Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Networking 2.0

The concept and application of networking through social media platforms has drastically changed over the last two years, as I have learnt from first-hand experience. Before, I considered websites like LinkedIn to be a handy tool for job-hunting or to find out what my friends did for a living. The 2009 Global financial crisis and its subsequent effect on the jobs market completely changed that for me. Networking had now become a pillar of my business activities and even my professional survival. It represented a global map which I needed to explore in far more depth and, most importantly, it meant I myself had to become far more prominent on this map.

So how do you do this? How do you take advantage of social media networking?

Brand yourself
While companies should first create their communications strategy before getting on the social media bandwagon, individuals don't have to. All you have to do is consider yourself as a brand! What are you and what message do you want your name to convey? Are you a cool, funky designer? Are you a meticulous, results-driven programmer? Do you sell wacky socks? You should rely on your achievements and individual personality when presenting yourself online. After choosing specific platforms suited to your professional needs, set up profiles and e-business cards focused on the important content that makes up ‘You’ on social media platforms. I personally use LinkedIn, as well as Xing and About.me.

Don't actually say this to anyone.
Be active
Once you're happy with the look and content of your online profiles, it’s time to start networking. Look into groups that discuss subjects you're interested in, and when you read something you agree with, connect with the commenter. Let them know why you’re getting in touch. If you feel they deserve praise for their answer/opinion, don't be afraid to give it! They'll appreciate it as much as you would.

Become a ‘Connector’ 
Once you've started connecting with relevant people and are voicing your thoughts and opinions online, start looking outwards. Are any of your friends – whether they work in your industry or other fields– looking for help? Expand your network and connect others. If you can build an effective reputation as a 'connector', you'll always have people there to help YOU out, and you'll be held in esteem by those you've helped out. This can always come in handy further down the road.

Meet the world! 
Social Media means we no longer have to be strangers. Opening up to and networking with people you don’t know, such as professionals in your field on the other side of the world, can lead to all sorts of great undertakings, from international partnerships to a surprise job offering in a city you've only ever dreamed of. Connect, communicate and don't be afraid to help others or ask them for help and advice. Communities are powerful things; there's nothing stopping you from creating your own hub.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Do's and Don’ts of Social Media

From an individual perspective, social media doesn't come with any rules, per se. For businesses, however, it's very easy to make a faux pas, as has been shown by the likes of Dell Hell, Domino's wonderful staff, #Habitat and Boeing for Kids. So here are some basic guidelines to what you shouldn't do, followed by what you can do instead.

Don't 'fake it till you make it'.
Just because everyone’s talking about social media doesn't mean you should just jump into it head first, eyes closed. Social media is live, direct and permanently monitored. Whatever you post on Twitter will forever remain accessible somewhere online, even if you delete the Tweet. In other words, if you start using social media without a plan, you're taking the first step towards making yourself a target for a public bashing.

Do listen before you act.
The most important thing you must do before taking an active part in social media, is to familiarise yourself with it. Find out what people are saying about your industry and whether any of your competitors are already using social networks. This can help you learn from their mistakes and create original campaigns. Also, make sure to research the right platforms for your business.

Don't fib your way through marketing.
Sounds pretty obvious, but let's spell it out as clearly as possible: Gone are the days where Doctors sell your cigarettes. You can't control what others are saying about you in social media - unless they become one of your 'Brand Ambassadors', or external parties you hire to advocate your brand. You can however make sure that you say the right thing. Research your approach, carefully plan it out, and then present yourself. If you tell everyone you're the best and you're not, social media will quickly shine a light on your deception.

Do share as much as possible about your business.
Again, this may sound obvious but it's not as easy as you think. Be consistent in your message, engage your community with original and interesting material, and keep revisiting your social media 'environment' to make sure you are still sharing the right information.

Don't push, bother, and spam.
Social media could well prove a very important point over the next few years: Impressing sales pressure tactics on people is not the way to go! If you can get your target audience together under your virtual 'roof', then why spam them? They're right there for you to talk with, not at.

Do deliver great content and create a strong, qualitative network.
If you create interesting material for your community, it will grow. If you engage them directly and personably, you'll get positive reactions. If you develop a community based on the right type of people, and not the right number (as is often the case, quality outweighs quantity!), you'll have more impact with your message and subsequently will create more business.

