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Four-Armed Martians, Social Media and Me

Social media and me(Note: This is the second in a series of Blogmaster 2000 posts about  four-armed Martians in which I don’t actually discuss anything that is truly useful with regard to Martians, or even mention them at all.)

Social media is everywhere. And so are the experts. Twitter is so full of social media experts that I hear they are going to have to start rationing out user names that have the word “guru” in them. According to a recent very important and very prestigious study that I shall not name,  the number of social media experts in the US alone is equal to the population of the United Kingdom. Plus they all have very lovely aristocratic twitter accents that are just plain adorable (see @stephenfry for an example).

What I am saying here is that there are a lot of social media experts out there, and honestly, I would prefer to not be lumped in with that group. However, having said that, I love the digital social direction the world is moving in. If you know anything about me on a personal level, then it probably isn’t a surprise that I spend an inordinate amount of time online. And a good portion of that is playing around on different social networks. As such, and for whatever it is worth, I thought it might be interesting to share some of my thoughts on the primary places that we currently gather to digitally socialize.

Like most people, and outside of bulletin boards and various website forums and awkward forays into unnamed online dating sites, my first real experience with social networks was on MySpace. I had avoided it actively initially, but as each of my two sons became active there I felt it was the fatherly thing to do to create a profile and spy on them. I never really found the functionality very friendly and there was a kind of lawlessness to the way people tried to personalize their profile pages to the detriment of all kinds of bandwidth and security concerns. I still have a page there which I never visit (my MySpace profile). The status is set to automatically update from our agency Twitter account, I think. I have the same setting in place for my mostly unused Plaxo account as well.

From there I jumped onto LinkedIn (my LinkedIn profile) when a co-worker at an earlier company for which I worked sent me an invite. I like LinkedIn quite a bit, though, I need to be more active with it. Initially it was a very simple set-up – connect to former co-workers and friends and expand your network by reaching out by degrees. This was all done pretty much via private message and referral. Since then LinkedIn has become much more aggressive in offering additional functionality, including real forums, status updates, company pages, group discussions. The value has increased tremendously. But I still don’t spend as much time on it as I probably should.

I tried Google Wave for a short time, but it was too unstructured and I firmly believe people need structure in their interactions. I didn’t make the jump to Buzz upon its release, but that is mainly because I don’t use Google for anything other than Web search (and web analytics for work). My Gmail accounts are not active accounts and I don’t use them for any sort of correspondence.

I aggressively avoided Facebook (my Facebook profile & our agency Facebook page) in the same way that I avoided MySpace originally, but the same thing happened here. My kids moved over to Facebook with their social peers from school and I felt that I needed to be where they were online. Now, I think it important that I make a quick disclaimer at this point because I don’t want to sound like a vacuous Facebook shill – I am aware that the platform has a passel of problems, everything from data security to rampant malware to indecisive User Experience philosophy to on and on and on, but I tend to ignore most of that stuff. Mainly because I don’t store any real personal data in my profile, I don’t play the games except for research purposes for work, I don’t click on links from connections that are out of character for them, I just muster through and ignore the quarterly UI changes based on the latest results of user tests, and I hate the way they surreptitiously change expected functionality in order to herd us in a direction that profits them and disenfranchises us. But, I love Facebook for the simple reason that that is where all my loved ones are right now: I am now more closely connected not only with my immediate family, but also my extended family that we moved away from when I was 9 years old, and friends that I had thought lost to the distant mists of time, people I went to grade school with and people I hated in High School and girls I secretly had crushes on, and people that I shouldn’t be connected to but I can’t not be connected to at the same time.

To me Facebook is the wonderful big soup that mixes in all parts of my life and what used to be kind of a messy kitchen has now started to level out with the additions of the new Groups function which allows me to create targeted connection lists that show up in my timeline but are hidden from view from everyone not invited in. I have a group for my family, a group for all of my Nerd and Geek friends, a group for my Flash Fiction writing group and a group for the local stand-up comics that work with me in putting on a weekly free evening of comedy at a local venue. I even have a group of just me and three other friends from childhood that I trust deeply and I can whine to, knowing full well the response will be unbridled ridicule.

If Facebook is a bit of a soup, then Twitter (my Twitter page & our agency Twitter page) is a bag of trail mix to me. I have struggled since its inception to figure out how I fit in, but really the fun in twitter comes when you have a good group of connections as a foundation upon which to build. For a long time I had no personal friends on Twitter, there was just me and 69 million social media gurus. And then I started connecting with other locals and a few of those bubbled up to become people that I had commonalities of taste and philosophy with. I started following certain people of celebrity that I felt delivered more to me than the weird one-way dialogue that I generally dislike took away. And then my kids made the jump and as I have had real life friends step-up also, I am starting finally to see a fulfilling network build there as well. And not just one of endless one way conversations and link dumping. Sure, I still feel icky when I follow a person that isn’t a celebrity or a brand and that person doesn’t follow back, or a person like that follows me to provoke a follow-back only to immediately un-follow me. But I am learning and finding coping mechanisms to help me deal with those situations. And I am feeling more comfortable in the wide, wild world of the Tweet.

Do I have anything at a professional level to add to this? Is social media different for an individual person than it is for a brand? Yea, sure, at a certain level, definitely, but my philosophy has always been, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Absolutely there are some strategic things you have to keep in mind that are a bit different than the way an individual reaches out or the traditional corporate way of doing things –but, the bottom line is still the same: reach/engage/motivate. That is what social media is all about, whether you are talking about your group of friends or your group of customers.

At the corporate level Social media is quite quickly removing all of the big obstacles that we as marketers used to have to deal with, now the big problem is trying not to get lost in the crowd, and the best way to do that is deliver on your promise as a brand or as an individual. Know who you are talking to and talk to them.

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