NOTE: With the founding of Social Media University, Global (SMUG), this post has been incorporated into the curriculum as Social Media 101. Click the link above to learn more.
The Arthur W. Page Society annual conference this week was certainly eye-opening for me. I wrote here about how much I was anticipating this conference, and if anything it exceeded my expectations.
One thing I said during our panel was that
for communications professionals, being unfamiliar with social media tools borders on malpractice.
Think about it: Technorati tracks about 100 million non-spam blogs, and MySpace has more than 100 million active users. That’s also roughly the number of video streams served by YouTube each day. And Facebook, with 41 million members, has added a million a week, every week this year. This is mainstream activity in our society for ordinary people; we who communicate for a living on behalf of our organizations certainly need to understand the implications of these media. Far from “costing our employers dear” by involvement in Facebook, we actually cost them much more if we don’t know about all of the new means of communicating; not just “getting our message out” but actually engaging in conversations with customers, suppliers and employees.
Please note that you can take every one of these steps without spending a dime and without involving your IT department. Procrastination is your chief enemy. Take one step each day (starting by reading the rest of this post as step 1), and within two weeks you will have a good preliminary familiarity with social media. Then you’ll be able to start thinking creatively about how social media can be used on behalf of your company or clients. And you’ll be aware of how those with agendas contrary to your organization’s may be using social media.
So, with apologies to 12-step programs in which people have banded together to battle addictions, here is my 12-step social media program public relations professionals can join.
- Admit that you have a problem. See above. Unfamiliarity with social media is a serious gap for PR professionals.
- Browse some blogs, both to get a feel for the blog culture and to learn how blogs work. This backgrounder in Wikipedia will be helpful. As for blogs you should explore, any of those listed in my blogroll (at right) are good places to start.
- Check out TheNewPR/Wiki. This is a great resource for white papers, lists of CEO blogs, sample corporate blogging policies, blog directories, business podcast listings, and much more.
- Go watch three “Plain English” videos: RSS in Plain English, Wikis in Plain English and Social Networking in Plain English. These will be among the best few minutes you’ll invest in your social media education.
- Get an RSS reader/aggregator. If you use Safari for Macintosh or Internet Explorer 7 for Windows, you have an RSS reader built into your browser already. Google Reader is a great free online RSS aggregator. If you have a laptop and would like to be able to read your feeds when you’re not connected to the Net (like when you’re on the bus), you might want to get a standalone reader like NetNewswire (Mac) or NewsGator (Windows), or one of the Attensa products (they’re free).
- Subscribe to some blogs. You can subscribe to mine here, or as you are checking out others, look for the RSS or XML links, or for the universal feed logo.
- Get a free Gmail or Yahoo! email account. You’re about to start actively engaging in social media as you follow the next steps in the AAse program, and using a non-work email for blogging and commenting is a good practice.
- Over 90 percent of blog readers are “lurkers” and aren’t contributing to the conversation. That’s fine, but your next step is to comment in some blogs. If you find the information on a blog post helpful, say so in the comments. If you don’t understand something or have questions, ask them in the comments.
- Get a Facebook account and a MySpace profile. I’ve devoted a whole section of this blog to business-related uses for Facebook. I expect I will be writing a bunch more in the future. If you subscribe to my blog by RSS you’ll get these sent directly to your reader automatically. Or if you follow me on Twitter (see below) you’ll get more cryptic alerts. If you friend me, you’ll see some of the Facebook groups I’ve joined, or if you join my Professional Contacts group we can have conversations about social media within Facebook, and I can use that group to send special alerts to you through the Message All Members function. Once you’re in Facebook, spend some time exploring applications. Find high school and college classmates. Upload some photos and videos, and tag yourself and some friends in them. Then watch your News Feed and your mini-feed, and begin to see some of the networking power. I much prefer Facebook over MySpace, but I still need to spend some time with MySpace because so many other people do. It’s too big to ignore. And especially if you work for a company that needs to reach a younger demographic, it’s too big for you to ignore, too. Explore a variety of social networking sites like this so you understand their similarities and differences.
- As Sylvester’s prey would say, “Twy Twitter.” Twitter is a micro-blogging tool that lets you follow the actions of others and lets them follow you. Posts are limited to 140 characters. You can get alerts on your cell phone by text message, through your Twitter home page, or both. And you can send “Tweets” by cell phone, too. Here’s my Twitter account. As I’ve said previously, Twitter could be a great way to activate a crisis communications group.
- Share videos and photos with the broader world. YouTube and Flickr are the market leaders in these areas. In Facebook you can share photos and video with just your friends. YouTube and Flickr make it possible for anyone to access and share these digital resources.
- Get your own blog. WordPress.com is free. So is Blogger. I prefer the former, and use it for this blog. One of the main benefits of WordPress is the Akismet spam protection; I’ve been protected from more than 18,000 spam comments in the last year. You can incorporate your YouTube videos (as well as others you find interesting) in your blog, and likewise can embed photos, like this one of my family at my in-laws’ 50th anniversary:
And in WordPress.com you can make your blog private if you want, and not available for search engines or even visible without your permission. So you can experiment without worrying about other people seeing your blog, if you just want to explore.
But if you follow step 12 and create a public blog you will be doing the social media equivalent of the 12th step of Alcoholics Anonymous:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
I’m not promising spiritual awakening as a result of getting involved in social media, although here’s a blog with spiritual awakening potential. But as you learn about social media and its implications for PR and corporate communications, engagement in the discussion through your blog, or by inviting your co-workers to join social networking sites like Facebook, is a way to”carry this message” about social media to other professional communicators. As the cutesy cliché puts it, this is how you can “pay it forward.”
Members of addiction-fighting 12-step programs find it necessary to meet regularly to support, encourage and challenge each other to stay sober. By following the 12 steps of the AAse Social Media Program for PR Pros you will have this built-in support network for continued learning and growth.
But you may find you need a new kind of 12-step group to help with your Facebook addiction.