Fri, November 10 2006
Filed under: Social Media •
I’ve lived in several foreign countries, and each time the first weeks were an unnervingly rush of the unfamiliar. The parade of shuffling, singing men and women celebrating a newly circumcised boy in Madagascar or the electric shades of hair sported by pointy-booted Ukrainian beauties or the geckos swarming on my office walls in Cambodia were thoroughly strange, and they made me feel thoroughly a stranger. With each country, I worked harder and faster to become less of an outsider, to understand, and to fit in. I was weary of children, men, and old women pointing—endlessly pointing—and shrieking, “foreigner!” in their language. Wherever I was, it was inevitably the second word I learned, soon after “hello.”
One minute into my five-minute guide, I’d better make my point: to most of us (including me), social networking—using the web’s latest and greatest ways of connecting to people—feels akin to being a stranger in a strange land. People have their own customs online, they act differently, and it can be hard to find your way around. It seems so foreign and intimidating. At least it did to me, until I figured out I should simply apply the same skills of assimilation I’d apply anywhere else outside my experience.
So here is my survival guide to social networking, for those of us who feel out of place in this new world. All of these points lead to one conclusion, by the way: you will succeed if you seek to be a part of the culture. It’s less about the tools and more about how you use them to make strong connections with the people out there.
1.) Pack light
Don’t load yourself up with everything you own—ie, your mission statement, PSAs, brochures, etc. and think they’re going to travel well. Social networking is about reaching out to people on their terms, not “re-purposing” your marketing materials. That means unless your material for other outlets is really cool and loaded with celebs, it’s not going to look good on a place like YouTube. You have to think about audience and culture before you pack your bag.
2.) Observe before you act
Before my first day of work at Network for Good, my older daughter, who’s been to five schools in seven years, said, “Mom, don’t be nervous. Just watch what everyone else does and act like they do! You won’t be nervous anymore!” Exactly. Go spend a lot of time watching. It’s easy - watch YouTube. Read MySpace. It’s about the audience, not us, and it’s not the channel that matters so much as who is on it. Focus on the people, and where you feel a fit.
3.) Find the local hang-outs
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: go to where people predisposed to be your friends hang out. Get out of the house and hotel room! This blog is full of tips like going to Technorati to search which of the 57 million bloggers are talking about your issue. Find the Meetup groups talking about your issue. Don’t build a blog, create yet ANOTHER “MySpace for (fill in the blank with your issue),” or do anything until you’ve gone out and met the people already doing that. Why create something when you could co-opt someone who already has a constituency online? Get out there and befriend these folks, because…
4.) Don’t sit back and wait for visitors
...they aren’t going to come to your site like the welcome wagon. You have to help them find you. And you have to let them help you where they are, on their blog or wherever they live online.
5.) Don’t pick only one friend
I had a rule in foreign countries - for the first three months, I didn’t turn down any invitations, ever, even from people I wasn’t sure I liked. I met a surprising range a friends by being open-minded and not relying on one person to be my best buddy. The online corollary is that you SHOULD NOT rely on one “thing” to be the gateway to your social networking. Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket. Who knows what will be hot in six months? No one! That’s why it’s so key to focus on people who care about your issue and follow them online, rather than worrying about the merits of the site they happen to be on today. Hedge your bets. Why not give people ways to support you on ANY blog or social networking site with a badge like you can get via Word of Blog? Or the incredibly compelling build-it-yourself badge Network for Good is launching at the end of this month? (Stay tuned!)