Clearing a path for newbies in the social media echo chamber

by Shannon Paul on October 18, 2008

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).

Shannon Paul and Nick Lucido at the MSUPRSSA Social Media Workshop

Shannon Paul and Nick Lucido at the MSUPRSSA Social Media Workshop

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.

YOU, listen!
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, 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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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

October 18, 2008 krharrison 1

Great post. It’s been difficult to explain to friends sometimes why I twitter. At first, I wasn’t even sure why I was on twitter. What I did find though, is that Social Media is a way to connect and network with people in new and exciting ways. Especially when you’re outside the walled gardens of your Facebook’s and Myspace pages. In Facebook, I’m really only connecting with people I already know, where with Twitter and some of the more public applications, I’ve been able to branch out and really learn about interesting and savvy people in my community and around the world. It’s the ability to really share in a community and engage in ideas and conversations for the better of everyone.


October 18, 2008 Gennefer Snowfield 2


This is one of the most brilliant posts I’ve ever seen on the subject of social media. Excellent job! And I think your points are spot on — especially in terms of getting in the conversation BEFORE you start promoting you, your company or your blog.

People spend so much time and energy ‘pimping themselves out’ that they miss the important interactions that will happen organically if you take the time to listen, join in with thoughtful comments, and build the relationship from there. My strongest — and most valuable — connections have typically been the result of sharing on socnets like Twitter NOT from a visit to my blog or a response to some flagrant self-promo post.

It’s about meaningful and substantive mutual exchange, not about overt promotion and popularity. Unfortunately, social networking does tend to breed the latter, making your post even more critical for helping newbies — and even ‘seasoned’ folks (we always have more to learn) — break through the clutter and build something real.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your wonderful insights.



October 18, 2008 dirkthecow 3

An excellent post Shannon. Completely agree that most people I know read blogs, watch stuff on You Tube, have Facebook profiles etc, but claim not to be ‘into social media.’

I think part of it is due to those of us who work in this space making it – almost deliberately (as we’re all “experts”, right?!) – more complicated than it needs to be, and so this is definitely a must read.


October 18, 2008 Pat Williams 4

I don’t consider myself as being “in social media” but I do spend a lot of time trying to convince my clients why I think they ought to use it as an important part of their advertising.

Gone are the days when a newspaper ad or two would bring them clients. They need to step out of the comfort of their offices, develop relationships and create trust. This needs to happen BEFORE the sale instead of during, as it has in the past.

If potential clients feel they KNOW you before they use your services, it reduces the fear of risk on their part.

The one thing I have never been able to get into, is readers…. please just let me sign up on your blog… send me an email when you have a new post and I WILL read it. I think we need to make this as easy as possible for our subscribers. Shannon, I would faithfully read your blog if you did this because I enjoy your writing! I only arrived here today because I came across your Twitter. If I’d missed your tweet, I’d have missed this article! So… if you ever get feedburner or any other email notification service… DM me… I promise to sign up.

Pat Williams
CyberCletch LLC
Twitter: cletch


October 18, 2008 shannonpaul 5

Thanks for the comments! I love that you’re all sharing something of your own experience in social media.

@Pat I know I sent you the DM already, but for everyone else, you can get email updates if you click on the little tiny text link in the sidebar just under the link to Technorati. I know it needs to be bigger — its on my list ;-) Thanks for pointing it out to me.


October 18, 2008 Anonymous 6

Gotta love this post! It’s been somewhat of a challenge getting my friends and colleagues fully on board with social media. They get super excited about the concept and potential (as well they should). But, they sometimes become overwhelmed and bogged-down with all the necessary facets. They start focusing on using the tools to broadcast instead of the focusing the on engaging the community.


October 18, 2008 Teresa 7

Hi Shannon,

Great post. This is exactly what I’m constantly trying to tell people!

I’m a 19-year-old college student, but I think I’m lucky to have discovered the power of social media early on. You’re exactly right in that most of my peers are extremely active in the social media sphere — they’re all over Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube on a daily basis. They just don’t know it, and they don’t realize A) how to use it to their advantage or B) that they CAN use it to their advantage. They don’t realize how social media is shaping the professional world.

I do my part to evangelize — but often, trying to explain to other people my age how social media works just falls on deaf ears. Like Twitter, social media as a whole is very much something you have to immerse yourself in to understand.


October 18, 2008 Teresa 8

Oops… and find me at @resawu ! :)


October 18, 2008 davefleet 9

Nice post, Shannon. A great reminder to those of us who are completely immersed in this stuff to step back occasionally, and some great baby steps for people to get involved in social media. Thanks.