Don't use social media platforms because they are trending.
If you ask someone in 2010 to describe social media in one word, there's a good chance they'll say 'Facebook', or 'Twitter', or 'WordPress'. If you asked someone the same question four years ago, they probably would have responded 'MySpace', 'Bebo' or 'Blogger/Blogspot'. My point here is that social media is ever changing, and full of variety for everyone, and you need to be in tune with that to succeed.

Do Create your own trends on platforms specific to you.
Don't use Facebook just because everyone else does; use it because the people you want to do business with, are there. Find social networks more suitable to your needs and capitalise on concentrated areas, not saturated ones. Once you master the ability to generate highly engaging information, you'll capture the attention of those you want at every turn, and not those that are of no interest to your success.

Next up: Networking

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

What is Social Media to a Business?

A few weeks ago, I was invited to take part in a discussion on social media and which company 'department' it should belong to. It was a great debate, in part due to the different opinions on the matter but also because it answered crucial questions about social media’s role from a business perspective.

First, let me answer the obvious question: What’s the big deal? Why are so many people raving on about social media? Here are a few interesting facts:
  • In early March of this year, Facebook.com surpassed Google.com as the most visited domain in the U.S. That means more people visit this single social network on a daily basis than search for information on the almighty Google. It also technically means that you have a better chance of people discovering your business on Facebook than through a search engine.
  • On an international scale , there are more than 500 million active users who spend 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook
  • Yes, I used the word ‘billion’.
  • 70% of these users are outside the United States and the site is available in 70 languages.
  • Twitter now has over 105 million registered users, climbing at a rate of 300,000 per day. With 180 million unique visitors coming to the site every month, it's obviously got people's attention.
  • LinkedIn, which was launched in 2003, has over 66 million members (May 2010) and receives around 36.5 million visits every month.
  • The online photo sharing site Flickr now hosts more than 3.6 billion user images. The online bookmarking service Delicious has more than 5 million users and more than 150 million unique bookmarked URLs.

With figures like these, social media is changing how the world communicates. It transcends the passivity of watching TV but offers equally powerful advertising opportunities. We’ll look at social media and advertising in more detail at a later date.

For now though, how you use this multi-faceted ‘wunderkind’ of a platform is completely up to you, and will depend on the resources available to your business. The truth is, you can use social media to advance in a number of ways, each with their own reward. It can be a communications/PR tool, it can be an advertising platform. You can use it for customer support, or you can use it to monitor your customers’ habits. You can use it to present the 'tone' of your company, or to find out what your competitors are doing. The most powerful way to use social media, in my opinion, is to engage with your clients and create communities filled with a healthy mixture of customers and professionals. Remember, social media isn't a subliminal arena, so it needs to be personable to succeed.

On a final note, using your market's reluctance to engage in social media is a huge advantage to you: Using this tool when your competitors won't gives you a significant competitive advantage. One that can't be ignored with the types of figures I mentioned above.

Next up: Social Media Do’s and Don’ts for businesses.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Why Should You Be Involved in Social Media?

© www.XKCD.com
Now that I've shown you the basic tools needed to create your social media portfolio, it’s time to go on the search for more social platforms. As much as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have a lot of hype around them – beautifully portrayed in the form of a world map here, courtesy of XKCD – there are plenty of other tools that may suit your particular interests better. For example, Tumblr is a blogging site which appeals to artists because of its update immediacy and its support of all media types. Xing is similar to LinkedIn, and more popular in continental Europe due to more versatile services and simply because it originated there. And there's still good old MySpace, primarily popular among musicians and stalkers.
While pretty much everyone you know has a Facebook account, and although Twitter gets more mentions than Chilean miners, there's one important thing to remember: There are tools for general networking purposes, and specialised tools for more targeted usages. So hop online and seek out platforms that will allow you to achieve your goals more easily – be they meeting new people, advancing in your professional career or simply sharing stuff with your family and friends.
© www.seopher.com
Here are some of my personal favorites:
For photographers – PictureSocial
For designers and developers – DesignFloat
For travelers – Dopplr
For the younger ones – NetLog
For people who hate Facebook – Diaspora

