Developing your social media muscle

Jenny on the JobI wrote a lot of poetry in college. (Don’t worry, that was pre-web so I have no links to subject you to). When I was doing it regularly, thoughts would come to me in poetic terms, or a snippet of conversation would spur an idea. The more I wrote, the more that happened.

My love of photography also began in college, and carried through to a job as a professional photographer for The Chapel Hill (N.C.) News (which nearly killed my love of photography, but that’s a different story). The more photos I took, the more I saw things in photographic terms. My eyes sought out angles and patterns and juxtapositions and I would mentally compose the photo before I ever brought the camera to my eye.

The same principle holds true in social media. The more you participate, the easier it gets. I’ve been referring to it as “developing your social media muscle.”

Blogging isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s downright difficult to come up with an idea worth sharing, find the time to write it, find a photo to illustrate the post and do all the little logistical things that go along with it.

But you know what? The more you do it, the easier it gets. That’s why bloggers like Chris Brogan and Wayne Sutton can be so prolific. They’ve developed their blog muscles. Thoughts and ideas come to them more often because they are receptive to them.

When I was blogging every day in the early 2000s, I nearly always had an idea I wanted to work up and one or two in the queue. And I’ve found that to be true in the last couple of weeks as I’ve tried to notch up my blogging to where it should be for someone with a job like mine. I have three ideas on a note stuck to my monitor.

It works for Twitter as well. The more you do it, the easier it is to digest ideas into 140 characters. When you see something that interests you, you’re more likely to think, “I should tweet this because other people might find it useful.”

The more you develop your social media muscle, the easier the heavy lifting becomes.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

Twitterary aspirations

This morning The Mrs and I took The Boy to the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (as I was required to write it when I was a reporter) for the North Carolina Literary Festival. The two of them went to listen to children’s book authors and I went to a panel called “Tweeting: A New Form of Writing.” The panelists were Paul Jones, Mur Lafferty and Wayne Sutton. (Clearly they did not agree on a dress code.)

Over the last year or so I’ve been in a lot of conversations about Twitter, as well as listening to panel discussions and webcasts about it. But to date I had not been to any Twitter discussions where poets ask panelists questions about accessing their unconscious.

It was a different world, and I liked being there.

Those of us who are trying to incorporate social media into marketing communications have to keep reminding ourselves, as Wayne reminded me, that social media is about community and conversation. That can be a hard message to spread through any enterprise that’s more used to delivering “messaging” than making connections.

But forget about marketing for a minute. As Wayne pointed out, tweeting helps you unlock unconscious ways of thinking that make you a more interesting communicator.

You could take that a step further and say social media can make you a more interesting person, if you work at it. The more you care about your audience and the better you understand the medium, the more likely you are to share information in a way that will be compelling, amusing or thought provoking.

Artists talk about developing their craft. That’s equally important if you’re writing a poem, a novel, a tweet or a blog post.

On a side note, it was great to see Wayne on that panel, representing those of us who some in the audience might see as the people ruining Twitter. Wayne is a perfect ambassador for social media in general and social media in the Triangle in particular. It’s inspiring to see someone at the convergence of social media and marketing being publicly recognized for doing it the right way.

I’m feeling a little too connected

Six months or so ago I created a FriendFeed account, because lots of people were saying it was better than Twitter. I set it up to pull in all my accounts, including my Netflix queue (why?), then pretty much left it alone.

Earlier this week I set up a Posterous account, linked it to all my other accounts and set up all the different email addresses I could use to send posts to whatever combination of accounts I could imagine (Flickr+Blogger+Facebook, Twitter+Wordpress, etc.). Then I realized I don’t really need to do that.

This morning I sent an @ reply on Twitter to Louis Gray, who I follow but don’t actually know. It was just a quick joke in response to something he’d said. I got home tonight and saw in my Gmail account a message from him, via Friendfeed, asking if I was both David and Angela. What?

I followed the link to FriendFeed where my tweets are showing up in someone else’s stream. After an hour of digging around, I think I figured it out. It’s a feed set up by someone I know to pull in SAS-related tweets around our annual user conference. But if you look at the stream, they all seem to be coming from her. Just a small peculiarity, but it seems that if you @ reply someone on Twitter who you are mutually subscribed to on FriendFeed, it compounds the confusion.

