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.

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