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When I'm 64... I'll Lurk, Link, and Tweet

AndyGilatsNEW.bmpfrom Andy Gilats, LearningLife director

Last week I was having coffee with a friend who is, to turn a phrase, "wired." She doesn't have a nervous condition - she's just a natural networker who actively uses the "Big Three" social and professional networks, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

We were talking about why so many of us aren't comfortable networking face-to-face, and the subject of Facebook came up. She casually remarked that she has only 200 friends on Facebook because she wants to limit her network to people she actually knows. 200 friends? I didn't show it, but I was dumbfounded!

I have only 40 Facebook friends, which makes me feel like the kid nobody wanted to play with in grade school. To make matters worse, I have one friend whom I've never met, another who interviewed with me for a job nine years ago, and another who is my cousin's 13-year-old daughter.

I've only "broadcast" twice on Facebook, once to honor Ted Kennedy and once to honor musician John Fogerty's new album. I've never sent messages or uploaded photos, although a few months ago, I did get suckered into listing "25 Random Things About Me" and playing "What Yoga Pose Are You?"

That said, I must admit that I love to lurk on Facebook. There, I can see the latest photos of my nephew's and niece-in-law's new baby, Maddie, and her sister Sammie. (Sammie, by the way, is named after my great-grandfather, Sam Gilats, who was a cattle rustler.) I can catch up with friends who are living in far away places (Morocco, Two Harbors), and see the marvelous things that the grown kids of friends and relatives are doing. Granted, Facebook also has a lot of silly stuff, but I can't seem to stay away from it.

I've never found anything silly on LinkedIn, a site I've come to value and respect. It doesn't invite fluff, but it does allow you to share your personal or professional experiences and activities, view and participate in interesting discussions around specific topics or member submitted questions, and search for people who may have expertise or resources you need. You can also write a recommendation for someone with whom you've had experience, and that person, in turn, can write a recommendation for you. Mutual back-scratching, yes, but with integrity.

LinkedIn is a boon for freelancers, including designers, technology pros, educators, or entrepreneurs, so if you're thinking about putting up a shingle for your encore career, LinkedIn can help. A bonus: it's super-easy to create a profile and use the site's features.

Tweeting, on the other hand, is mostly for the birds. For the unfledged, tweeting is what people do on Twitter, the social Web site that invites you to tell the world what you're doing right now in 140 characters or less. Yes, that could include cutting your toenails or watching "The Price is Right." It may be my imagination, but drivel seems to thrive on 140 characters or less.

But I digress. The point of Twitter is to amass followers (on one hand) and follow other tweeters (on the other). It's akin to amassing friends on Facebook - other people can be your friends and you can "friend" (or, should it come to that, "defriend") other people. Twitter, however, seems limitless. Over the past year, I've probably received a hundred e-mail requests from people who want to follow me. Knowing none of them, I've deleted the requests and gone on with my life.

Until a few minutes ago, I hadn't looked at my Twitter account in months. When I did log in, I was mildly chagrined to see that I was following only five people and a mere 11 people were following me. Remember my friend who has 200 Facebook friends? She's following 495 people and 553 people are following her. I feel like a party pooper.

There are some great things about Twitter. For example, if you follow the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, you can find tips and hints ranging from preparing your herb plants for cold weather to improving your digestion. You can follow Bill Cosby, who has 612,533 followers, or RoomtoRead in San Francisco, whose folks tweet about literacy to their 196,697 followers. The roster of good, bad, and benign tweeters stretches into the millions.

Now that I've written a few paragraphs, I'm beginning to appreciate Twitter. Perhaps I'm finding my voice? Maybe I'm conquering my phobia of opening my Twitter page and never being able to think of anything worth tweeting. But this is only my personal history - you may be a natural lark.

No matter my teasing and poking, it's been fascinating getting to know these influential social networks. It's a joy (and dare I say, sometimes a necessity) to connect anywhere, anytime, with almost anyone. So give networking a lurk, a link, or a tweet. You'll be glad you did.

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