Even though I am fairly immersed in all things social media, I still feel like a bit of an outsider.
Only on extremely rare occasions do I find myself luxuriating in some fantastic conversation over coffee about promising new apps and blogs and the role of content marketing in PR, but I’m beginning to think this is a good thing.
The frustration I experience at most peoples’ lack of understanding about online social networks and why they should participate in them keeps me grounded in the reality that most people really don’t know what the hell we’re talking about no matter how young they are.
Jason Falls, and a lot of other smart people blogging about social media and it’s impact on marketing and PR, seem to warn against the perils of getting stuck in the social media echo chamber.
While I really adore the echo chamber and believe it has its place in helping to deepen relationships with those who are like-minded, I think it could expand a bit. One way to do this is to make clearer in-roads to participation for new people.
Yesterday I had a great time leading a hands-on workshop in social media with some of the really bright people involved in the Michigan State University chapter of the PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America).
These are some of the bright and shiny examples of Gen Y digital natives that marketers, journalists and psychologists seem to love examining and interpreting every nuance of their behavior as if they were some newly discovered species.
Yes, they’re all on Facebook, they watch videos on YouTube, they get most of their information online, but most still don’t understand how to engage in social media, especially for professional development. Or, they’re not conscious of the fact that they’re already engaging in social media when they actually are. Make sense? For those of you who were there, please correct me if I’m wrong.
The feedback from these students, who are all interested in pursuing a PR/marketing/advertising career path, indicated that they’re all very aware of the fact that understanding social media is an important part of their professional development, but they were frustrated that by the fact that nobody seemed to be giving them a very clear impression of why or how they were supposed to do this.
Social media evangelists (myself included) are always preaching about the importance of listening. However, I’ve learned that telling someone to listen is a pretty reliable way to put them on the defensive, so I’ve made a resolution to stop telling people to listen, and instead, show them how it’s done.
Having an RSS reader account is probably one of the most efficient means of managing multiple blog subscriptions. Since only 39 percent of active online users subscribe to RSS feeds, according to an April 2008 study by Universal McCann, there is still a long way to go toward majority participation, even amongst so-called digital natives.
I thought this would be a good place to start and asked the students in the workshop to do the following:
- Set up a Google Reader account. I picked Google Reader because I happen to like it very much. There are lots of readers to choose from. It’s also good news if you already have a Gmail account, but easy enough to register for one if you don’t.
- Add 10 blogs to your reader right now. I asked the students to add 10 PR/Marketing focused blogs, or 5 PR/Marketing focused blogs and 5 blogs focused on some other industry or passion i.e. fashion, food, theater, finance, etc.to their reader. I showed them some of the blogs I read on a regular basis and how to locate PR blogs on Alltop. I also showed some how to locate the RSS feed address for a blog and how that address differs from the URL of the blog.
- Read often and Comment! Bloggers love comments, right? That’s a great way to make friends with thought leaders in your industry, sharpen your critical thinking skills and gather inspiration for your own blog… Don’t worry about having a strong opinion; just be respectful and open to new ideas. Be open about the fact that you’re a student — people will LOVE that!
- Do this BEFORE blogging. Participate first and promote later. Get involved in these communities before you need them. This means before graduation when you think you need to start looking for a job. Get a clear understanding of how blogs are not so much about the technology, unless it’s a blog about technology, but a means of generating discussion and exchanging information. Get a clear understanding of what it takes to do this.
We ended up talking a bit about Twitter, too. A few were already active Twitter users and some decided to take the plunge. For readers on Twitter, please join me in welcoming @courtney_curran @jwendz @Minicuci @aubzim @nicklucido @marlakalmbach @ErinBoyle @jennilewis @KatyHomanick @christinacapo to the conversation.
This is what I did to get people started down the path toward social media engagement. How would you do this? What would you do if someone asked you to teach them about social media? Where do you begin?
Photo Credit: Mendhak
Oct. 21, 2008 Update: Nick Lucido posted a recap from the social media workshop at the MSUPRSSA meeting. Here’s what he had to say: A Social Media Workshop from a Pro.
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