So, why use social media?
1. Get Connected
You may THINK you're the only one out there whose entire life revolves around collecting every single Star Wars stormtrooper toy ever made. Well, let me tell you, you're not.
Apart from confirming that oddballs are no longer in the minority, social media has one particularly endearing power: It brings people together, lets you share your passions and find others of like mind. That can be very useful when you're trying to move ahead in life, stormtrooper or not.
2. Share Your Knowledge
The invention of the blog was as pivotal as the printing press, in my opinion. Writing a blog can change your life. Literally. Like books, blogs provide a wonderful opportunity to share our knowledge, thoughts and experiences with the world. We can do so for free, instantly and across borders. If that's not a step towards a more equal world, I don't know what is.
3. Influence People
Perhaps you know more about a certain topic than those around you. Your experience and understanding could prove indispensable to others. From revolutionary thinkers like Seth Godin to simple Tweeters who make life-changing decisions, everyone has the chance to influence those around them with social media.
© www.chordstrike.com
4. Have an opinion
Your individual role and online activity in social media are incredibly important, as they can shape the future of a world currently overrun by intrusive consumerism. People like me have a set goal around social media: we want it to change the way we live and consume.
You might notice that some of your friends often post an update asking for advice about something they want to buy. You might also notice that these updates usually generate a large amount of comments. This process is a key instrument in changing consumerism! If we all voiced our opinions and shared knowledge with our friends to help them buy the right product, companies would have to completely redesign the way the communicate with us... and it would be mutually beneficial. Big bad corpo guy will have to 'sit' with you, attentively listening to what you want! Goodbye fake promises, hello free community information and direct contact between the client and company! Ah, to dream.
So get involved, write a blog, answer your friends asking for advice on their Facebook page. You never know, someone might just listen to you, and change your world for the better.
Next up: How to view social media... as a business.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

How to use Social Media as an individual.

In my last post, I spoke about how freeing social media can be, and how it could potentially change the way consumers and companies interact with each other. For this to happen, however, you need to be engaged in social media! You can take one of two positions online: Either you can influence people you interact with (which can lead to you influencing companies), or you can be a silent participant. Let's focus on actively taking part for now.
There are many, many social platforms available to you to connect with communities online. I'm going to outline just three of the most obvious ones to get you started.

Ever heard of Facebook? Unless you've been living in some distant part of an insignificant galaxy in another dimension since February 2004, the answer will more than likely be yes. Why is it No. 1 on this list? Because over 500 million people use it. That's 1/14 of the world's population. Nuff' said.
Facebook is what's called a social network - a type of website which lets you create a profile and communicate with your friends, post information about yourself, comment on your friends's information, and share photos, videos, links etc. And that's it. There's nothing else to it. Makes you wonder what all the fuss is about, right? The fuss is this; Facebook has revolutionised the way people communicate and stay in touch on a global scale. You can talk to your friends no matter where they are in the world, and see what they are doing. It's like easy e-mail, easy photo albums, and real-time gossip wrapped into a nice little package.
People use it to find long lost friends, stay in touch with those far away or even close by, and show everyone what they are up to. Companies are using it to create communities, advertise their products, and generate brand awareness.

Trying to explain Twitter can often leave you looking like Einstein. Not because of what it is, that bit's easy: Twitter is a real-time micro-blogging site that allows you to connect with people around the world to share what you are doing, what you are looking at, and what's of interest to you at that very moment. And so what's micro-blogging? Unlike a blog where you can write lengthy posts, Twitter only gives you 140 characters to do so.
The tough bit is trying to explain HOW to use it, and what the point is. Certain aspects indicate that it has become incredibly influential as a social media platform: 75 million people use it because you can get information relevant to your personal and professional interests in real-time, and you can literally learn a lot about anything or anyone through 'following' the right Twitterers.*
So why use it? Simply, to brand yourself and network. Twitter is the ideal platform for you to freely advertise what you know, what you are interested in, and show how good a networker you are. And the latter is indispensable these days. The better a Twitter user you are, the more you can connect with kindred spirits, peers in your line of work, and potential employers or business partners. You can let your personality, professionalism and intelligence shine through in just 140 little glyphs. Pretty cool, no?

LinkedIn follows the same example as Facebook, except for one very distinct difference. It's solely for professional purposes. Just like Facebook lets you connect with friends (and even make new ones, if that's your cup of tea), LinkedIn lets you connect with work colleagues, business partners, potential employers, recruiters, etc. The format is almost the same too: You create your profile – with emphasis on your professional attributes – and share information on what you are doing, join discussions pertinent to your work and connect with people of interest.
What's the point? Again, networking. LinkedIn offers you the platform to keep people up to date on your work, meet others doing the same as you around the globe, and hopefully leads you to bigger and better things.

