Video from a recent Twitter Meetup in Wilmington [link]
Over the last several months I have seen an increasing number of people being interested in social media. I've had a lot of people I know sign up for Twitter, follow me, and then post something about how "I don't get this Twitter thing. Looks pointless." When I see those types of responses to social media, which I know people have had in the past and continue having to more accessible services like Facebook, I try to send them a little information that might clear up some of the confusion. With an increase in these types of inquiries, I decided to post this information here and make it more widely available.
I think we have all been there. And by we I mean, those of us who are regular users of some or all of these online tools today. I think everyone has had that initial reaction of "what do I do with this." I certainly did, but I ended up doing a little digging to find out how I can use these tools to further my interests. Over the last three years I have spent a lot of time trying to establish myself as an artist. Actually, I've been trying to do that for much longer than that, but it's been in the last three years that I have taken more serious steps in that direction.
As an artist, I am essentially an independent business, and an entrepreneur. I have to look at the business side of things, that's just the nature of art today. So I also have to market myself. Since much of what I do is on a shoe-string budget, advertising is not something I can just throw money into. That's why internet tools are a boon. For anyone trying to market themselves, these are tools that are certainly viable not only for social networking, but also marketing. As such, the first step is to change our thinking of these services from being time-wasters, to being marketing tools that offer a free way to advertise ourselves.
While I am not going to get into the specifics of what you should be doing with Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, I am going to list some of the information I have found useful in understanding how to market via those tools. The next thing to become more familiar with, is that each one of these services is suitable in particular for different uses. Ari Herzog has written a good article explaining how these services are different, and what they are better suited for in terms of marketing in Your Status Updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. As you might suspect, it focuses on using the status update feature of these services as the focus of communication, and getting familiar with using status updates is key for any of them (but especially Twitter).
Another great article I found on Mashable goes into some detail about how artists can use Twitter in particular as a way to further promote their work. These are great tips, and are also applicable to many other situations aside from artistic professions. In Tweetable Art: 10 Twitter Tips for Artists, Natasha Wescoat lines up a few suggestions ranging from posting work-in-progress shots to offering specific discounts and perks for your followers on Twitter. Again this would be applicable to just about anyone, so don't let the artistic focus of the article deter you.
Along similar lines, Henry Hutton has published an article which focuses on how authors can use social media tools as an advantage. Authors and the Social Networking Advantage presents information on how these marketing tools can increase an authors readership and book sales. As suggested by the video above, generating revenue from using these internet tools is still at the forefront of some business peoples' concerns. This article shows us that there is certainly some possibilities of that happening.
Ultimately, networking via the internet is just as much about simply connecting and communicating with people as traditional person to person networking. The difference is that we can connect and communicate with more people in more diverse and distant locations, and at faster speeds, than before. And that in turn presents additional challenges of keeping up with the waves of individuals already doing it. It may seem that perhaps it's harder now to get in touch, what with everyone else vying for each other's attentions, but I haven't necessarily found that to be the case. In my experience, communication has become easier because certain individuals will gravitate towards a specific kind of communication method. That just means we have more options to connect. Some people, for example, are terrible at answering emails but I can often get in touch with them on Facebook.
Which brings us to the actual act of updating. It is certainly daunting to think about having multiple accounts on all these services and having to keep up with them all. That's a problem, and one that has quickly been addressed. We now have multiple tools available that facilitate interaction with multiple social networks, simultaneously. For a list of popular Twitter clients, you can check Mashable's Most Popular Twitter Clients Revealed, or 20+ Great Twitter Tools for Firefox. Those are great, if you're primarily Twittering. As for the other social networks, there are a few additional options.
First of all, you might already be seeing that Firefox is generally the browser of choice these days. This is especially true when dealing with social networking on account of Firefox's customization features. It allows one to add additional plugins that work seamlessly and efficiently with the browser. I personally use the Firefox plugin FireStatus. It disseminates my status updates to Facebook and Twitter simultaneously, and also has the option to send those updates to FriendFeed and Del.icio.us for anyone using those services as well. Unfortunately it still lacks MySpace and LinkedIn compatibility.
Alternatively, for power-users across all social networks we have HelloTXT. It allows the sending of your status updates to virtually every imaginable social network across the globe. The current downside for me, is that it's a website and requires navigating away from what you are currently doing or wanting to share. So for its powerful features there is some compromise in efficiency. Fortunately, they are working on a HelloTXT plugin for Firefox as well (currently in the experimental stage).
Finally, there are also multiple ways to interact with your social networks using mobile devices. Blackberries and iPhones have specific applications designed for that purpose, allowing access to your networks on the go. While I personally prefer to leave the internet at home, or at least in a few other select locations, many may find it necessary to stay connected continuously.
The bottom line for me, as to whether any of this is worth doing, lies with a person's specific need and wants. For those of us who work independently in some capacity, marketing our goods and services is a must. Nobody else is going to sell us, so this is the most effective way to make that happen. On the other hand, if you are a person who already has a satisfying career, and don't require the ability to self-promote, social networks may be unnecessary. But even then, sometimes it's just fun to connect with people.