October 19, 2008 Ari Adler 10

One of your best posts Shannon. Now that you’ve had a taste of sharing your knowledge with students and learning from them at the same time, you have a glimpse at why I love teaching at MSU! :)


October 19, 2008 Adam Singer 11

Interesting that you make this point:

“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.”

Actually had a related discussion here if you’re curious:

btw – found you via @jasonfalls — nice blog


October 19, 2008 Karen Swim 12

Shannon, great teaching article. I just had a similar conversation with a social newbie a couple of weeks ago. Rather than overwhelming with all of the tools, I simply suggested that we start with the familiar. She was on FaceBook so I walked her through a shift in perspective of how to use it for her new business. It was fun being part of that “lightbulb” moment where she saw the potential of a tool she had been using to connect to friends only. One of the mistakes we often make is excitedly gushing about all the “shoulds” rather than first helping people to understand the “what” and “why.” It sounds like you did a great job with both.


October 19, 2008 Renee Giroux 13

Hi Shannon,
I found this post from my twitter stream (Jason Falls). Even though I have been in the social media world, I learned a lot. I will add an RSS feed as well, I cannot imagine why I have not thought to do that already. I also appreciate your voice,and tone. So many social marketing gurus, who have serious levels of credibility, seem to write/speak with a condescending air about them. Your post was informative, relatable, and very informative.
Thank you!
from twitter


October 19, 2008 K Lovin (@lovinkat on twitter) 14

Shannon – this is an excellent post! I’ll admit that I typically only read blogs when someone draws my attention to an interesting post on Twitter. You have my solemn promise to do better in this area! But, I will say, being on Twitter, and following links to posts from some of the folks I consider gurus, has helped me accomplish one of my goals for being involved in Social Media in the first place: learning. I still want to do better. I’ll take you advice to learn more about the online communities participating in social media before I “need” them. Thanks much!
K Lovin
Los Angeles


October 19, 2008 nicklucido 15

Thanks again for coming, Shannon! We all had a blast.

The nice thing about these sessions is that they fill the gaps of what our classes aren’t able to teach us. While we may get lectured on the importance of social media, we hardly have the opportunity to practice it with a professional. You rock!


October 19, 2008 Kevin Carter 16

Well done, Shannon! I agree with you and Jason Falls. We Web 2.0 heads need to be very careful not to get stuck in the social media echo chamber. The best example of that disconnect occurs when your spouse or best friend tells you they have either never heard of Twitter or have no idea why anyone would ever use it.

Your tips are much appreciated. They are helpful strategies, especially for recent grads looking to enter a PR or marketing career. Thanks, and keep up the good work!


October 19, 2008 annhandley 17

Great primer here, Shannon. And truly — this is something we all need to remember: Back outta the chamber before the exterior door locks behind you!

; )


October 19, 2008 Sonny Gill 18

Nice post, Shannon.

You nailed it with telling them HOW to listen and take it in first before jumping in.

I’d recommend a bit of the same – just do your research before getting into a specific network. Understand the 101/’rules’ to that network and to SM as a whole, before jumping in with the wrong mindset (hey, I’m gonna promote ME!) and possibly alienating yourself early on.


October 19, 2008 nick 19

shannon – you’re dead on and hit on 2 big points.

1. it is REALLY hard to explain new/social media and its value to those outside the echo chamber. i am actually actively working on developing some fast/easy template definitions and examples so i can help those not up-to-speed understand without going nuts with frustration. recently went back to my alma mater and had dinner with 2 of my favorite (phd) marketing profs. brilliant, but cant comprehend SM.

2. we need to extend SM. it’s great to talk about it with fellow buffs, and we reinforce that you know what you’re talking about, and i know what i’m talking about… but our success criteria should be defined daily with client/broader business solutions and ROIx2 (return on investment/return on influence <– jermemiah owyang). yes, talk is cheap, but the strategy and and integration of that talk shouldn’t be (from a SM/PR perspective). however, to legitimize what we are doing, studying, progressing and postulating about, we need response and understanding from more than our current tweeb/fb networks.

loved the coverage of the wings game. had a friend tweeting blue jackets updates and following you at the same time while i was tweeting a high school football game. oh, when twitter goes mainstream…



October 19, 2008 Ezra Butler 20

Hey Shannon,

Simply echoing everyone else: this is an amazing post.
I just have one tiny confession to make. I don’t use RSS. I am so over-inundated with information from Twitter, I simply follow people that I am interested in learning from, and more often than not, they use their twitter-stream ALSO as a sort of RSS feed. Additionally, people retweet interesting posts by other people all the time (as I came across this, by chance, even though I follow you).



