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In an ongoing effort to provide content about real experience with social media, today we‘ve got a guest post by Joe Brown. Joe is the Principal and Founder of Slope Resources, LLC, which provides a range of human resources and organization management consulting services to nonprofit organizations of all types and sizes. Joe is also the author of the blog Done by People, which focuses on human resources and organization management in the third sector.


Social? Me?

I just wanted to play Scrabulous.

A March 2008 New York Times article discussed the online knockoff of Scrabble, which had long been my favorite board game.  So I joined Facebook and started to play.  I was soon drawn in to Facebook’s many other facets, and by the time legal pressure forced the shutdown of Scrabulous a few months later, I was hooked.  In July of that year, I posted the following note to my Facebook profile:

“I’ve thought ever since I started using Facebook that it has the potential to be the killer app of the internet, the Lotus 1-2-3 for this generation (I used it, I abused it, I loved it desperately, I still have versions and macros hanging around, but that’s not the point). Yesterday it occurred to me why: Facebook offers time-shifting for relationships. TiVo for friends and family.”

I may not have been too far off, given Facebook’s continued growth.  And the platform has continued to be an important tool for me in maintaining and growing the many relationships in my life.  Among my Facebook connections I count family, friends I’ve made in each and every decade of my life, old classmates, former coworkers, and those who I’ve met while pursuing my passion as a scuba diver and instructor.  But I must admit that I’ve become pretty selective in my Facebook use.  I make a point of eliminating all mention of social games, “quizzes”, and other things which I deem silly from my Facebook stream through liberal use of the “hide” button (although at times it feels like a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole, given how quickly such things proliferate).

Along Came Twitter

When I first heard about Twitter, I had a hard time understanding how 140 character updates were any different from Facebook’s status updates.  After a few months of nobody being able to tell me, I decided I’d have to try it myself.  And what I found was that for something so seemingly simple, Twitter has a deceptively steep learning curve.  So steep that for me, first time out, it just didn’t stick.

I joined Twitter knowing that I wanted to use it primarily for business purposes, not to broadcast what I ate for breakfast or what cute things my pets had done.  But my first tweets were about what I was doing during my workdays, and I soon found that, well, nobody really cared.  I was missing any sense of engagement, so after a few months, I stopped using it.

About six months ago, it was time to try again.  For context, I should tell you a little bit about my business.  Since 1998, I have been an independent consultant, working with nonprofit organizations on various human resources and management issues.  For over ten years, virtually all of my work came from repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals from a relatively small, mostly local network.  Then came 2009 and the financial impact of the recession on nonprofits and subsequently my business.  I found myself needing to expand my network.  So back to Twitter I went.  And this time, Twitter delivered.  And how!

As I’ve explained to many of my friends and colleagues, I have been astounded by the power of Twitter.  My network, my connectedness to the nonprofit and human resources management communities, my access to relevant and interesting information, others’ awareness of my work, and name recognition — these have all grown exponentially during the time that I’ve been back on Twitter.  I am connected to more people, more information, more conversations than I ever imagined possible.  I feel professionally reinvigorated and my business has begun to reshape itself.  Several of my Twitter relationships have grown beyond 140 characters into telephone calls and face-to-face meetings, and my calendar contains out-of-town speaking opportunities as a direct result of Twitter interactions.

Yeah, But Can You Fax?

I’ve definitely formed an opinion or two on social media and social networking as I’ve become more involved in it.  One of those opinions is a distaste for anyone who describes themselves as a social media or social networking “guru”, “rockstar”, or even “expert”.  First, it’s just kind of arrogant.  Second, I don’t believe there are any experts in the game, because social media and social networking are growing and changing so rapidly, and because these are merely tools — means — not ends unto itself.  For me the signature quotation about this came in the form of a tweet I saw a few months ago:

“Calling yourself a social media expert is like saying you’re expert at faxing.”

Twitter Tools and How I Use Them

My primary Twitter tool, the one that is always open on my desktop, is TweetDeck.  I use the tool’s columns to monitor direct messages to me as well as mentions of my user name (joe_brown).  Since I follow over 1,600 people, the column containing my main Twitter stream has pretty heavy volume, and it is impossible for me to read every tweet every day.  Instead, I periodically “scoop” from that river, to use a metaphor I’ve adopted from one of my Twitter friends.  But I have another column which contains tweets from a private Twitter list I set up called “everyday”.  As the name implies, this contains a stream of tweets from people and organizations of particular interest to me, and I eventually do read every tweet in it.  I pay similar attention to a column that shows every tweet containing the hashtag “#nonprofit”, and find it to be a tremendous way to stay in touch with what’s going on in that sector.  I use a bunch of other columns to monitor a few other hashtags, ongoing Twitter “chats”, and tweets from clients and prospects.

