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Facing your fear of Facebook

With the premise that you can't criticize what you don't understand, CIOs and IT managers are being challenged to take on a social networking leviathan -- and join Facebook.

I have a challenge for every CIO and IT manager reading this: Set yourself up on Facebook.

I challenge you because I'm convinced it's something you have to do if you ever expect to truly comprehend the power of social networking and the role it can play in the growth of your business. Until you "get it," you'll never be able to embrace what experts say is inevitable. This is the future of networking.

"Be critical of it, but understand it," said Rob Carter, executive vice president and CIO of Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp. Carter was just one of a number of speakers who validated the social networking phenomenon during SIMposium 2007 in Memphis earlier this week.

During his presentation, Carter pointed to several Web 2.0 technologies that he believes will alter the way we network as businesses. Sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Second Life, and what those sites evolve into will redefine communities, he said. Just as important is how the extreme popularity of platforms such as Wikipedia and the online game World of Warcarft will make us think differently about how we approach projects.

It was because I was mystified, as well as intrigued, by my daughter's use of Facebook (she's a high school senior), that I signed up for Facebook. Socializing this way is huge among her age group, and I couldn't understand why she and her friends would choose to communicate through this medium. I was tired of being in the dark, and I wanted to find out what it was all about.

Although dubious about my intent, my daughter ran down the basics with me and helped me set up my page. She was my first "friend," and that admittedly is still a little creepy for both of us. I begged other friends (real ones) to join me and now have a small group (15 -- nothing compared with my daughter, who has 227) that I regularly socialize with virtually. And now, after three months, I can honestly say (and much to my surprise), I get it. I don't know if I'll always enjoy it or continue keeping an active profile, but at least I can say, I've been there, done that, when the subject comes up.

When Carter and others spoke about "our teenagers'" use of these sites and how they "see through the technology," there were a lot of nodding heads and shared chuckles of understanding among attendees. But I had my doubts that any of these guys had more than a cursory understanding of social networking sites and how they work.

So during a break, I talked with a number of IT managers and grilled them about their knowledge of social networking sites. Most of them viewed the sites as problematic in terms of security and work productivity but admitted they didn't know much about sites like MySpace and Facebook. A few said they did Facebook and MySpace searches when interviewing potential employees (the idea being that any secrets you have will be revealed on your profile page). None of them had ever navigated a site, but they were convinced they knew how their kids were using them. Surprisingly, none of them had corporate policies blocking social networking sites, nor were they considering doing so, even though in a recent survey, nearly 50% of businesses polled said they did block these sites.

The good news is that with a little prodding (and explaining), I convinced some of them to try it. If nothing else, they'll at least be more knowledgeable when the debate over social networking sites makes its way to the table.

I was tired of being in the dark, and I wanted to find out what it was all about.

We are digital immigrants. Our kids and perhaps many of the people we're now hiring are digital natives. We need to get over the "them vs. us" mentality. Bottom line: Digital immigrants will never be as fluent as natives, but that doesn't mean, as immigrants, it's OK to pretend we don't live in a new world.

Unfortunately, too many CIOs and IT managers long for the old country.

If you do take my challenge and set up an account, there is a caveat to making this work: To truly experience it, you need to have "friends." Friends are the people you invite or accept onto your site who are allowed to interact with you via your Facebook profile. They can comment on your postings, answer your questions, view your photos. If you don't have any friends to start with, you can "friend" me. Do a search for Kate Evans-Correia in Facebook and you'll see my name and will be given the opportunity to "Add to Friends." I'll be sent an email asking me to confirm. The key here is to build your page out, add applications (there's a lot of business-related ones). Don't let your page go static. It'll be useless then.

My hope is that as my network grows, yours will too, and you'll get to see the potential benefits (or downfalls) of social networking. Most important, once you use Facebook for a while (a month or so), let me know what you think. I don't care if you hate it, love it or are completely indifferent to it; I just want you to take Carter's advice and at least understand it.

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