So, it's official. I'm moving to Charleston - sometime late August or early September. It all depends on finding renters for my house (anyone know of anyone looking for a place to live?). I'm keeping the same job, but working out of my company's offices in downtown Charleston. The move is strictly personal as you can probably figure out - and while I'm so sad to leave my house, I am thrilled for this new chapter in my life.
So despite all the craziness going on, I knew I needed to get a new post out here on my blog. Especially since I was asked to speak next week at Social Media Club Columbia's next meeting. I'm going to do a presentation on social media policies - why have it, what it looks like, and who should it cover. I'm really excited to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on this topic and lead a discussion with such a diverse group. If you're a follower of my blog, you know how interested (and vocal) I am in this topic.
Mich Sineath, one of the members of the Social Media Club Columbia steering committee, sent me five questions about social media that they ask every speaker. I decided that my answers would be a great way for me to update my blog and get some feedback from my readers.
- How do you define social media?
There's your typical definitions of social media - the by the book definitions. However, to me social media is one giant conversation. Being active in social media is like being in a giant chat room. It's about sharing ideas, collaboration, and building relationships using all types of online media. With social media I've been able to connect with friends from the past, new friends, and network with professionals in my field and industry that I would never have met otherwise.
- Which social media tools or applications do you use, and why these in particular?
I'm pretty bare bones when it comes to social media. I'm familiar with all of the different tools out there, but I keep it pretty simple and stick to a select few. Keeping it simple helps me to really engross myself in the social networks I use. Twitter is probably by far my favorite social media tool - I use it to network and to get feedback on ideas or thoughts. Twitter has gotten me speaking opportunities with different organizations and has allowed me to share my project successes with hundreds of people. It has also allowed me to connect with professionals in the communications and intranet fields across the globe. I also use Facebook for personal use mainly - there are more privacy settings on Facebook, so I use it to interact with my friends. I still have a profile on MySpace and log in maybe once a month just to check it - I can't believe I used to love MySpace more than Facebook. Does anyone still use MySpace? I am on LinkedIn and I keep it up to date as somewhat of an online resume so it's easy for others to get an idea of my background, but I also use it to share ideas and get feedback using the groups from peers in my field or industry. I also maintain a Web site through Blogger, which I mainly use as an outlet for my increasingly random stream of thoughts and I still can't figure out why people read it. And of course I share my photos and videos of my many weekend adventures. My Web site is like my diary - it just doesn't have a lock on it. :)
- With increasingly busy schedules, where do you find time for social media?
I'm a loud and proud Gen-Y'er. I have been engrossed with social media before it was even called social media. I was using Prodigy chat rooms and instant messenger when I was only 10. After school it was normal to come home and do your homework while also chatting with friends on AOL. When MySpace and Facebook emerged, I just evolved my existing habits with AOL to the new tools - and same with Twitter about two years ago.
For me, social media is ingrained in my life. I eat, sleep, breathe it. If I don't have access to the Internet via a computer or mobile phone, I go stir crazy. So, it's not so much about finding time for it - it's just a part of my normal routine - this is how my generation and the generations behind me communicate. I rarely talk on the phone anymore - if you've got something to talk to your friends about, you go on Facebook.
There are so many social media tools available that I could easily get involved in - but it's about finding which tools work for you, which ones easily fit into your schedule.
Where some people struggle with fitting social media into their schedule, I actually have to adjust my habits to make sure social media isn't dominating my schedule. Especially working at a company where there is such a diverse range of generations - sometimes I have to remind myself to pick up the phone from time to time or go have a face to face conversation. It's a habit for me to just use electronic means to communicate - I think my generation struggles with this a lot.
- What advice would you give to local businesses wishing to effectively embrace social media?
I think social media presents a big opportunity for small, local businesses. Your customers are online talking about you - you might as well be a part of the conversation. I also think you can't jump into social media just to do it because it's so trendy. Businesses need to first develop a strategy for using social media - will you just listen? will you engage? when will you engage? how often will you engage? and who is going to manage it? For example, if you set up a Twitter account, but you haven't figured out what to communicate or what customer tweets to respond to, and on top of that you don't have the resources to update periodically - then it will not be successful.
I think it's important for businesses to benchmark what other businesses are doing with social media - what works and what doesn't. Setting up Google alerts and following your company name on Twitter is important too so you can get an idea of what customers are saying about you online. Once you have a plan, then go for it.
I also like the idea of partnerships - seek out bloggers who can blog about your products. Partner with other organizations and groups, like Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau has done, for cross-promotions and contests.
All businesses should be looking at social media or they'll miss the boat or be caught off guard. Hungry Howies in Irmo has got the right idea - they recently sent me this tweet that really sums it up for why small biz should get involved in social media.
- Where do you see the future of social media?
I'm very excited about the future of social media - there are so many paths it could take. I read an article in Fortune about Facebook and what CEO Mark Zukerberg envisions for Facebook's future. His vision is "to turn Facebook into the planet's standardized communication (and marketing) platform, as ubiquitous and intuitive as the telephone but far more interactive, multidimensional - and indispensable. Your Facebook ID quite simply will be your gateway to the digital world". So basically you open up your Internet browser, log on to Facebook, and then everything you do online is through your online identity - so if you purchase from Amazon or browse Wikipedia - you're doing it using your Facebook identity. He also envisions that you will one day be able to go online and look up anyone - anyone in the world - and find their online identity and connect. That idea is both exciting and a little scary to me - but really not that far off base.
My generation and the generations to come expect to be able to connect with companies we do business with. I think we were raised to maintain such busy schedules that the last thing we want to do is go somewhere and wait in line or sit on hold with customer service on a phone call. It's all about instant connections and instant information. I don't think social media is a fad by any means - I think it will only become even more ingrained in our lives - creating more transparency around communication and creating more focus on the collective voice.
After all, the recent stats on Facebook shows that the largest growth in users is with people 55 and older (513.7% growth!) - so it can't be purely generational. You know social media isn't just a fad when your own parents are getting in on the conversation too.