Another Twitter tool that I find very useful is the very simple and relatively obscure Follower Check.  Its sole function is to allow you to enter two Twitter user names and find out whether they are following one another.  I occasionally use this to see if a specific person is following me, but much more often to check on whether two people in my stream who I think should be following each other are.  If I find they are not, I may send a tweet to introduce them, which I have found is generally appreciated.  This practice is actually very consistent with a saying that I picked up somewhere along the way and that I find to be very true:

“Facebook is people you know.  Twitter is people you should know.”

Two other tools I occasionally use are The Twit Cleaner and Your Twitter Karma, both of which are helpful in reviewing and cleaning up the list of people and organizations I follow.

But the most useful Twitter tool of all to me is also the simplest.  It consists of a plain text file that I keep open all of the time.  I call it my “Tweetpad”.  I use it to store:

  • Tweets or retweets that I intend to send at a later time (because sometimes, I’ve discovered, timing matters)
  • Tweets that I find especially interesting and want to refer to later
  • Potential blog post ideas
  • User names of folks who I want to remember to include in weekly #FollowFriday tweets
  • Copies of comments that I make on other people’s blogs (because I sometimes find myself wanting to reuse parts of them, or turn them into posts in their own right)
  • “To do” items for my own blog
  • The occasional random thought.

I could use a more structured tool such as Evernote for these purposes, but I’ve found the freeform approach of a simple text file works well for me.

A Belated Blogger

I was a bit late to the blogging game, having just started my blog, Done by People, in mid-March.  I won’t retell the whole story (although, if you’re interested in it, you can read my initial post, “Getting Off the Schneid“), but I will say that I have found blogging to be a very useful addition to my social media and social networking presence — as well as a lot of fun — and I sometimes kick myself that I didn’t start earlier.

In addition to my own blog, I am also a weekly contributor on the Mission Connected blog — a gig, by the way, that came about through a referral made by a Twitter contact.

As far as blogging tools, I can answer that in a word: WordPress.  This platform allows someone with even the slightest bit of technical ability to get a blog up and running in almost no time, and allows those who are more technically savvy — or who are willing to learn — virtually limitless possibilities in the design, content, and functionality of their blog.

So How Am I Doing?

I’ll be honest and admit that there is something very satisfying about creating a new Facebook connection or gaining a new Twitter follower.  But for me, growing these numbers is not a primary focus.  I am much more interested in the quality of the connections.  Nonetheless, there are some metrics that I keep track of, and tools I use to do so.

For Twitter, some of the analytic tools I use are Twitter Grader, Klout, and TweetStats.  I take a look at each of these once or twice a month, and record certain statistics in a simple Excel spreadsheet.

For my blog and company web site, the WordPress platform provides ready access to site statistics that I keep a pretty close eye on.  It provides good perspective on how folks receive the content that I post.  I also occasionally look at Google Analytics for my blog and site.

Lessons Learned and To Be Learned

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” — Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Since my journey into social media and social networking began, I have been amazed and inspired by the sense of community and generosity that prevails.  So my most important piece of advice to others would be to bring an open and sharing attitude.  Others have been very generous with me, and I try to be so with others.  Answer questions.  Retweet interesting content, directing it to another’s attention if you think it might be useful.  Offer help.  I’ve even done occasional “volunteer” work for folks looking for assistance, where a little bit of my time might make a big difference to someone else.

As I said earlier, the social media and social networking sphere is growing and changing so rapidly that none of us are experts, so another piece of advice would be to keep learning.  My own list of things to learn includes:

  • Making better use of LinkedIn.  I’ve been on that platform for quite a while, but mostly out of a sense that I “just should” be there.  I’m just beginning to really explore and utilize its capabilities.
  • Video blogging.  I just recently produced and posted my first video blog post, and realize there is much more for me to learn and master to use video as another vehicle for exchanging information.
  • Becoming a more sophisticated user of analytics and SEO for my blog and company web site.
  • More fully utilizing my company’s Facebook page.
  • Exploring other social media and social networking tools, including some I’ve joined but not explored, some I’ve only heard of, others that I’ve yet to discover, and those which are yet to be created.  There are only so many hours in the day, so I do what I can when I can, and follow the advice that it’s better to build a sound presence on a few platforms rather than spreading yourself too thin.

So that’s my story.  I’m glad to answer any questions about my social media and social networking experiences and practices, and even more glad to hear about yours, as well as any advice you might care to offer.

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