I’m (Not) Here to Be Your Friend

Last week I read a short blog post by David Spinks (hi David!) about his participation as a Community Manager titled I’m Not Here to Be Your Friend, and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. Actually, I’ve been wanting to ignore it, let it go, mind my own business, you know, keep calm and carry on.

Well, my feeble attempt hasn’t been successful. Somehow, one way or another, I find my mind circling back to it. So here I am, writing this down, and hoping that this will help lay it to rest.

To be honest, I can’t really quite pinpoint what it is exactly that keeps nagging me about this notion. It’s a perfectly valid concept, and David makes a solid point that most professional business people would nod their head and raise their glass to:

My activities and interactions in this “social media community” have the primary goal to succeed as a professional. If my time spent here doesn’t help me to perform my job better, and to benefit my career, then I am wasting my time.

Does that mean I can’t make friends during the process? Of course not.  I have made amazing friendships along the way… I didn’t engage with them to become friends though. I engaged with them to benefit my career, and the friendship resulted from the process.

Hmm…

From the northeast corner, I have nothing to say to that. Another businessman saying that he’s here for business. It’s another day, another pay. Nothing new, nothing earth shattering here. But yet, from the southwest corner, I want to say, “Waaaait a minute. Really? Can I offer another perspective?”

What It Means To Work

Perhaps the crux of this issue is David and I probably have different ideas of what it means to work. For David, it might be a career. It might be for “building relationships for business purposes”. For me, work is, or should be, something that lets you express your life force, or prana in yoga. If that’s a little too mystical schmystical, perhaps what Dr. Evil said will make more sense: it’s the “Mojo: The libido. The life force. The essence. The right stuff. What the French call a certain… I don’t know what.”

I think we all long for meaningful work that we’re connected to, something we care about, something that brings us joy and satisfaction. I’m going to bet that we long for freedom, not freedom *from* work, but freedom *to* work; the ability to choose work not merely as a mean for survival, but as a way to express our authentic selves. Further, I also believe that there is something innate within all of us to want to help others, to want to contribute to our community, if not the world.

(Notice that I didn’t say job, I said work. You may be working, or you may be having a job, or both.)

And so, if we stay with the definition that work is an extension of ourselves and our creative process, would it follow that we would want to share it? Give it away for others to enjoy it? Musicians do this. Dancers do this. Programmers do this. And if so, the work that we’re doing benefits not only ourselves, but others as well, does it not? And if we can bring success to others, then is it not inevitable that we bring success to ourselves?

A Friend, A Community, A Market – What Relationships Mean

I think I know what David means. He’s here to work, not to mess around, not to hang out, not to shoot the breeze and waste time. Fair enough. This is completely reasonable for a professional, just like it is reasonable for any professional to not to roll out of bed and stroll into the office in their pajamas.

Well, sorta.

Relationships are not made through status reports and Powerpoint presentations. Relationships are made through, well, honestly? A little bit of hanging out. And if we’re talking about the role of a Community Manager, we’re talking about someone who deals with the social. (Microsoft lawyers, please don’t knock on my door.) In this role, if you are not here to engage with people on some personal level, well, what are you doing here?

Actually, let’s forget about what the job is for a moment, let’s just talk about any interaction in our work, personal and professional. No matter how loosely you define the word “friend”, whether it be someone you could call at 2 a.m. in the morning if you’re too drunk to drive or if your car broke down in the middle of nowhere, or it’s a Facebook “friend” that you really could care less what they had for breakfast (but they are soo excited to share it anyway), anytime you’re in contact with another human being, you are engaging with a whole person.

Sure, we all have our titles and roles we play on some stage we’ve been put on or chosen to be. We are this Mr. Senior Manager and that Mrs. VP of Marketing. But we are much more than that, I hope. And if we don’t ‘fess up to that, we continue to trap ourselves in a system that views us solely as business suits and cubicle addresses.

In her famous blog post, “Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world“, Pam Slim advised:

3. Spend a moment walking around the halls of your company and look at your employees.  I mean really look at them.  Don’t just pat them on the back and pump their hand while looking over their head at the exit door. Look directly in their eyes.  Imagine what their life is like.  Who is waiting at home for them?  What are the real consequences to their health, marriages and children when they have to work yet another 13 hour day?  What kind of dreams do they have?  What makes them really happy?

So, if we can identify with someone, if we can see there’s some “me” in “them”, and some “them” in “me”, it’s possible that we begin to form some sense of “us”, some sense of a community. And then, we might ask, “What can I do for my community?”. If you are getting itchy and punchy at the word “community”, think of it this way: another name for a “community” is a “market”, as Dr. Rick Jarrow said in his book: The Ultimate Anti-Career Guide: The Inner Path to Finding Your Work in the World.

