The “why” of Social Media

19th C. American Community
19th C. American Community

A few years ago the name ‘social media’ was attached to things humans have been doing since living in caves: creating allegiances, or communities of similarity. Motivations for them were defense (picture “forts”), proximity (often called neighborhoods), convenience (babysitting cooperatives, carpools, time shares, etc.), or like interests (wine tasting and book clubs, sports teams, alumni organizations, and so many more). Communication within these communities adapted with the times. Grunts evolved to language, mud on cave walls became chisels on stone, ink on paper went to print, then going electronic with bulletin boards on dial-up services in the late 1980’s and much of the 90’s. The first inkling of what was to come was the launch of Web in the late 90’s. For nearly ten years electronic communication was constrained to relationships known through limited “word of mouth” capabilities. Awareness and growth of “online communities” was dependent on (offline) user group meetings or the chance mention in the only electronic conversation media available—email—limited then because we could count on two hands the number of people we knew with email addresses.

The Need For Networks

But that was then and this is a vastly different today. With the advent of online tools to capture profile information less than 10 years ago, then more tools to analyze that profile data to find the connections between people, a whole new path opened up for mankind. Just in time. As we are just now beginning to realize, subtle but dramatic changes in those same years were bringing the world toward a global economy unlike any we have seen in our limited lifetimes. And with the dawning irrelevance of familiar financial and economic models we are seeing more than ever the nation of free agents that Daniel Pink predicted, for large corporations cannot survive keeping a full complement of staff on salary to react any and all contingencies. Frameworks will remain—sales, marketing, infrastructure, and a relatively small senior management—but staff composition will fluctuate with the demand generated by that framework.

Your First Networking Tools

Enter social media. As with any other product, sales are directly affected by exposure to those who need the product. You are a product; we all are products. And there is competition in the marketplace that buys products like you. In order to be ‘purchased’ we must know who our audiences are, what they need, and then we must get good at making the buyers in those audiences aware that you are the answer to one or more of their needs. If someone was looking for what you do, what keywords would they use to find you in Google? Would you be there? How many ways could they find out what you do and whether or not you can help them? If you are feeling overwhelmed just trying to understand those questions, stop! This is where social media is your best friend. Two tools you need to learn about and utilize are LinkedIn and Facebook. I know these names are not new to you, but I am willing to bet you have strong feelings about one or both of them and they are less than positive for at least one. I recommend you get over it soon.

Overcoming Objections

Those preconceived notions may be holding you back from some of the most exciting opportunities you could ever imagine. I hear your objections already:

  • I don’t have time
  • That’s for kids
  • I’m retired, why should I do that?
  • This is not going to help me pay the bills
  • I will, but it’s not a priority

Time I hear these every day, often from people who should not be saying them – because they are in the marketing business! I addressed the time issue in a recent seminar called Social Media Jungle: Boston and others have told me that helped them realize the value of investing some of the same 24-hour day we all have to get some points of presence on the Web pointing toward them (instead of some other ‘product’ who does what they do). So take 15 minutes to watch that.

Youth Nothing about LinkedIn or Facebook is age restrictive any more. When companies of all sizes are advertising products attractive to all ages on a platform such as Facebook, that should tell you this is not just for younger generations. When the President of the United States is being petitioned on Facebook because he has made it known that he and his staff are listening to what Americans have to say on Facebook and LinkedIn, that should indicate a degree of value that transcends knowing what your college roommate from 20 years ago looks like now, much less when they are going on vacation.

Retired As I wrote to a cousin of mine who asked why he should be on LinkedIn if he has been retired for a few years, “Two good reasons to be on LinkedIn as a retiree: 1) People | For the introductions you could facilitate with the people who you know, and 2) History | For the help you might be able to offer others, sharing your perspective and experience.”

Return Remember, the best product out there will be broke if no one knows they exist. And if you hear, “but I have a good job,” coming out of someone’s lips—or even worse, your lips—then do it for the chance that you may need it in the future (and the odds are getting better every day you will need it). Setting up profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook and then building networks (‘connections’ and ‘friends,’ respectively) is just smart product management. Even if you are totally happy where you are and doing what you do, it makes sense to establish a record for those mysterious “spiders” that search engines use to catalog all that is on the Web. Who knows, maybe you just haven’t thought of something better and someone else has who would enjoy sharing the benefits of that idea with you! My suggestion is to read any of the many postings on how to put LinkedIn to good use and get your nets in the water. You can always say, “No, but thanks.”

Priority Life is all about priorities. It’s how we manage our time, constantly evaluating “what’s important now?” consciously or unconsciously throughout each day. Knowing that few of us are walking around with little or nothing to do, it is understandable that devoting time to something new with little apparent benefit would be forever relegated to the bottom of the “To Do” list. Some of you have started a Facebook profile because one too many friends mentioned that they had set one up. Maybe some of you started a LinkedIn profile with 2 connections years ago because you read about it somewhere and the intrigue was enough to create the page, but never enough since to maintain it. Consider this. Can you imagine it important enough momentarily to make it a NOW priority to get a profile started on each? And then can you devote a set period each week or a set amount of time every other day to maintain it? Even if only to peruse other people’s profiles to see what they are doing? You never know, you might find you like growing your networks, helping other people, asking for help and getting it – or any of the other benefits of communication in the age we live in.

In Closing

My wish for you is that these thoughts have provided an on-ramp to social media for you. LinkedIn and Facebook are the most mainstream of the SM tools – there are many more. But they are powerful! Do not sell them short for their ability to help you build large and responsive communities. Even if you never ventured further, you will find a search for your name coming up in the first page of Google results almost immediately, that’s how influential these two tools are. If being found for what you do rather than who you are is crucial to your lifestyle and paying the bills for that lifestyle, then you will have to do more. For that, there is Mashable and hundreds of bloggers willing to help you build communities to accomplish what you want to do. Most of these resources far surpass my skills, but I am here for you as well. Please keep me posted on your progress.

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Reminders of why I live where I do, still.

Went to the polls this morning to vote on local roles to be filled (selectman, planning board, etc.) and to approve a charter commission and the first 9 commissioners. One stretch of sidewalk outside the high school, at the edge of the legal standoff from the doors to the gym where the polling takes place, is lined with the candidates and their supporters holding signs, shaking hands and handing out leaflets.

For some a gauntlet they dread enough to not vote at all, for my wife and I it is a welcome reminder of the fabric we have created here in Sharon, MA. We stop at almost every sign, suporter and candidate, to hug, catch up on life, share stories, reconnect and generally bask in the glow of active community building. It’s such a unique and satisfying experience, I almost wish there were more elections per year for such interaction. And we will be back tonight just before the polls close to hear the Town Clerk read the results, celebrate the victories, and console and encourage those less successful.

Amazing to me how many live in this town, and thousands like it across America, who have never experienced such community, much less understood or appreciated its value. They pay for it in so many ways. And don’t get me started on why small Italian hill towns are more stable and healthy than many  American towns because they come together in the square routinely to keep in touch.