Have you heard the hype about social media? Everyone’s doing it! It’s the new way! You have to get on the train before it leaves you behind!
And you know what? On a certain level, I believe it.
My new career has developed entirely through social media over the past year. For me, an introvert who prefers to keep to myself by default, I have felt entirely comfortable in getting to know thousands of new people over the past year.
I’ve thought a lot about why I’ve always had a small circle of close, local friends but now I enjoy knowing a much larger group of people all over the world. I think the difference is that the people I’m getting to know are self-selected, remarkable people. They’re interested in what I’m doing, which probably means they’re somewhat interested in world travel, entrepreneurship, unconventional ideas, or nonconformity in general.
In other encounters (AKA “real life”), much more filtering is required to find a good match. I get on airplanes to Chicago and sit next to corporate salespeople. Since we don’t usually have that much in common, I don’t worry if we each spend the flight absorbed in our own stuff. Sometimes we’ll talk and sometimes we won’t, and either way is fine with me.
With the online world, however, I can find all kinds of fun, similar people, and they can find me. So why doesn’t everyone do it? In all the conversations I’ve had over the past year about the use of social networking, I’ve noticed that some people who haven’t yet jumped on the train are frightened. They are worried about doing something wrong, feel overwhelmed with where to start, or they fear that no one will be interested in their thing.
Let’s be clear: I don’t mean to overhype the new media trend. The train isn’t really leaving the station – I mean, I just signed up for Facebook after a minor 5-year delay – so if you’re not into it, you don’t have to feel bad or anxious or anything. Despite all the hype, you won’t die if you don’t start sending @ messages everywhere.
But I also think that you don’t have to be afraid or overwhelmed.
Whatever it is you want to do, the good kind of social networking can help you. You can take things at your own pace, do it in your style. You can friend up who you want and stay from anyone you’re not interested in. The important thing is:
a) there are people out there who care about what you have to say, and
b) it’s not that hard to find them, and
c) if you want to, you can probably find a way to cultivate those relationships in a way that is beneficial to you AND them
Social Media Success Stories Needed
Together with co-conspirator Gwen Bell, I’m creating my next Unconventional Guide to help people use social media as a force for good – primarily individuals, small businesses, and small organizations who want to change the world.
This isn’t a pitch for anything – in a week or so I’ll start a more active pre-launch before the launch on August 18th. Right now I’m collecting stories of social media success, preferably the unconventional kind.
Here are a few stories I’ve heard so far:
- The crusade of Romeo the Cat, a shelter cat who has raised $20,000 for animal rescue since joining Twitter in 2009 (Romeo now has his own blog and PayPal account)
- The hard-working Susan Lewis, who decided to “hire a boss” through online relationships (she received multiple, credible offers and just made a decision)
- The success of the burrito shack in Ohio that acquired 2,000 Twitter followers thanks to an eager employee who wanted to increase business (the boss didn’t even know what Twitter was until he was flooded with visitors glued to their iPhones)
A writer and editor who is deaf, but no longer feels that her lack of hearing is a handicap due to all of the work that comes in through online relationships
Important: these stories, and the other ones I’ve been collecting, are not the results of “social media experts” – in fact, I’m skeptical that such a thing really exists. They are all from regular people who had a project or idea they wanted to share with the world. In most cases, they had no idea how to get the message out, so they did it through trial and error.
If you’d like to participate, send me your success story in a couple of paragraphs. Include the metrics behind your success if possible – how many new customers came to the burrito shack? How many people joined your vegan glassblowing fan page? A number of the stories will be compiled into a PDF included with the next Unconventional Guide to the Social Web.
I’ve noticed that one holdup some people have about the social web is that they are worried about how to be authentic. I’ll have more to say about this next week, but for now, there’s really no need to worry about this.
Being authentic means being YOU.
You heard it first in kindergarten: there’s only one you, you are special, etc. Surprise! Everything else you learned may have been a ruse to keep you in line, but the special thing was right on.
Some people have asked how I use Twitter. The best answer is that I use it however I want, and hopefully in a way that is interesting to others. I ask for help with an Arabic translation of a letter for Saudi Arabia, and lots of people jump in to help. I ask for Chinese readers to help review a new translation of the World Domination manifesto, and I get several volunteers. (I still need a Polish reader to review that one – do let me know if that’s you.)
I help people too, whenever I can. If you want free wifi on American Airlines through September, the magic code is AAWiFi76194A1. If I’m flying domestic and get upgraded on a short flight, I’ll offer to exchange my First Class seat for an economy one to anyone I can find online when it happens. So far this week I’ve heard of at least $5,000 in confirmed Expedia bookings from people using the coupon code from Monday.
Impact and Actions
95% of what I use social networking for has nothing to do with product promotion, but when it comes time for a product launch, I learned with the last one that a lot of people will come forward to help out. Twitter is now the second or third biggest source of traffic to the site, and I finally joined Facebook because so many people over there kept dropping in.
Let’s go back to the intimidation factor. If you want to get on the train but don’t know where to start, here’s what I’d recommend:
- Sign up for Facebook and Twitter. Believe me, if I can do it, so can you. I don’t even answer my phone, but I have 15,000+ connections on Twitter I enjoy talking with every day.
- If you’re up for it, you can also join LinkedIn. Most people find it’s not productive to spend a lot of time there, but you can set up an online resume in an hour and then be done with it.
- Don’t worry about doing anything wrong. You’ll be fine.
- Use your influence for good. Help people. Share information; make other people look good.
- As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” This is good advice for all of life, but it certainly applies to the online world.
Start telling people about the thing you do. Yes, it’s OK to do that, and it’s not spamming. If it’s interesting, other people will want to be a part.
The beauty of the internet is that you can BE YOURSELF and somewhere you’ll find other people who are interested.
Contrary to what you may hear elsewhere, there aren’t really any rules about social media- which is another reason why I’ve come to love it. Oh, and if you don’t like what you’ve been doing, you can always reinvent yourself. That’s OK too.
A recession is an opportunity to look at what we’re doing and think about what has real value. New media is an opportunity to look beyond a small, local circle and find other like-minded people all over the world.
Upcoming: Product Launch! I’m really psyched.
On August 18th we’ll launch the Unconventional Guide to the Social Web. It’s like my other award-winning guides, except super-sized (you’ll see).
I know this project will help a lot of people, but I also know it’s not necessary for breathing. Just like Twitter, you won’t die if you’re not into it. More details will arrive in the next few posts.
Question: What are you up to with social media? Feel free to share your opinions or experiences.
If you have any questions, feel free to share those as well, and other smart readers will probably jump in with their $0.02. I usually try to keep the comments section free of outside links and self-promotion, but in this case, feel free to post your Twitter handle if you’d like. Now’s as good a time as any to come out of hiding.
Social Media Flickr Wall by Luc Legay