We are meeting different people these days when we talk about and work with social media, more of the massive numbers in the middle and latter portions of the classic adoption curve.
Presenting and facilitating at three very different events - the eDiplomacy day at the Instituto Publico in Rome, an ICARDA/ICRISAT programme inception workshop in Dubai and an informal chat with a group of international development consultants in Oxford - I heard similar things from people who are only now feeling their way into how they can engage with the online mainstream:
Engage with people: the essence of social media is that it is, well, social. That means personal conversations, linking people to people, sharing information, ideas etc, joining important lists and conversations on other people’s sites. These are not platforms for broadcast messages. Crucially, it also means keeping on top of the exchanges, for example, commenting on comments, thanking people for linking to your work or RT your tweets.
Feed the web and it will feed you back. For example, linking to other people’s content, RT in Twitter, liking in Facebook or slideshare and commenting in blogs will get you noticed, connected and - if your content has meaning - shared in turn
Use groups of tools, linking and integrating: many social media tools are designed to one thing well but they are all designed to interact and exchange data (to be mashed up, as they say). For example, I echo tweets into LinkedIn (via the Hootsuite client) and selectively into Facebook (you simply have to link the two accounts and use #fb). I tweet about content I generate - Blogs, videos, photos, slides;
Always share and record your work online somewhere public, for example slides on slideshare, project progress on Blogs or Twitter
Be yourself: authenticity scores over slickness, although manufacturing 'authenticity' earns PR firms and political spin merchants a good living.
Have fun: Good social media practice has a lot in common with being a good party host: introduce people to people, provide interesting titbits, circulate regularly, help people have fun.
- there are many from the ‘early majority’: people who have became enthusiastic and skilled users of several social media or collaborative platforms and who want to integrate them into their everyday work, as well as evaluate some of the less-well known tools
- there are probably more from the ‘late majority’ who are involved in one or two platforms, sometimes uneasily or by default:
- 'I am on Facebook to follow the kids' is something I've heard around the world;
- the logistics information, agenda and reports for the Dubai workshop were on a wiki, which for many of the participants was their first real exposure to anything other than Wikipedia: they had no choice;
- 'I kept being invited to LinkedIn so I eventually joined'
- and there are some classic late adopters checking out the space: 'everyone tells me I need to be on Twitter, do I?' to which the answer is, 'it depends'. I don't like the term 'laggards’. It is loaded and inaccurate: it implies everyone will - should - adopt, eventually. But there is, of course, no reason to join any of these platforms unless it serves a purpose.
And what is the mainstream? As an illustration I listed for one of the groups the tools that I use regularly, not because I am a model but because they are also typically used by many other early adopters I know. The list is at the bottom of this post.
Seven principles for those late into the social web
It’s hard to come up with general principles for the majority, since it includes all human variation and possible sets of interests. And in 2012 there are many, many mature products on the market which can be adapted to suit an individual’s needs. For a long time in our training we have used business functions within organisations as the basis for assessing need and interest. It's an approach that can be extended to individuals. For example, promotion and collaboration were the two functions which generated most interest amongst the group of consultants. Here are some notes from our discussion, elaborated later of course, which is the right of the blogger.
- As ever, start with your aims: why would you want to use one of these tools? For example:
- Promotion: what is the audience you want to reach, where do they hangout online? Research, join and start to engage.
- Collaboration: are your colleagues already using a tool? How good is their Internet access and how confident are they using social media? Select an appropriate platform (see below) and invest the time in learning how to use it well, so you can support them. Note that if you choose a wiki they will probably find it surprisingly difficult.
So what social media tools do you use?
For the record, and because we believe in transparency, here is the list of tools I regularly use, ranked loosely by how often and how important they are to my work:
- Twitter (via client software - hootsuite [web client] or tweetdeck [dowloadable client])
- Delicious (it's always surprising how few people who work collaboratively with others around the world use Delicious or one of the competitors like Diigo)
- Dropbox (probably the most straightforward collaborative application since it requires no social media experience and, carefully managed, can serve as a common repository for collaborative projects. Importantly, it doesn't require users to change their favourite tools, like MS Office or the Mac equivalents
- Wiki (e.g. euforicweb; platforms I use include mediawiki [free, open source: clunky, the original, and still the Wikipedia platform]; wikispaces; pbworks) Note that a lot of people find learning to use a wiki quite difficult: for example the 'edit' function, also a basic essential for blogging, flummoxes people who haven't had a lot of experience)
- Google docs (tends to be easier to understand for new users, since the applications 'feel' similar to MS Office packages that people use already. It does require good Internet access, although there is offline access to documents. Candidly, I have had more problems that I expected with offline Google docs)
- News and other feeds, through Google Reader; we suggest using an iGoogle Home Page as an introduction to the value of filtering news through feeds, or netvibes, which allows users to share and publish a common home page, as in this great example from Stephanie Psaila of Diplo Foundation
- Blogs (writing on our own blog; for communication support, for example the Diplo Foundation blog, from where I cross-post here or from events, such as those we support for GDNet. I always quote John Naughton as my favourite blogger, partly for interest and partly because he does it so well; Tim Davies is another superb digital-artist)
- Scheduling tools (for example Doodle for diaries; eventbrite for, er, events)
- YouTube (we use Blip.tv, as it syndicates content to other sites; Vimeo is used by many people for video quality reasons)
- Flickr for pictures and images (see again euforicweb for how we easily the content can be shared and displayed; many people also Google’s platform called Picassa)
- Mindmeister, for collaborative mindmaps
- Yammer, which works as an internal Twitter
There are several platforms I want to explore a bit more
- Tumblr, and easy to use and flexible blogging and aggregation tool
- Google+, Google's 'social network', which is apparently used by more people than Twitter, but still has to convince me
- Pinterest which enables people to collect and link to images from across the web and I communicate best through images