I was going to write a rant about my recent less-than-optimal experience with Apple support while trying to get some help for my poor 7 month old engagement video ipod. Battery is pooched after 7 months (free repair shipping expired after 6 months - coincidence?!). Apple support - jerky. Am very cranky.
BUT .. I'm not going to write about that :) I'm here with a positive message and some easy action steps.
Raise your hand if you've thought recently: "Shit, I have this paper towel/chewing gum/automotive/assault rifle/ostrich farmer client who wants to use social media and I have no CLUE where to start! I'm not sure what to do (fear) and it will probably be really hard (laziness)." Good news - this post is for you.
See, social media is about passion. Ted Rheingold, CEO of Dogster, uses the phrase "passion-centric communities". I love this! To be a better marketer, for your client or for your organization, you need to get in touch with your passion.
That's right .. I know you have a passion. Just because you're a marketer, doesn't mean you're a soul-less, evil, shell of a person. I KNOW you have one. What is it? Model trains? Vintage license plates? Yoga? Your kids? Cooking? Volunteering at the Humane Society? C'mon. Think. What is it?
OK, now that you've chosen your passion, I want you to engage with it and your passion-centric community using social media.
It's not as hard as you think it is. Here are 8 easy steps you can take to engage with your passion AND learn about social media tools. I've put these in increasing order of difficulty:
1. Comment on a blog or a podcast. But NOT a marketing one! This isn't about showing how smart you are to your peers. This is about finding something you care about and contributing to the community that has formed around that passion. How do you find your community? Easy, try Technorati (or the Podcast.net Directory for podcasts). You can do a search there and find blogs on your topic ranked by authority. I searched on gardening and came up with some great blogs. The second and fourth ones looks really promising.
2. Participate in a Folksonomy. Aka "tag something". OK, don't panic. All I want you to do is find an article or a news item or a cool site that has to do with your passion. Then tag it in a social bookmarking tool like del.icio.us or ma.gnolia. By adding your perspective (via your tags) to that article, the community benefits. You have helped your passion-centric community build out their folksonomy or shared vocabulary. Beth Kanter has created an exceptional tutorial (pdf) on creating and using a del.icio.us account. So, say you wanted to bookmark this CBC article on Herbie Hancock. Once you've got your delicious account all set up, you could bookmark it and use the tags "jazz, herbie+hancock, toronto+jazz+festival, cbc". The beauty of tagging is that you no longer have to use just one identifier to demarcate something. A long way from the Dewey Decimal system I grew up with.
3. Upload a photo to a group on Flickr (and use your new mad tagging skillz). And don't just upload to your account - you need to get involved. Add your picture to a group. And there are many many many interesting groups on Flickr - something for everyone. Visit the Groups page. You'll find some recent and noteworthy groups highlighted there as well as a search box. An easy one to get started with: "What's in Your Bag". The librarians at the Nebraska Library Commission have pulled together some excellent tutorials and links on using Flickr; obviously, there is a focus on libraries, but the detailed "Getting Started" powerpoint and the "Customize your Account" pdf are general enough for anyone.
4. Write a review. You read books, you watch movies, you listen to music, you have customer service experiences. Share your thoughts. Be part of the collective consciousness. Rate and write a book review for Amazon. Rate a movie on zip.ca. Post a product review on the Product Wiki. Give feedback on a company on Sutori. Get engaged with the community and share your perspective.
5. Upload a video to YouTube. Sure, you're not Sophia Coppola, but that doesn't mean you can't take a video and share it with your community. Say you're part of a shopping community - what about a video product review of your favourite laptop bag? Or a video book review for your book club! Pretty much every digital camera or mobile phone has video capabilities these days. AnswerBag has a video tutorial on how to upload your video (whoa ... *meta*!) Lifehacker even has a post on how to upload direct from your mobile.
6. Find your tribe - join and participate in a social network. Sure, there's Facebook, but I'm thinking something a little more niche, a little more targeted. There are social networks out there for everyone and everything! Broad-focus networks like Maya's Mom to narrow-focus networks like SneakerPlay. Regional networks like ChangeEverything. And if you're not sure how to find your network, start by visiting Mashable.com. Mashable is one of the best (if not THE best) blogs that keep track of all the crazy developments in the Web 2.0 and social networking world. And hey, if you're still at a loss and think that getting involved in a social network is too hard, just hop on over to Dogster and create a page for your dog. It takes less than 5 minutes and I guarantee that in 24 hours, your pup will have a couple of new friends, and you can start to get engaged with the community.
OK, now these next few are a little harder. They are content-rich activities and require you to give more of yourself to your community. But the payoff from the investment is HUGE. (You'll want to remember this when applying what you've learned to any marketing you're doing. There is a direct relationship between effort and payoff.)
7. Write (or edit) a Wikipedia entry. Yes, even you can write a Wikipedia entry. Now, you might not want your first attempt to be the entry on Open Heart Surgery. Why not pick something a little more light-hearted that you're an expert on. Say the use of the Umlaut in Heavy Metal. Wikipedia itself has entries on starting and editing pages. Todd Mintz covers creating Wikipedia pages from a content perspective.
8. Participate in a Mashup. Do you hike? Bike? Travel? Then you might consider participating in a mashup. Sites like Bikely.com and Veloroutes combine Google Maps technology with other services (tagging, photosharing, geotargeting, etc) and allow visitors to create their own annotated and illustrated bike routes to share with others. Trailchaser is a similar site where hikers can create their own routes or upload pictures taken on a trail along with others from the same trail. The Big Art Mob project is a mobile mashup that encourages citizens and visitors in the UK to take pictures of their favourite pieces of public art with their mobile devices and upload them to a shared site where other participants can tag, comment and share their own photos.
9. Show off your expertise and create a Squidoo lens. Squidoo is the perfect social media venue for folks who have really specific interests or expertise. Are you an expert on a particular type of plant, or cooking or knitting stitch? What about a genre of movie or a particular director? Or what if you just have the best bookmark collection of links to Battlestar Galactica fan fiction. Write a lens about it. Squidoo gives authors a platform to create a lens (a page) on their topic of interest; they provide modules that let authors hook into popular services like Flickr, eBay, Amazon and a number of ecommerce retailers. And lensmasters can earn revenue through Squidoo's affiliate program; and, even better, you can donate that revenue to your favourite charity. Or even make a lens about your favourite charity! Disclosure: I have a couple of Squidoo lenses that earn revenue (I split revenue between Room to Read and myself ... funds my Second Life habit) and I have served as a CitizenSquid (Squidoo's community leaders program).
Whew! That was a lot! But seriously, I encourage you to try even just one of these things. Based on *your* passion, not on what your client or company is asking for. Social media, at its most basic, is personal media. If you can't get engaged with social media for your personal passion, I think you'll have an extra-difficult time if you're trying to engage on behalf of a client or your organization.
I'm really interested in hearing your stories .. as marketers who are trying to understand this technology and how you can use it for your brands. If you try one of the above, please leave a comment and share your triumph or tribulation!
Acknowledgments ... I think there is a mind-meld in the works. I was writing this article in the pub in Vancouver while waiting for Mitch Joel and our geek dinner. Turns out, this is something that he's been thinking about as well - how marketers can get engaged in social media quickly and easily. I included a couple of his ideas for getting started (notably tagging). Also, Sean Howard (of craphammer.ca notoriety) and I have been discussing the idea of personal passion and getting marketers past the fear. Thanks for his inspiration as well!
Update: Whoops! Totally forgot the picture credit. Picture above is hidden passions by zen. My apologies!