How to communicate online

My session at PodCamp3 Boston was called Breaking Into the Conversation, Busting the Clique. It was about how to use social media to its fullest potential for you. Basically, how to be heard online and what social media tools are your best option.

So many people assume that to be a success when using social media, or to have it be productive for them, that they must follow the A-List or only vie for the attention of the top tier early adopters and high profile internet names. Not so!

Success in social media depends more on creating your own A-List and how you choose the tools that fit you and invest your time. The first hurdle is choosing the right tool for the job. I recommend picking your top three social media tools and focusing most of your time and energy on using them often and well. You may sign on to the rest for branding purposes, to claim your preferred name, but you don’t need to worry about handling them all on a consistent basis.

For me, my preferred tools right now are Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn. I also keep an eye on FriendFeed, but since it has some issues with organization overall, It hasn’t quite jumped onto my top tier list yet. FaceBook offers me the same aggregation in an easier to use package. Here comes the part most social media early adopters won’t tell you: you do not have to use the same tools I use! If something else works for you, then that is where you should focus your valuable and limited time.

I also have accounts on just about every other social media service or site there is. It is my job to be an early adopter and stay on top of the latest developments. I also periodically evaluate the usefulness of my top three tools. When Twitter was experiencing mostly Fail Whale and very little uptime, I used other tools more to make sure I was productive, but Twitter keeps coming back onto the list for me.

How do I keep an active profile on so many sites and tools while concentrating a more personal effort on just three main tools? Thanks to services like Ping.fm (ask me for this week’s invite code in the comments), I can keep sites that I use less frequently, like Pownce, Plurk, MySpace, Indenti.ca or Jaiku, updated a few times a week. Having a service like that is a huge time saver and lets me focus my energies on the three tools I use most, none of which are updated by Ping.fm – I always make sure to have real, personal interaction on my main tools.

Just because I find Twitter useful doesn’t mean you have to. Since it is my main tool these days, I’ll give you a few pointers that have helped me make the most of it. The first pointer is too turn on the “view all @s” feature in your settings. Yes, this will increase the noise level of your Twitter stream exponentially right away. That’s a good thing. Think of the noise as a wave that you can surf.

You see, viewing all @s allows you to see not only the people you list as friends and follows already, it lets you see who they talk to. This tells you who people you already trust, generally the people who talked you into trying Twitter in the first place, think are important. It also affords you more chances to be heard by jumping into the conversations of others. Just like in a crowded bar, you should surf the wave of your Twitter stream and jump in when the wave is right to carry you along. Find someone talking about something you know about, and chime in. Being shy in how you use social media will get you nowhere!

It takes a bit to get the hang of it, just like surfing, but once you learn to ride the wave of connections and conversations, it becomes natural to let it carry you and contribute when and where you see fit. This constant personal interaction will make people start to see you. It does not happen over night, but once it does start to happen, you will find it builds on itself quickly. for me, the tipping point was 75 people – suddenly, it was as if I was seen everywhere, and my conversations became more interesting, more frequent and more useful outside the Twitter universe.

Once you have a good rapport with Twitter (or Pownce, Jaiku, etc), you can then start to hone your conversations and connections. You can then decide whether you want to increase your circle of people who do what you do and like what you like, or if you want to reach people who need what you do and need what you are about. Frankly, I do both. I want the camaraderie of people who “get” me, and I want new ways to offer what I know to those who need it as well. It is a win-win for me, but it can make for a very noisy stream if you choose both.

As you get more vocal, you are guaranteed to be called noisy and have someone threaten to unfollow you in a huff at least once. Congratulations! That means you have “arrived”! Now you can start to build your own A-List of people you want to hear and communicate with. I’ll let you in on a little known secret as well – those so-called internet rockstar A-Listers who ignored you before? They always add people who have begun to be heard. Don’t be surprised to see them start following you as you grow your personal A-List.

I plan to write more about the next step in the near future. For now, let me leave you with some takeaways from this piece. Number one: you don’t have to be a lemming and adopt each and every new and shiny social media tool that crops up just because the Scobles of the world say you should. Use what works for you. Number two: it is impossible to join a conversation if you never listen. Turn on the full stream for a while and learn what people think is important and interesting and see how it meshes with you. Number three: it is impossible to be heard if you are too scared to speak. If you see an opening, jump in and add some value to the conversation beyond what you had for lunch that day. So tell me, what is it you are doing to break in to the conversation where you are?

My original version found at Profy site

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