Friday, September 21, 2007
social media culture
If you want to move to a foreign country, for an extended business mission, or re-patriation and transfer of citizenship, you need to learn their language and culture. That is, if you truly care about the country, want to be really effective, getting along nicely with the people there. Right?
Same thing goes for social media.
"Social Media" vs. "Social Networking"
I say "social media" rather than "social networking". Social media means software, i.e. online platforms, customizable web services, that enable humans to express themselves and interact with others.
"Social" means interacting with other members of the online community.
"Media" means our self-expressions and interpersonal interactions are "mediated" by a go-between that connects us: the internet, and more specifically, the platform that sits on the web, like Twitter or Facebook.
Networking, yes, we "network", but that is a limiting term.
We network, or connect with people for personal or professional goals, but we mainly socialize and share. "Networking" has negative connotations from "network marketing" which is often just brazen attempts to game the search engines and trick people into multi-level affiliate marketing scams.
So I prefer "social media" to describe such online tool communities as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, Wikinomics, Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, Ning, Justin.tv, Rock You, Freebase, Tumblr, Virb, Zaadz, del.icio.us, Yippykaya, Campfire, GarageBand, and StumbleUpon.
Social Media = Online Tool Communities
"Tool Communities" because social media sites revolve around tools for self-expression, socializing, networking, creativity, productivity, file sharing, expertise displaying, music promotions, and peer-to-peer product recommendations.
Some members get really creative and experimental with the tools. Some "go viral" or become community leaders, web celebrities, and respected pundits. Others focus more on friendships, romance, or more subtle professional objectives.
Social media is built on web services that you use on an as needed basis. You don't have to maintain the site, though you may wish they paid more attention to member complaints and suggestions. All you do is login and use the site for whatever purpose you have in mind at the moment, or as part of a marketing or personal strategy.
You may want to meet potential lovers. Or you may seek to attract new business for your consulting services. Or you may want to rally people to support a political candidate. Perhaps you wish to drive traffic to a new blog your company designed for a client, and you think the posts at the client blog may be relevant and helpful to some in the social media community.
Self-expression vs. Socializing
Some members engage more in self-expression (and I include marketing and PR/promotions as corporate self-expression), while others participate primarily in socializing.
You'll see some members "giving out hugs", saying "good morning @username and @otherusername!", and transmitting messages based mostly on how they feel, what they're eating, where they're going (the notorious, universally loathed "airport posts"), or what they're thinking about (opinions, insights, observations, tips, questions, anger, etc.).
Other social media members will tend to transmit links to their own, or a client's, blog posts. Excessive to moderate self-promotional messages are rejected and even flamed, especially when the culprit refuses to interact with others.
Social interaction is enabled by transmitting messages directly @ another member, private Direct Message communications that only the recipient can read, group bulletins, and other means.
Social media spam is when someone uses the online community merely as a free advertising medium, or a venue for spewing offensive, disruptive, or super selfish messages in an attempt to start trouble or exploit the community.
Studying Comes Before Fully Participating
If you or your organization wish to influence, and perhaps sell products or services to, a social media community, you better study it first.
Study it from the outside a bit, then join it, but be slow to start yapping and arguing or informing the community. Slowly, delicately, try some interactions, some private messages, and see how members respond to you. Be sure to compliment, thank, and joke around, to show you're a decent and regular feller.
Don't pretend to be something you are not.
Learn the language, the style of messaging, the protocols and netiquette. Being pushy, one-way broadcasty, self-obsessed, insensitive, vulgar, fanatic, or relentlessly argumentative will cause many members to shun or condemn you and your company.
Social media culture must be understood, not only the general culture of Twitter, for example, but also for the subset of Twitter that is your Followers list, those members who receive all your tweets (Twitter messages). Your niche group will evolve and impose its own unspoken or directly stated "rules" and ways to behave.
In the microblogging, status update, link archiving realm of Twitter, you may also @ (direct a personal message) to a member who is not following you, and they'll receive all @username messages directed to them, and they may like your messages and decide to Follow you.
There's a finesse and a deep intimate awareness that must be achieved if you want to be effective in a social media community.
Most Important Rule of Social Media
The #1 Law is: Thou shalt respect others, and contrary opinions, and thou shalt not self-promote exclusively, nor shalt thou exploit, game, or troll the network for sadistic, predatory, or commercial purposes.
Controversy and debate are okay. Con artists, hate speechers, and sales bullies are despised.
Study the social media community you wish to participate in. Learn their ways. Watch who gets scolded, who drops out, who is well-liked, who is considered a jerk. Pay attention to how replies are generated, what the members consider "spamming" (too many messages per hour/day, too self-promotional, too similar to PayPerPost incentivized commercial messages, etc.).
Talk Like a Pirate Day
We had a Talk Like a Pirate Day two days ago, an internet meme that spread into Twitter. It took me half a day to pick up on it. Then I Googled it, found a Pirate Talk Glossary thing, a YouTube pirate talk tutorial, quickly mastered or made up some Pirate Talk lingo, changed my avatar to a pirate cartoon I found in Google Images, and got into the goofiness.
Not every member of Twitter was into Pirate Talk, but about half were, and we had so much fun teasing and flirting and goofing as pseudo-pirates. I messaged links to Wikipedia for "Babary Coast Pirates" and I used terms like "corsair", "kiss the gunner's daughter", "bilge-sucking", "seaweed eating", "swashbuckler", "blimey", "Davy Jones locker", and "arrrrr!"
It was good to Talk Like a Pirate for a day, as it came on the heels of some heated debates about various web celebrities and marketing tactics. It was comic relief and stress-busting. In a certain sense, we're all pirates. We plunder and pillage the mainstream media, Enronish CEOs, and deceptive marketing practices. We question, challenge, and argue against what we feel is wrong, evil, or oppressive.
Social media culture is far more important than "corporate messaging opportunities". If you see social media as just another advertising medium that follows the same old one-way broadcasting rules, you will be rejected. You'll probably cause more harm than good for your company.
Respect the social media group you want to influence. Influence it with good deeds, funny remarks, insightful tips, industry expertise, practical suggestions, relevant links to reputable sites and profound articles. Be yourself. Be real. Be altruistic.
But first: understand, appreciate, and comply with the culture.
Social media communities are virtual tribes, with tribal laws and rituals.