October 19, 2008 Jeff P 21

Shannon -
Great thoughts. I think a very easy approach to social media involvement and listening is Twitter. I’ve only been using it to a higher degree the past 2 weeks but it allows you to get involved quickly without too much to fill out like Myspace or Facebook. You can easily search for people like you. And the guidance from those who know more than you is amazing toward taking things to the next level.


October 19, 2008 nick 22

ezra – funny i’ve been saying the same thing lately – that twitter is my new reader. while i do have a google reader, i find myself accumulating links throughout the day and reading at night. twitter is the new reader?



October 20, 2008 Caitlin Rosberg 23

Hey Shannon-
Great post. As some one who’s new to a social media position, I find it sometimes daunting, but I thank my stars that since I’m new, the echo chamber hasn’t been a big challenge for me.

You did a great job in pointing out one of the challenges of how people use the internet now: those who grew up with it, who do use Facebook, YouTube, etc aren’t aware that they’re using SM. But the people who help them get jobs are. I can’t tell you the number of times a professor or co-teacher or TA or RA (etc) reminded me that Facebook can be seen by EVERYONE unless you set it otherwise…and oftentimes even then. So people know to be careful about what they put on the internet (most of the time). I’m just not sure everyone calls it SM. Can you think of a better name? One that more people use? Or is “Social Media” really the best option?


October 20, 2008 Nicole Hamilton 24


Great post! I loved it because I think it is important to address this issue. As a new college grad I was hired as a social media “specialist.” We are still in the development stage with our blog, which I am so anxious to get up and running, but am discovering that the time it is taking to get things going has been so beneficial for me. I am passionate about social media, because I have seen the great effects it can have, especially when it comes to businesses and their capabilities of building solid, open relationships with stakeholders.

With that said, it still can be intimidating at times. I read as much as I possibly can every day, but still find myself overwhelmed with all of the new “stuff” that is out there and all the people out there, like yourself, who seem to know SO much about how to approach these communities and how to really listen. At the same time, I can’t seem to get enough. I think what I find most intimating is finding a way to add value to the conversation—and sometimes I wonder if something is better than nothing. I had about 5 internships while I was in college, three of which I was able to really utilize what I know about social media and furthermore grow my understanding. I think the bigger challenge for me now has been this transformation from helping the companies I work for understand how people in my generation use social platforms (who were often their “target” market), to now using what I know and am learning to directly build relationships with our stakeholders and others in the community.

With that said, I think if I continue to hold on to my true passion, building relationships and community, I should be ok—however, I was wondering if anyone has found themselves in this position and if so, what you did to get over it. Like you mentioned Shannon, you feel like a bit of an outsider and often find yourself frustrated by others lack of understanding. How do the rest of you feel who really get it? Are you frustrated, and if so, how can us social media newbies engage in the conversation without worrying about if we actually get it and are contributing something worthwhile? Thanks Shannon for taking a step forward, reaching out, and doing something to provoke thought and get things moving along.

Nicole :)


October 21, 2008 Jared O'Toole 25

I am in the middle of experiencing this first hand. With a couple buddies I have a social network aimed at young entrepreneurs but with a focus on actually creating valuable content.

Lots of students have expressed how much they like the idea and the network however involvement is low. They simply don’t know how to use a network for valuable business purposes. Everyone has a facebook account and loves scrolling through pictures or whatever. When it comes to stepping up to the plate and offering up discussions and opinions, writing blog posts, or any other type of content they just don’t really know where to begin. It’s proving to be a big and interesting challenge.


October 23, 2008 Lee J 26

Nice post, and some great advice to the students! I’m still a newbie myself, and will also take away some of this and learn from what you share.

I think the hardest part for myself is having the patience. I can see the possibilities, and feel that I am providing valuable content, but I want the subscribers and comments and feedback NOW! I know it doesn’t work like that, but I want to progress my work and further my knowledge and understanding, and it’s such a drive in me that I become impatient.




October 24, 2008 Jenn @ Frugal Upstate 27

Fabulous post! And as is so typical in blogging, the comments are just as informative and interesting as the post itself.

I found you via a link post on twitter & will be adding you to my feed reader.

Thanks so much for laying out a specific approach (rather than just explaination) to use in trying to help teach how to use and appreciate social media.

Oh, and you might want to mention to the students that if they’ve protected their updates (as about 4 on the list you gave did) it is a big deterrent to accumulating followers-if they want to interact on SM for business purposes shouldn’t they be more open to folks listening to them?


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