Thursday, May 31, 2012

Taming technology and launching into social media

Whether wrestling with a cantankerous laptop, grappling with an updated software package, or tackling the latest online tool, technology can be simultaneously frightening, overwhelming, amazing, and stunningly cool.

It all kind of depends on your frame of reference when dealing with it.

As with anything new, there’s always the initial, “Ooo..this looks scary!” factor. But first-fright can be overcome with awareness, education, and experience.

Breaking open the Pandora-less box

As a technical sales proposal writer/editor at AT&T in the 80s, we did everything on UNIX® terminals using DOS-like programs called VI and ED. There was nothing WYSIWYG about them. Learning UNIX was both intimidating and fascinating. Using it was a pain.

Those of us creating documents hated UNIX and begged for something more user-friendly. I was the loudest change advocate.

One day, a new PC, still in the box, was delivered to my cubicle. A few minutes later, my manager stopped by and said, “Have fun!” Learning how to use this beast was left up to me!

I assembled it, read the instructions, turned it on, and began playing around in the Windows 3.1 environment. I was in love!

Within a few months I’d mastered some essential tools, including DOS, and could fearlessly troubleshoot problems, including opening the PC up to add memory and other hardware. Within a year, our whole division moved from UNIX terminals to PCs and never looked back..

Putting down the toys and picking up the tools

Today, with some trepidation, I can edit the Windows registry, as well as open up my laptop to clean spilled wine from the keyboard or replace a dying WiFi card. The point is, once I gained some awareness, education, and experience, all technology became less scary.

Online, it’s a whole new vista of opportunities, from social media to productivity tools to fun stuff.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Evernote, Spotify – a host of tools and toys beckon us to come play and putter.

When it comes to social media, a communicators’ challenge with these is twofold:
  1. First, sorting through them to select the tools that will best serve our needs.
  2. Second, learning how to use and manage them effectively without being overwhelmed.
Oh, and I guess there is a third challenge: Developing the discipline to put down the toys when there’s work to be done! Curse you, Angry Birds!

I promise, it’s going to be fun, even without Angry Birds!

Don’t jump into any social media channel because there’s a sudden surge of hoopla; wait and let things sort out a bit. Then, go through the steps above. Just because something gets touted in the moment as the next big thing, doesn’t mean (a) that it really is and (b) that you need to be a part of it.

So how do you go about selecting the right tools from the seemingly endless supply of “essential” channels? Here are a few tips:

  1. Look around. What are your competitors or organizations similar to yours using? Often the right thing to do is what no one else is so you can stand apart. But this is probably not a good idea with social media tools and channels. Being different in this area could equate to being unseen. You want to be where people will show up.
  2. Look around some more. On what social media sites are you customers or your constituency spending their time? Odds are they’ll at least be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, or Pinterest. You want to be where they are.
  3. Look wider. Where are larger companies and organizations who aren’t like you engaging customers and constituencies? Are there channel choices matching up with what you’ve learned from looking at your colleagues and clients? You may want to be where the big dogs play.
  4. Look more narrowly. Check out the smaller companies and organizations that are being successful in their niches. Here you’ll often discover the premonitions of new trends. You may want to dabble where things are trending.
  5. Evaluate within your context. Finally, take all you’ve learned from steps 1 through 4 and assess the various tools and channels within the context of your organization. Consider the money, time, people, and other resources that will be required to be successful with social media. If you can’t support long-term involvement, don’t go there. It’s better to be successful on one social media platform than to fail across several. If all you can manage is Facebook, start there and leave the others alone.
Once you choose a social media platform to launch into, take your time. Observe what others are doing and posting. Check out comments. Read help pages. Get to know the technical aspects of the tool. You should be able to find a ton of good information online for most questions you may have. For special insight, simply ask others who have been in the channel for awhile.

And if there are moments you get frustrated, step away from the social media and play some Angry Birds for awhile. It’ll help you keep a healthy perspective on things.

To help you get started, here are a few links to some great resources:

How are you using social media? What are pitfalls you’ve encountered? Any special tips or tricks? Are your social media efforts paying off or just costing you? Please comment below!

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