Using these three sites sets the foundations for your online presence.
With Facebook, you become a voice. Before social media, listening to 500 million people was about as inconceivable as Lady Gaga becoming famous. Nowadays, though, both are not only a reality, but inevitable. The second you mention a brand in your update, or 'like' a page, or even make friends with people in your geographical location, you affect the measured world that is Facebook. You see those ads that faintly resemble who you are or where you are on your page? That's you being measured.
With Twitter, you'll start by telling others how you feel, what you're doing, what website you're reading and who you're connected with. In return you'll listen to those of interest to you. Next thing you know you're part of a global community, dedicated to something you are passionate about. And there's nothing more interesting in social media that these “Tribes” (Thank you, Seth Godin), sharing information and, hopefully, improving the world they are interested in.
With LinkedIn, you can take what you know and what you're doing to once again network with people you would've never heard of otherwise. Do you work in Sales?** You can find who you need to sell to. Are you a specialist? Find out what other specialists like you are out there, and who's looking for you. Are you a seven-foot tall clown with expertise in fire breathing and turning rabbits into a shoe? Well... I'm sure there's something for you in there too.

Next post: Why should you be involved in Social Media?
And again, please do comment and ask me questions! I'd love to hear from you and get your feedback.

*We might need a little explanation here. After you set up your profile on Twitter, the next steps are a) choosing people you want to follow and b) begin broadcasting your own messages. The more interesting your tweets, the more people will follow you. The important thing here is that there is no confirmation needed to follow someone/be followed. Anyone can read what you write.

**There are certain ethics to professional sites like LinkedIn. One of the most important ones is to not use it for 'cold-calling'. Getting in touch with people you don't know is encouraged (for example, connecting with someone who left an admirable comment in a group is acceptable), but using someone to connect you to others or to pitch is considered a faux pas. It's a thin line, so just put yourself in the shoes of the person you're contacting and make the right choice.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

From the top: Introducing Social Media

Due to its revolutionary potential, social media is still considered new. No matter where you are in the world, many people will still ask “What is social media?”. From the busy streets of London to the comparatively quiet city of Phnom Penh, you'll find people talking about it, but rarely knowing what it is, or what it can do. I'm going to try and answer that question, and what it pertains to, by starting at square 1. To begin with, “social” media is simply a new form of media, and it's on the internet. Just like TV and radio were once considered ground-breaking, social media is the latest platform for communicating, relating, creating, entertaining, advertising, marketing, and selling. Using blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, people are congregating and conversing online, but on a completely different scale to previous media. From a business perspective, here's the difference between it and all the other medias: it's accurately measurable and can be monitored and filtered effectively. That last sentence is pretty loaded, so what does that mean??

Let's use TV as a comparison. TV's brought families and friends together to pay attention to one thing; their screen. Statistics and popularity of TV shows were measurable through surveys whereby representatives of the TV station knocked on household doors, and checked neighbourhood demographics, for example. Because watching TV is a passive activity, companies created a marketing strategy called “one to many” marketing, meaning while viewers sat in front of their boxes passively, marketers would tell them what to buy, with little to no input being made by the potential consumer.

By comparison, social media brings thousands, even millions of people together to pay attention to one thing; their screen. Same principle, but here are the major differences. Firstly, each viewer chooses what appears on their screen by clicking on specific links. That right empowers people online by making their opinions and personal tastes matter, and forces companies to listen to what people want. Secondly, being online is a two-way channel. You can't tell your TV what you want to watch, but you can ask for what you want online! These days, that's pretty much called Googling.

Since social media empowers people to say what they want, do what they want, and go where they please online, companies now have to face a new way of communicating with consumers. It’s what we like to call the “many to many” marketing platform. Because the internet literally democratises consumers and their opinions, companies wanting to sell you something now can communicate directly with you to do so. In other words, social media cuts out the middleman. Instead of shouting at you “buy this!”, they should be standing right there with you, asking “what would you like? How can we make it happen for you?”. And doesn't that sound so much nicer...

Next post: How to start using social media as an individual. Of course, if you have any questions, or have suggestions for what I could write about social media, please do ask, thanks!