I've been asked to do some presentations this Spring on social networking and records management. I created a Facebook account and a Twitter account and have been observing both of these accounts for a while.
I sort of like Facebook, although I think it is dangerous from a privacy standpoint. It's also a complete mess from a records management standpoint, for organizations that have an organizational presence. What I do like is the ability to keep up with friends and find old ones who have drifted away. When something is going on, it's fun to see a bunch of posts from people and know that everyone is sharing in the experience together via Facebook. I worry about all the games going on. These things feel like opportunities to suck people in and extract personal data from them. Honestly, I really don't care about your virtual hobbies or games.
I have yet to Tweet. I doubt that I could adequately express myself in less than 144 characters. I also have found little value there. The information overload when you try to "follow" a bunch of stuff is simply too much. Even commercial sites like United Airlines or Motorola simply have too much chaff to make the wheat worthwhile. And a lot of the wheat is extremely time sensitive, so it is difficult to have the information delivered efficiently and act upon it.
I do find value in "crowdsourcing" or "the wisdom of the crowd", as some will put it. Yelp is a good example of that. While I have seen some evidence of astroturfing, as well as evidence that people deliberately bash some places, I generally find pretty reasonable reviews of restaurants and services. I'm a little nervous about some of the accusations made against Yelp lately, where Yelp has been accused of spiking bad reviews for businesses that pay for placement. I worry about the pay to play aspect of Yelp and that this monetization model will water down the value of the service and the accuracy of the reviews. Along with Yelp in this space, Wikipedia is probably a good example of crowdsourcing that generally works. Wikipedia has issues with defacement and bias, but the crowd generally deals with those issues fairly quickly.
In my mind, the value propositions are the social aspect of the network and the crowd aspect of the network. The more people participate, the better the experience will be.
A troubling additional aspect of Facebook and Twitter comes from the oversharing that can take place. I see a number of people taking somewhat extreme political positions. In many cases, I had no idea of their political views. What bothers me is when the positions are extreme or the viewpoint causes these people to post links to inaccurate web pages that buttress their positions. It is disturbing to see otherwise intelligent individuals post links to news items that are fabrications and rife with errors. One such news item was posted as fact by a national news organization, when the source was, in fact, satire.
This problem can be magnified in an organization's official presence if the organization does not police its own statements as well as the postings of others on its social networking presence. What makes things worse is that the organization is at the mercy of the social networking provider in terms of retention of the content of the social networking site. If Twitter decides to delete old Tweets, there is very little that the organization can do about it. So recording what was posted by and to the organization is pretty much a crapshoot. This will likely have legal implications for some organizations at some point if they don't develop a strategy to deal with this content. for public agencies, the problem is magnified by laws and regulations governing public records.
If you work for an organization that has a social networking presence (or multiple presences), you need to understand how these presences are being used and what is being done to ensure that a record is being maintained. There may be liability without a clear process and a plan to retain at least certain aspects of the content. For example, if an organization makes a battery-powered device, it would be problematic if someone posted a Tweet back to the company that the devices were exploding and the company either responded poorly or failed to act upon the notice. The individuals responsible for the social networking presence need very clear guidance on how to act in those sorts of situations, as well as how to capture and retain the information.
Enjoy social networking, but keep your farm to yourself.