Social Media – Join the Conversation!

Imagine yourself walking into a massive dinner party with more people than you have ever seen, some you know and some you don’t, all enjoying themselves, talking, telling stories and sharing information.  Amazingly you can hear what everyone is saying at the same time.  You hear some people talking about their hobbies, some talk about work, others are talking about their families.  From here you have a few options.  You can continue to listen to everything going on around you, you can choose to listen to the people who you know, you can focus on those people who have the same interests as you, or you can pick a conversation and join.  The beauty of this scenario is that if you want to, you can do all of the above.

This is an example of what social media really is, a conversation.  Whether it is on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube or a blog the basic underlying trend is conversation.  These resources make it easier for us to have conversations with like-minded people around the world in ways we are comfortable whenever we like to communicate.  You can simply sit back and enjoy the conversation as a spectator or you can dive right in as an active participant and contribute to the conversation.

Twitter asks us all one simple question, “what are you doing?.”  You have 140 characters to tell us all exactly that.  Whether you want to share exactly what you are doing or not is completely up to you.  You can share anything you would like really, as long as you keep it under 140 characters.  Now back to the dinner party, remember that you are not the only one that can hear all the conversations, everyone can.  So you have to think about what you post, keep in mind that everyone in the room can hear what you say and you can’t know everyone in the room.  With that in mind you might think that makes the party a little scary.  Don’t look at is as scary, look at it as opportunity.  You have the opportunity to brand yourself as an expert and tell the world what you know.  You have the opportunity to share the information you have making the things you are involved in bigger and better.  Of course you don’t want to share any information that someone in the room could use against you but as long as you think of it as a conversation then you will be fine.  If you want to have a private conference with only the people you know then you can certainly have that but remember to share only the information you want the party to know about when you are talking out loud to the group.

So does the above only apply to Twitter?  Of course not, with status updates and large volumes of friends and connections this applies to everything.  You just have to be conscience of what you say and realize that anyone can hear it.  Facebook is a great way to connect to friends and family and keep in touch.  You might even have some colleagues and co-workers as friends.  It is meant to be fun and if you make it fun it will certainly be just that.  LinkedIn is meant for professionals and that is still the focus of what goes on there.  You post your profile and make connections, you join groups of other similar professionals, and you can even look for jobs.  MySpace is pretty much just like Facebook and since it has been in a slow decline we are not going to talk about it.  YouTube is a whole other animal and we will talk about it a little later.

Back to Twitter for a minute.  More than 18 million people are now using Twitter to share information and while growth has slowed down it is still one of the best ways to track customer opinions as well as a tool to engage them on a new level.  There is a mechanism called hash tags that allow you to track tweets on a specific topic or event.  Another exciting aspect of Twitter is that you can use it to drive website traffic by posting links to information on your site.  With 18 million people in the conversation you will have to take some time to build a following but when you do you are able to reach a select number of people each time you tweet.  An interesting trend about Twitter is that 60% of tweets are made during work hours, so the best time to send out your tweets is during the same time period as people will be reading tweets the same time they are sending them.

So how does information spread from those that are following you to those that you want to be following you?  Kind of like a chain letter.  While you may have only a 100 followers or so, one of those following you may have 1,000.  If that 1,000 follower person re-tweets your message then you have reached those 1,000 people as well.  If one of those 1,000 followers sends out your messages, maybe they have 2,500 followers and now you are off and running.  Before you know it you are reaching tens of thousands of people with exposures to you message.

Facebook has actually passed email as the preferred way people contact one another. Facebook has experienced unbelievable growth, taking only five months to grow from 200 million users to 300 million after it took 8 months to grow from 100 million to 200 million.  So it took 13 months to go from 100 million to 300 million.  Mobile devices have exploded the popularity of Facebook.  With 400 million computers worldwide it was the 3.3 billion mobile devices that have helped make Facebook the king of the social networking world.  You can create your profile and connect to old friends, colleagues, and even create a group of like-minded people to discuss the things you are interested in.  People use Facebook for social activism, to remember people who have inspired them and even to invite people to birthday parties.

