Evolving Social Media: Are You In or Out?

May 27, 2009
Group discussion facilitated by Jim Norrena
Summary notes by Karen Asbelle

Beyond email and instant messaging, the growing range of social media harnesses the power of the Internet to let people share and discuss personal and professional information with many people at once. Our group discussion brought up questions and elicited opinions as we looked at sites and video clips together to familiarize ourselves with the new social media.

Without a doubt, the evolving universe of social media and social networking is exploding. To many, it's a welcome world of opportunities they are drawn to explore. For others, all the buzz is overwhelming, a bit intimidating, and the benefits are still unclear.

While a good number of attendees indicated they were registered with a professional network site, such as LinkedIn, only a few had taken the plunge to establish an individual social media page on sites such as Facebook—although one member did mention the tide turned for him when he recently got an email from Barbara Boxer inviting her constituents to visit her Facebook page. With regard to Twitter, many wondered how much time would be consumed in these activities, and how they would handle the challenges and distractions of hyper-connectivity.

It is reported that Facebook currently has 200 million active users and is growing by an average of 600,000 users per day. The fastest growing segment of users in the U.S. is women over 55 years of age. The top demographic for Twitter is men aged 45 to 54.

In an online social network that generally brings people together around common interests, the key point is to generate relevant group conversations and build friendly relationships online to share meaningful content. Such group engagement supports the notion that word-of-mouth is more effective because people will trust their friends more than strangers or marketers.

Can these additional channels provide the right opportunities to promote your editorial services, reinforce existing client relationships and engage new clients? Moving forward, it's possible they can. But it's important to note that the approach and tone in social networks are quite different than straightforward self-marketing. Much like walking in to a huge cocktail party, you wouldn't enter the room and start handing out your business card and talking up your services—people would walk the other way. Rather, you might mingle and engage in various conversations, offer your opinion or perspective, and contribute helpful, relevant information, based on your knowledge and expertise, when you feel it would add value to the exchange. Nothing forced, just honest participation. After you establish your credibility and graciousness, others learn to appreciate you, and when people are aware that you are an editor, they may easily think of you when they or someone they know needs a referral for editorial services.

Discussion extended to concerns about personal security and to maintaining some level of privacy. Having your personal information available to strangers, as well as to friends and colleagues, makes some people nervous. In cyberspace, not everyone tells the truth and intentional misrepresentations are common; thus, many are hesitant to expose themselves. And as far as the content you post, the general rule, as usual, is that if you don't want everyone to see it, don't put it on your page. Facebook, for example, owns whatever you post on its site, and the data is theirs forever, even if you've deleted it from your personal page.

In addition to individuals, more and more businesses are setting up a Facebook page, largely to connect with their customers and engage more directly and honestly than ever before. While companies can shape the media experience, it is consumers who control the conversation in candid exchanges. Many businesses see it as a way to gain insights that improve their products and services, to respond to customer issues quickly, and even to drive traffic to their company blog or Web site. Essentially, they are hosting an ongoing focus group that permits them to learn by listening.

Some experts predict Facebook is on its way out (possibly trying to be too many things?) and possibly blogging may be on its way out, to some extent, because Twitter with its 140-character limit for each tweet is being used by many as a mini-blog continuously delivered. Of course, questions were raised about why someone would take the time to tweet to a crowd that he "missed the bus, is running late, but still stopped for coffee"—and perhaps why we would care. But there are some who advocate that such hyper-connectivity has its appropriate applications in life.

As with any tool, how you end up using any of the social media makes all the difference in their value to you. So, before jumping in with both feet, learn the shades of difference between the various social networking options, and take time to consider your strategy: What are your goals? What do you want to achieve? Consider trying one thing at a time, assessing its actual value to you once you have had time to experience it, and then going step-by-step from there, making sure you can integrate each tool comfortably into your life.

Clearly, social media technologies and networking behaviors are part of a social phenomenon that is growing, morphing, and expanding, so there is much to learn. The following are links to a sampling of instructional videos, articles, and glossaries that you may find helpful as you determine your level of interest and participation.

Reference Video Clips

Reference Articles

++ Glossaries ++



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