Do You Come Here Often?

I don’t think I disagree with David entirely, and though I don’t know him any more than through his online persona, I don’t think he’s all about cold, calculated business moves (I mean, look at his Jake Gyllenhaal smile). I want to write this post, first of all, as I said, to get it out of my head, and secondly, to propagate a point bear repeating from author and senior yoga teacher Judith Lasater: if we are connected, to ourselves and to each other, we can solve anything. If we are not, if we think we must step on each other to reach the top, well, it’s gonna be a long night.

In the specific role of a Community Manager (yes, it’s really a job), sure, I don’t expect that you should be best friends with everybody, you couldn’t. True friendship requires certain amounts of tender loving care that necessitates time, a limited resource to all of us. However, for companies to succeed, and for careers to soar, there ought to be some friendliness towards the people, the community, the marketplace. How many of us have at some point felt awkward and slightly slimy at those business networking events? For an authentic community to form, you can’t just collect business cards, you need to connect on a personal level. (And I don’t mean “connect” in the corporate lingo sense here.)

I personally think this is an exciting time, frightening perhaps, for some, but very exciting for all of us, in all walks of life, in Fortune 500 companies or corner mom and pop shops, in corner offices or cubicle-land. It’s a time where we are experimenting with so many things so fast, trends are coming and going as fast as the morning stars. We’re colliding and mashing everything together to see what turns up, like Ashton Kutcher’s latest project of “influencer marketing,” which, according to Fast Company, is “a squishy hybrid of entertainment content, advertising, and online conversation that finds its audience via video, animation, Twitter, blogs, texts, and mobile.”

In this feeding frenzy, snafus, oopsies, epic fails are all but inevitable. But inevitable also, are “epic wins”. We didn’t just all of the sudden “get social”. We have *always* been social. The challenge now is to use the tools that we have at our fingertips to put our sociality to some good use, to improve our lives, ourselves, our world, our job titles, etc. May the mojo be with us. Or if you prefer, may that sense of je ne sais quoi guide us. (Just had to let the Frenchie in me out for a moment :) )

Some mooar links:

Oh hai kitteh! We can has frendz?

Oh hai kitteh! We can has frendz?

7 thoughts on “I’m (Not) Here to Be Your Friend

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention I’m (Not) Here to Be Your Friend « Nikki Chau -- Topsy.com

  2. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  3. Nikki,

    You have a way with words. I really enjoyed what you had to say here.

    I think we’re in agreement here, but rather it’s a difference of definitions and perspective… let me clarify.

    When I connect with people online, it may not be for the sake of friendship, but that doesn’t mean the hope isn’t there. If I were to seek friendship first, then I’d be the most evil of them all, because the fact is I am here for business and to befriend someone for their “business value” is, well, evil.

    I agree, we need personal interaction, we need to understand each others’ needs. As you said quite accurately though, a friendship takes time and dedication to naturally develop over time. Note: NATURALLY. It’s not something you can force. I interact online but I can’t choose my friends. I will become friends with those who a naturally develop a friendship with.

    You’re right…I’m not cold. Ask my community around here and they’ll tell you that I’m actually really friendly and I always try to help others whenever I can. I wrote that post more because, it’s a reminder I give myself sometimes, and it’s a reminder I thought the community needed. We get too caught up in the social aspect at times and forget the business part (the part we’re getting paid for).

    The point at the end is, be friendly, be personal, and be social, but not at the expense of being able to do your job well. You’ll make friends, it’s inevitable. So don’t make it your focus.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Glad, if nothing else, I could inspire some reflection.

    David
    Community Manager, Scribnia.com
    @Scribnia

  4. Pingback: Twitted by Redlincook

  5. Thank you, a beautiful post.
    As a Business Anthropologist, I couldn’t agree more. Our brains are wired to keep us focused on contributing to ‘our people’. Work is foundational to the sociality that is the human way of life.

  6. Hey David,

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting. (You must be spent after all those replies and comments on your blog).

    All of this is so dependent of our own definitions and perspectives, for sure. Ah, syntax and semantics, we just can’t get away from them, can we. I hear you about the whole “fake friendship” thing. I’d much rather have someone say up front, “I’m just here to get things done”, than to pretend to be a friend with an agenda.

    I like what you said about some of us “getting caught up” and forgetting about business. We all need to find the middle path, not too little, not too much, and we definitely need a reminder like yours.

    Stay warm out there (no, really, literally. I hear it’s cold in Philly this time of year :) )

Comments are closed.