You have choices with Facebook.  You can approve the people who you want to see your profile and posts so you have a lot more control over the content you can post.  You can also expand your participation through groups and fan pages so that you can still connect with colleagues without giving them access to see your profile.  This allows you to segment your audience and make sure you are sharing the appropriate message with the appropriate people…so you can basically cut off parts of your conversation to those people you do not want to involved.

If you are looking to use social media to advance your career, LinkedIn is the way to go. LinkedIn remains the only service dedicated to professional networking and has over 50 million users.  They have expanded their features to include job boards, discussion groups and better tools to find those people with whom you should be connected.  LinkedIn is our own way of playing Six Degrees of Separation.  We can see those people we are connected with and see how those people are connected.  You can ask to be introduced to their connections make them your connections as well.  There are options to post your resume and for your connections to make recommendations.  Many major companies have started to utilize LinkedIn as a major resource in hiring employees.

Have you ever wanted a mechanism to share your professional experience with more people in the industry?  LinkedIn is that mechanism that give you an opportunity to invite people into your conversation that can help your career.  By having recommendations posted by employers and colleagues you can tell your story to other professionals around the world.  You will learn that the once you start building connections that you have resources  beyond your initial thoughts.  It is amazing to see how certain people are connected in their professional lives.

One social media site that stands alone is YouTube, it gives everyone the opportunity to make themselves a movie star. YouTube may not be the first site you think of when you start to talk about social media but it has made so many things staples in our world that we otherwise would not have ever seen.  The usage numbers for YouTube are nothing less than staggering.  It has become the 4th most visited website in the United States.  There were 8.9 billion videos viewed by 120 million people in the US last July alone.  That is one-third of the entire population.  There were 21 billion videos viewed online so that makes YouTube’s market share 42%.

YouTube can be a fun and interactive way to share your message but here are some tips to making them more successful.  Keep your videos to 3 minutes or less.  This will help keep your viewers interested.  Brand your videos at the beginning so viewers know who is producing the video and as you add to your library your videos will all be tied together and not a mess of mixed up messages.  You can use YouTube to produce your own commercial and if done well get an even better response.  Another way to utilize YouTube is to embed your posted videos on your site to help make your site more interesting and interactive.  Make sure to keep your videos positive and up beat and as interesting as possible.

The last area of social media that we are going to talk about is blogging. Blogging is the new way to keep a journal.  You can blog about your hobbies, your job, family, politics, religion, pretty much anything you want to.  This is an opportunity to share your thoughts and opinions with the world.  Remember that this conversation will be searchable and pretty much open to everyone.  Keep this in mind as you make your posts, make sure you do not say something that you regret.  Blogs have become a major resource for companies to use as a customer service tool.  They have also used blogs as a marketing tool to distribute coupon codes and other deals that their blog readers can utilize.  The key to building a blog is in the comments.  No one wants to be a part of a one way conversation and often blogs can fall into this category.  You have to encourage comments and even be the one to start them on occasion.  You have to be consistent, build a schedule and follow it.  You have to be brave about your topics as the controversial ones will often generate the most participation.

With more than 112 million active blogs currently online covering just about any topic you can think of.  So you might be thinking how can you add to what is already out there, and this is a valid question.  Do other people have the exact same opinions all the time? Of course not.  This makes your opinions just as valid as there’s and if you brand yourself as the expert that you are and are willing to be brave you can build your own following that is interested in exactly what you have to say.

There are three main points to remember when you start your social media conversation.  You must be authentic.  If the social networking world discovers otherwise you will lose all credibility and the repercussions can be catastrophic.  You must be brave.  You have to be willing to take a risk and post information that is of interest.  Sadly this means controversy sometimes either by theory or topic and you have to be willing to take a leap and make the best of it.  Rule number three and probably the most important is that you must be consistent.  You can not post use social media once in a while and let it set stagnate.  You need to make a consistent schedule and you need to stick to it so that your followers, friends, and readers know what to expect.

So now that we have had a conversation about social media, hopefully you see the opportunity that lies in front of you.  Hopefully our conversation will lead you to your own conversations about whatever you would like.  By using social media to have these conversations your knowledge can contribute to the greater conversation that we are all having.

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