Our best Futurist Speaker, Mike Walsh, shared his views on the impact of our online presence…
For many GenYs, this year was a rough wake up call. First job, first interview, and their first experience of prospective employers being able to relive what they did last summer through simple Facebook forensics. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said it best when he observed that we don’t yet really understand what happens when everything is available, knowabl
e and recorded by everyone all the time. He predicted that a time would come when kids would be forced to change their legal name to avoid the consequences of their digital indiscretions. But what if the opposite were true? In the future, could our networks be what get us hired rather than fired?
Networks have power. Politicians, mafia dons, matchmakers, Freemasons and photocopier salespeople all have something in common – their ability to nurture and exploit those invisible social ties that bind us. Whether it be trading favours or swapping information, the network has always been the most subtle and powerful weapon for those astute enough to use it. So there is something deeply perverse that in the moment that online networks offer such dazzling new opportunities to connect, that we have found ways to punish people for it.
And there is a deeper irony. Even as HR and IT departments crack down on their in-house digital dissidents, marketing teams are doing their best to curry favour with the socially networked. This holiday season numerous large retail brands partnered with ‘haul video’ kids, whose YouTube shopping confessionals have become rallies for pampered tweens. Elsewhere, fanboy bloggers are courted aggressively by consumer electronics firms, amateur Twitter celebrities leverage their influence for social media consulting dollars, and surgically enhanced netstars trade their geek fame credentials for commercial endorsements and b-grade Hollywood roles. For now, at least, it looks like a motley parade. But the underlying trend is worth considering.
What if you could assess someone’s online social standing and influence as easily as checking a credit score? Eventually employers will have access to highly sophisticated systems that will allow them to do just that. When that happens – instead of being castigated for their blogs, tweets and friend lists – job applicants will experience the opposite. The best hires will be the ones that bring their networks to the table.
Limited social analysis software is already in the market. There are already some interesting applications like Twitter Grader, Twitalyzer, TweetLevel and Klout that use algorithymic voodoo to estimate your Twitter authority. When I tested my own handle, I was given a wide variety of different scores and curious facts which did not mean very much to me, other than it was fun to discover that I joined Twitter on the same day as eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar. More comprehensive analytical platforms are needed, with some targeted smarts that look at the relevance of networks for particular industries or goals. Sheer brute connections are not enough. Its better to have just 100 people in your network, rather than a million – if they are the right 100.
I know what you are thinking. There is something sickening about all of this – the rabbit like multiplication of networks and connections. Surely it should be enough to be good at what you do, without having to also ape the online promiscuity of Kim Kardashian and Ashton Kutcher. But in the future, who you know will also be what you know. And to misappropriate Yeats – the best lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.