Risking a violation of the cardinal rule about casting stones from my own glass house, I hesitate to be critical of any online characters we meet in the twittersphere, but somebody has to call attention to the fact that everybody we meet online is not genuine. I have been a regular on Twitter chat events and have been a participant, moderator and guest host on many of them. It is unfortunate that the ability to communicate almost instantly with anyone on the planet has lulled our brains into an infatuation with technology that gives any idea instant credibility where none really exists. Opinions stated loudly enough or frequently enough are accepted as believable. We forget that the online world is a mirror of the real one including the fact that there is a representative cross section of talent, ability, honesty and integrity. Nobody should check-in to a Twitter chat session if their filters are not fully engaged because online is not reality but an imitation of reality. If you have an issue with this part, give me your bank account number and PIN so that I can send it to that Nigerian prince who wants to deposit $1-million in your name. By the way, Dictionary.com has removed the word â€œgullibleâ€ from its databaseâ€¦check it out.
There are countless Twitter chat sessions that provide useful information on just about any topic imaginable. To name a few, I am amazed at the experts who show up to discuss Talent and Culture on #TChat every Wednesday. On #InternPro and #GenYChat we get a refreshing cross-generational look at common issues as they affect those particular groups.
On Fridays, job seekers get hundreds of years of professional experience at their disposal for one hour on #HFChat. The latter and other groups that offer advice for job seekers are looked upon as a source of important information on aspects of a job search. Some of these participants are at a critical point in their life or have been out of work for an extended period of time. They ask for and expect guidance from those who participate on the helper side of the conversation. I am not as involved in #HFChat behind the scenes as I have been in the past, but I still show up every Friday to help moderate the chat with my colleagues. Since I am a job seeker advocate it has been troubling that along with the excellent advice from the pros, which at times may even appear conflicting, there is also an inordinate amount of what can only be called blatantly bad advice. Why does this happen?
Everybody is different â€“ Diversity of thought is good. No two people have the same life experience so their perspectives will be different. Unfortunately, job seekers looking for that one-size-fits-all piece of advice will almost always be disappointed. Large companies operate differently than small companies in more ways than are possible to count. Corporate recruiters come from a different perspective than agency recruiters. Since every question will have situational answers relative to circumstances, each individual participant must listen to all of the advice given and apply only the parts that fit. When personal situations change the answer will also change.
There is not always a right or wrong answer â€“ We all know intellectually that sometimes all paths lead to the same destination, but at the scary crossroads in life it can appear that everything depends on making the correct choice. Listening to the experts can give situational guidance to help in decision making, but the good news is that most paths also are very forgiving and allow midcourse corrections to adjust the path based on environmental changes.
Experts do not always agree â€“ In reality, sometime there is more than one right answer. Even those who are legitimate experts in a field have opinions which may be at best an educated guess based on their experience. Because they all have arrived at their current station in life through different paths, their perception of next steps and ultimate destination will differ. Listening to the true experts will always be instructive if not taken out of context. Conflicting advice is not bad advice, but it does mean that a conscious decision is required.
The experts are only human â€“ There are multiple reasons for bad advice happening. Most of it is unintentional and for the most part participants may be giving the best advice from their body of knowledge. Bias can be introduced into the conversation for several reasons.
- Scope Bias – Some participants have a very narrow perspective of the topic and it is a stretch to go beyond the boundaries of their comfort zone. This causes errors in judgment by applying an irrelevant solution to an unfamiliar topic.
- Confirmation Bias â€“ This is the result of stating information that validates a preconceived notion rather than looking for objective solutions. Evidence supporting the individualâ€™s point of view will be presented and anything that would support an opposite opinion will be ignored.
- Cognitive Bias â€“ There is a natural tendency for people to overestimate their knowledge and abilities and downplay their shortcomings. I wrote an article You Did Not Grow Up In Lake Wobegon about this phenomenon.
- Self Serving Bias â€“ People will almost uniformly claim a greater responsibility for their successes than their failures. Since an online professional forum ties people together with similar interests it is often deemed necessary to maintain a faÃ§ade of success to insure that their brand is preserved.
These are only a few of the many facets of human nature involved, but they all have one thing in common: These are not bad people. They are only people that are compelled by their humanness to act in a manner that can lead to misleading or incorrect advice.
Not all who profess to be experts are bona fide experts â€“ So how can you tell if somebody is a faux expert or a credible source? There are some telltale signs but they are not always obvious.
- Bandwagon â€“ Using a popular saying, statistic or clichÃ© to make a point has its place in the discussion, but simply parroting a popular viewpoint just to be popular is never appropriate. Challenge: What is the origin/source of this information?
- Negaholics â€“ Individuals that have lost their resume into a black hole or some other similar catastrophe refuse to give up and move on. Their input can show that bad things do happen, but basically they are toxic and donâ€™t offer much meaningful input. Challenge: What could you have done differently?
- Groupthink â€“ This is the tendency of some people to promote harmony and minimize conflict rather than providing a realistic appraisal of the situation. This is not to say that the chat environment should not be cordial, but it is wrong to perpetuate bad advice when so many are counting on good answers. Challenge: Have you considered an alternative because [state reason]?
- Narcissism â€“ Probably the easiest to detect are those who offer advice to others in such a way that it flatters themselves. Much can be learned from the experience of others unless their ego gets in the way of presenting a clear and accurate account. Challenge: Do you think everyone will have the same experience as you?
A chat session on Twitter is the epitome of connecting through social media. Moderating such an event is like herding cats to keep things on topic, but after all since it is â€œsocialâ€ media this can actually add to the flavor. As old friends are seen joining the chat there is always a virtual hug given and an acknowledgement of their presence and expertise by other chatters. New participants are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to comment or ask questions to the group or individually. This is a huge meeting in a room bigger than life where there are literally millions of global impressions in a one hour session. In spite of its flaws, it remains one of the best sources of critical information for a job seeker.
What experience do you have with Twitter chat in addition to those mentioned in this article? In the interest of openness and to improve the online experience, are any of the points made here wrong in your opinion?