Did that make any sense to you? If so, I will pay you money to explain it to me. As I am writing this blog post, she and I are direct messaging back and forth on Twitter trying to figure it out.

The whole exercise made me feel kind of nuts, like having an anxiety dream where you realize you forgot to drop a class and didn’t actually graduate. (I’d been out of college for ten years before I stopped having that dream.)

I have three computers and an iPhone. I have two separate contact lists, six email addresses (not including LinkedIn and Facebook email and Twitter direct messages), and more social media/social network accounts than I could probably count. I have unread messages in something like eight different places. (My apologies to anyone I owe a reply to on BrightKite or Audioboo.) Let’s not even talk about my RSS reader. Or all the barely-touched sharing apps on my iPhone that are supposed to make all of this easier.

I need a break. This is starting to feel a bit like a compulsion. My wife, I feel comfortably certain, would not argue.

What’s the larger message here, just to try to tie this rant/cry for help back to the theme of this blog?

You don’t have to do everything.

Take a look at what other people and organizations like yours are doing, and pick a few that seem to make sense for you. These days you can’t go too far wrong by focusing on blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Concentrate on those (or just one or two to start), on getting comfortable with them, building a network and providing value in those channels.

Other than a very few people who base their reputation on being on the cutting edge of social media marketing, nobody has to be active in all the available spaces.

Keep it simple and enjoy it.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

Five steps for getting started on Twitter

I got a lot of positive comments on my Four Step Plan for Getting Started in Social Media. It reminded me that people are at all different levels of knowledge and interest in social media. When you spend all day thinking about it and using it, it’s easy to forget that lots of people still want the basics.

So, here are some basic steps for getting started on Twitter:

What Twitter is good for

• Many of the advantages of blogging in a short, quick format.
• You can support your other communications channels and activities by promoting them on Twitter.
• Hashtags allow you to gain a presence in and around events, conferences and issues.
• Twitter search can show you who’s talking about what.
• It’s still a relatively small community in many professions, allowing you to make connections.

What Twitter is not good for

• Twitter is a tool, not a strategy.
• You have to be interesting to get followers; it’s not the place for heavy-handed sales pitches.
• It’s a firehose, and it’s getting worse. You need filtering tools to find the value (TweetDeck, Seesmic Desktop, Hootsuite).

Getting started on Twitter

• Create an account, using your real name, and set up your profile.
• Use the search function to find people to follow in your industry, and follow who they’re following.
• Get to know the standards of the community and the way people use it.
• Think about all the useful and interesting information you encounter every day.
• Start contributing.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

Is social media the new CB radio? 10-4 and negatory.

When I was 11 years old in 1976, I wanted nothing more than a CB radio. The song “Convoy” had come out and everybody was talking about them. I was sure a CB radio was the coolest thing in the world.

By wheedling and cajoling and combining Christmas and birthday presents I managed to get my parents to buy me one – a Radio Shack CB walkie talkie, which I liked because it looked like something GI Joe carried. Also, being 11, I did not have a car in which to install one.

I took it out of the box, put in the batteries, turned it on… and almost immediately realized I had nothing in common with truckers. I think I got tired of it in about a week. As did many people who bought a CB that year, which explains its persistence as a shorthand reference for fads.

But the fact that I stopped pestering truckers for smokey reports I did not need did not affect the CB radio’s usefulness to them (in fact I’m sure it enhanced it). They kept on sharing information about road conditions and weather and speed traps, using it to connect with friends and pass the time on long trips. Judging by the technology aisles at the truck stop near my last job, those folks who understand the value are still using CB radios today.

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. I don’t care how many people signed up for Twitter and never come back. Those are the people who probably had no need for it in the first place.

There are lots of people out there who, no matter how much they love Oprah and follow her advice, don’t really need or want to join the conversation. They get their news from TV or talk radio (or they don’t get it at all) and they either don’t have a lot of interests that are well-represented online, or they’re too busy to go out and find who’s talking about them.

That dynamic, of course, does not change the value that you and I see from blogs or social networks or Twitter. It just makes it a bit harder to justify to the folks who have a knee jerk reaction against anything popular.

If we wait it out, maybe they’ll stop talking about it. In the meantime, keep it between the ditches.