Born to Communicate
As social creatures, the methods we use to communicate have changed enormously over the centuries. In 1792, Claude Chappe demonstrated the first real telecommunications system of the Industrial Revolution by using a series of towers with moveable arms to communicate signals during the French Revolution. In the early nineteenth century, Samuel Morse helped to make the telegraph a reality.
By 1861, research was being conducted on the conversion of sound into electricity and then back into sound. Pioneering research by Johann Philip Reis paved the way for the invention of the telephone. The development of the Internet in the 1960s and the invention of the PC modem in the 1970s set the stage for the explosion of information-sharing technology and the rise of social media.
Today, we share stories, send information, conference with business partners, and connect with new people using the Internet and social media. But what is social media anyway?
It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million listeners, but only nine months for Facebook to reach 100 million users.
Social media is the growing collection of Internet-based services that allow you to create and share content with others.
While traditional media like television and newspapers require many resources to create and distribute content, social media shifts the focus to blogs, instant messaging, and community sites that are relatively easy to use and cost significantly less.
Social media now enables the budding musician, the up-and-coming poet, the technology consultant, and the commercial realtor to all produce and distribute relevant content to a global audience. It allows companies to communicate with their consumers, not at them. It quickly brings people from all walks of life together to aid a country devastated by a natural disaster. All of these things and more can be achieved with social media.
Integrating Social Media with Your Goals
There is much debate about the usefulness of social media, yet each year, millions of new people discover it and dive in. Sarah may be merely curious about how to stay in touch with family on Facebook while Marta may be steadfastly determined to promote a new business on Twitter. Tom may want to contribute his knowledge of carpentry through a blog. Boris may want to connect with other salespeople in New York through LinkedIn. Each has a different need that requires a different social media strategy.
Shakespeare's play As You Like It is best known for the following quote:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Know Your Role
As Shakespeare notes, we all have different “parts” or roles during the course of our lives, and with each role comes a different type of social need. Think about all of the different types of people in the world and the connections you have with them. Are you a mother, a friend, or an acquaintance? Are you a CEO, a celebrity, or a scientist? The roles you play will not only shape your social interactions, but also determine how to best incorporate social media into your life.
1. Define the roles you wish to play. If you primarily want to use social media as an artist, for example, you'll have a different strategy than someone who wants to use social media as a realtor.
2. Understand your goals. It may be tempting to make this the most important point, but in most cases, your goals will derive from your roles. If you're a mother, your goal may be to maintain closer contact with your children. If you're a celebrity, your goal may be to show the world that you're a caring human being. If you're a realtor, your goal may be to stay in touch with past clients and create new sales leads. Your goals can be general or very specific.
3. Learn about the strengths and weaknesses of each social media platform, especially if you're not familiar with them. Once you do this, you'll gain a better understanding of how to merge your goals with social media tools. Without understanding the purpose, advantages, and disadvantages of each tool, you may waste your time and resources.
For example, imagine that you're going to open a local bookstore that mostly sells used books. However, you want to emphasize that you can also order new books for customers and offer a variety of music and social events. Optimally, you'd like to advertise your bookstore locally and also discuss ideas with other small business owners. What's the best way to meet those goals?
A site like Twitter has the advantage of being time-based. Information spreads quickly and can be used to drive traffic to a small business, informing customers in real time of news and discounts. But Twitter information has the disadvantage of not being very permanent. Due to the constant flux of information, keeping tabs on older information can be difficult. Twitter can be useful for the new bookstore, but it's not a complete solution.
Instead, you may decide to incorporate the real-time nature of Twitter with a blog, posting sales, events and interesting news on Twitter every day while posting videos, photos, and important business information on your blog. In addition, you may join LinkedIn, a social media site for professionals. At LinkedIn, you can connect with other small business owners through the site's many group listings. LinkedIn may not drive more business your way, but it may help you network with like-minded professionals.
4. Link your goals with social media platforms. Perhaps you want to spread word of a new book you're trying to publish. You know that Facebook has global appeal and the ability to make Facebook pages which are useful for fans and businesses. You've done your homework and realize that Facebook pages need to have traffic to gain more fans. By understanding this aspect of Facebook, you can link your goals with the right social media tools. In this case, incorporating a Twitter account may help to drive new people to your Facebook page.
5. Provide regular updates on the social media services you've chosen. You may only update once a week or maybe once a day. Don't let it overwhelm you; but whatever schedule you decide on, be consistent. Set aside a certain time of day or a day each week to post a blog update, send a tweet, or follow a conversation. Find a balance between meeting your goal and keeping it fun.
Here are a few other things to consider when enacting your plan social media plan.
1. Know your intended audience. If you don't engage with a relevant audience, you'll be defeating the purpose of social media. Your audience will be very different depending on the roles you play, the goals you have, and the content you provide.
Rock stars (the role) have fans (the audience) following their every word on Twitter, perhaps leading them to post tour updates (the content), providing a good social image of themselves (the goal). Scientists, however, may have colleagues and advisors with whom they must share research results, expanding universal understanding of a particular topic. In both cases, there is a defined audience.
2. Create interesting content consistent with your goals. Content that diverges from your audience's expectations may cause your audience to dwindle, although it's fine to occasionally include something that doesn't strictly focus on your goal. Consistent and relative content is key.
3. Remember that your content doesn't market itself. If you want a bigger social media footprint, you're going to have to market your content. The amount of effort you put into marketing your content will be determined by your goals.
If you're in a particular industry or profession, consider reading and posting to other people's blogs. Take time to mention someone from your audience or a person that inspires you while writing content for your blog or tweet. Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups relevant to your content. Post videos of your activities on YouTube. Speak at conferences and events or create an organization to spread awareness about the subject of your content. Depending on your goals, many of these suggestions will go a long way towards marketing your content.
4. Respond to and interact with your audience, whether it's over the Internet or in person. While it's great to receive comments on your blog posts or replies to your Twitter messages, it feels just as warm and fuzzy for your followers to receive a response in return. It lets them know that you care, building a greater sense of community.
As you work with social media, don't be discouraged if you don't see immediate results. In this new world of social networking, trial and error is the norm. If one strategy doesn't work, simply try another until you find a strategy that works for you.