I had planned to do some posts around what social media means to me and how I use it from a fairly "newbie" point of view (I'm not a big internet marketer, hub for conversation or anything) but recent events have shown just how difficult it can be to follow through on things even with the best of intentions. To see what I'm talking about let's put this in a bit of context.
The internet and how we use it is changing and has been doing so for some time. The pace of that change is increasing exponentially and - as I have mentioned before - I feel we (or I) have to keep up with that change or get left behind. The reason for these changes is "Social Media". How these changes affect us and our dealings or behaviour is key but to understand this we first have to ask:
What is Social Media?
We hear the terms "New media" and "Social Media" bandied about so frequently now but do we really understand what they mean? Why should media be New? Well, what is old media? Old media is all the traditional forms that we have had over the years: books, newspapers, TV, Radio; it is placed in front of us and once we have consumed it that's the end - there is nothing more we can do. Old media is static.
New media, on the other hand, goes beyond these traditional forms and is mutable, it can change according to demands and circumstances; we can interact with it and add our own information such as comments on a blog. Whereas an "old media" newspaper is printed and cannot reflect story updates a "new media" website for that same newspaper can be constantly change as news breaks and storied unfold. Readers can supply there own input with witness stories or photos and video from mobile phones. This supply of information by the end user is "User Generated Content" and is becoming the staple of many a site on the web. It also forms the basis for the next level of media called "Social Media".
Social Media goes beyond new media by allowing users to interact with each other rather than just the site, in fact it relies on these interactions between people (hence the name social). Users create links with others and establish "relationships" and their own "networks" - like a circle of friends - but these networks are not exclusive. The beauty of social media is that anyone can interact with anyone else and make new "friends".
The term friends have cause a lot of discussion of itself. Unlike the traditional meaning of the word, an online friend is simply anyone that you have created a connection with by linking to them, subscribing to their updates etc. This friend can be a "real life" friend but it can just as easily be someone you have never met on the other side of the world.
Are you social?
Armed with an understanding of what social media is how can we get social? Simple, pick a service - usually one that some of your contacts are already using - and join. The type of site will be determined by your requirements. Are you looking to catch up with old friends? Try Facebook. Want to share photos with others? How about Flickr. Chatting and status updates? Twitter, Jaiku or Pownce. Want to upload videos? How about You Tube, Blip.tv or try to grab yourself an invite to Seesmic.
As with any undertaking, social media needs a significant level of commitment if you are going to utilise it effectively - this is perhaps not always realised when first starting out with such services. If all you want to do is set up a profile, contact a few friends and make it so that others can find you then there is little work to be done but establishing connections, participating in meaningful conversations or even using social media as a marketing tool (either for yourself or for business) takes a lot of effort which in itself can have numerous barriers. In my own experience the best of intentions are derailed by a seeming conspiracy of circumstance which makes frequent and effective use of social media difficult.
So, what are these barriers? The main problems using social media as I see them are:
If you are going to use social media tools effectively then you will find yourself in front of your PC for long periods whether it's consuming other peoples information or publishing your own updates. Work and family life must obviously take priority which, these days, then leaves little time to implement a social media strategy. If time is limited you must discipline yourself as to which tools you will use and not try to be everything to everyone.
I have accounts littered across numerous services but vary rarely even log in to most of them. I haven't yet gotten round to uploading a single video to Seesmic or had time to cast more than just a cursory glance over fav.or.it despite hassling for an invite. Recently, even the simplest of tools has been neglected - I'm talking about Twitter. Having had both of our kids in hospital (and, in Amy's case, on more than one occasion) over the past 10 days or so has meant that the pressures of life get in the way of just about everything.
You must, therefore, come up with your own method of balancing the different elements of your life in order to free up enough time to devote to your social media strategy.
"A man can't see, he can't fight" (Karate Kid Part III) well, more like "a man can't connect, he can't update". With mobile devices we are almost always connected but just because we can get online it doesn't mean that we will be able to utilise our tools of choice. Browsers on mobile phones may not be able to render specific web sites correctly preventing use from doing what we need to.
Even when we are on a normal PC we may still not be able to achieve out goals. I see social media as being best used by those with more time available away from other responsibilities (such as students with minimal other responsibilities) or those who work from home - normally in web based roles.
While there is a current focus on getting business using social media to increase communication and, consequently, productivity this focus is on utilising internal tools and access is frequently blocked to external tools as they serve as a distraction from your normal working day. Twitter is classified as "Instant Messaging" by many corporate internet usage policies and the use of social networking sites is generally a big no-no so the inability to use the tools (even during our lunch breaks) sends us right back to managing the first barrier: time.
I cannot offer any answers as everyone's circumstances will differ, as will what they want to achieve from social media. The best advice, however, is to be honest with yourself about your goals and how realistic they are bearing in mind the time and resources you have available.