a BlackBerry. I was too narrow-minded to understand the ways that adults could utilize social networking.
Based on my observations in the last couple of weeks, I think there are a few categories of adults who are using social networking, utilizing it to enhance their lives, their businesses and their causes.
My mom is only one of many parents who are now on Facebook. When students hear their parents (or their friendsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ parents) are on Facebook, the emotional responses begin at sheer terror and slowly work their way toward acceptance. Why the fear?
- Language (Mommy doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want her innocent daughter using curse words.)
- Pictures (DaddyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s little girl was WHERE Saturday night?)
- Friends (Ã¢â‚¬Å“I thought I told you that you could never see her again!Ã¢â‚¬Â)
Sure, social networking can be used to keep an eye on children, but each user has the ability to determine who can see his profile, and what elements of it different users can see. More often than not, though, parents use social networking like students use it Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to communicate with friends. Parents are discovering what students already know: social networking can build relationships through the sharing of information.
PROFESSIONALS AND LEADERS
Apart from purely social purposes, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve also noticed social networking can be used for fostering professional relationships and the advancement of various causes with varying degrees of success.
Several real estate agents, restaurant owners and other business people from my hometown maintain Facebook profiles. They update their status messages with the activities of their busy professional lives, their photos with their newest headshots and their events calendar with the next chamber of commerce meeting. They interact with clients and business partners alike. While I probably wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be buying my first house over wall messages on Facebook, it does make sense that I can build a relationship with my realtor that allows us to share successes, failures and questions along the path toward a business deal.
Most notably in the last election cycle, politicians are engaging their audience through social networking. Then-candidate Obama not only maintained standard networking profiles, but created his own system, MyBO, where supporters could interact with one another and compete for the purposes of the campaign. Michael Steele, newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, is committed to leading his party toward technological dominance of politics, having just completed his first GOP Tech Summit in Washington, D.C. I believe that from this election forward, the party that best harnesses technology will be the party that wins. Why? Technology allows the party to focus on their message and not be distracted by personality issues or the pettiness of campaigning. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not saying campaigns wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be petty, but technology provides a window for improvement.
Essentially, I think this means the days are over of Facebook and other social networks only being places to exchange party times and locations, party pictures and party stories. Social networks are expanding to a new audience, and that audience is getting older and older; partly because its first college-age users are now working professionals and party because the possibilities are too great for an older audience to ignore.
Social networks display
the power of organization and the power of the individual. No matter where you come from, whether youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a college student in a small town in Indiana, a working mom in the suburbs, or a
political leader in Washington, D.C., everyone is connected through a social network where relationships (both social and professional) can be fostered, where individuals can become part of something
larger than themselves, and where causes can be advanced. Each person gets one profile. What will you do with yours?