For most people, the Internet is where you touch base with friends, shop for birthday presents, and pay bills. But for others, heading online to Twitter, E-mail, post, sell, and sort through messages is all in a day's work. Indeed, it's Sarah Lacy's business to know her way around the Internet. Lacy penned Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0, an inside look at the social media entrepreneurs who revivified post-tech-boom Silicon Valley. But Lacy, a well-known tech reporter, is also her own Web 2.0 success. Along with a personal website, blog, Twitter posts, and designated Facebook group page, Lacy cohosts Yahoo's Tech Ticker and is a columnist for BusinessWeek.com.
She recently talked with U.S. News about putting Web 2.0 to work for your business or career. Excerpts:
How important are social networking sites for jobs?
Think about how many times you're at a careers crossroads. You're just starting out and you think: I really want to go into journalism. Or, I met this great guy and he's moving me to Louisville—I don't know anyone in Louisville. What the hell am I going to do? Think if you were connected very easily at low cost to everyone you knew, had ever met, or had a connection with, via Facebook, or MySpace, or LinkedIn. Or, say you had all these people following you on Twitter. You could send a note and say: Hey, does anyone know anyone in Louisville who works in journalism?
When my husband and I moved to San Francisco, and he was trying to find a job in graphic design, it was months of me, when I met someone, saying: Hey, by the way, do you know anyone in graphic design? It's months and months of conversation. It literally becomes a five second process on these sites.
So there's a real chain of connectivity that can be put to work.
I've been a business reporter, so I've interviewed a ton of people about their career, and I'll ask: How did you wind up doing this? And people always say: Oh, I was jogging one day and I happened to run into this guy and he was telling me about this new company. Or, I was at a party and this friend of mine was going to start this company and I thought, that's awesome, I want to invest in it. There are all these throwaway moments in life where huge career moves are totally dictated by chance. What's great about a lot of these technologies is they almost automate that chance and make it much more efficient for those things to happen constantly.
How has that been a benefit for your work?
In journalism, it's so much easier when I'm writing a column. For instance, I was writing a column about little white lies we never think about telling. And I just did a Twitter asking: Has anyone been busted in something that was seemingly trivial but embarrassing via Twitter or Facebook or whatever? I got all these fascinating stories from people that I worked into the column. It makes it so much easier just to quickly pool everyone you know and their base of knowledge and get a response.
But the other point is this whole branding thing that everyone is obsessed with. Obviously, it's been a big part of my career. I'm at the point now where I technically just work for myself and have contract jobs. There's an amazing synergy that you can tap when you're in the position of doing several jobs and trying to build that career—the more you can make yourself a hub of people and activity via LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter. A lot of it for me is cross promotional—just trying to hook readers and viewers who are interested in one thing that I'm doing up with other things. It creates a lot of opportunities for me but also helps solidify my value to the different publications I work for.
Journalists used to be in the background, but now it's an asset to be a brand or personality. Do you see that kind of change taking place in other careers?
Yeah, I really think it is important. You can try to be a huge brand where everyone knows who you are and you're a personality and you're written about and dissected and all of that, which is, unfortunately what I've fallen into. But I don't think that's necessary. I'm working on a talk I'll give to a bunch of HR people in the fall about how to utilize social networking to hire and attract kids coming out of college. And you can see that some companies have done this really well by having a person who's sort of their advocate on Facebook or LinkedIn. It's someone who really gets how the medium works, knows how to engage with people, and most importantly, comes across as a real person.
Did you envision a world where you would become a brand or personality?
I think early in my career it was really obvious that the traditional newspaper world was broken and going away, and if you really wanted to have a career as a journalist that would be sustainable and would continue to be really exciting, you had to get to a point where you were more important to your publisher than they were to you. So for 10 years, I got into places where it was way more important for me to be working for them. But I worked really hard to build enough of a unique perspective to what I was doing and a type of piece that I was very good at writing and really differentiate my skills as a reporter and my skills as a writer and what was different about what I was bringing.
How do you typically communicate online?
Twitter has definitely become way more important to me than almost any other technology. Particularly with the book tour that I'm planning, there's no other way that I could do it than with Twitter. There's no other medium where so many people can immediately get your message and then they can also resend it.
There have certainly been times where my blog was the most important tool, or where Facebook or LinkedIn were the most important tools. I think it just depends on what you're trying to accomplish at that period in time.
Do you draw lines on what you share?
There are obviously things that I don't get into. For instance, my husband does not want to be a public personality. So, I don't write about personal things about him. I just try to be respectful. Our personal life is not lived online.
I think, also, you have to assume that no matter how many privacy features you have, breakdowns can happen so easily because this is just technology and it's not perfect. I think you should never, ever, ever put anything in an E-mail, in a text, in an IM, on a profile page, on Flickr that you wouldn't be OK with the whole world seeing. That is probably the most important thing for people to know.