No PowerPoint

This post exists because I was asked to create a presentation of the high points of what I've discovered in my exploration of social media that could be conveyed to others just getting started looking at the space. I was asked to include why I was so interested to build my apps on my spare time (spy, retweet radar, and ConnectTweet) which are really about poking, prodding and learning about the social media conversation's value by experimenting with it... not just technology hijinks (although that's interesting too).

After a fair amount of brain freeze (still only partially defrosted at this point) I knew this "presentation" was largely a series of links to tools, great blog posts and examples... I quickly determined PowerPoint, the grand old corporate standard for this type of thing, could not capture or fairly represent the multifaceted and decentralized conversation around social media it dawned on me -- a blog post -- which by it's nature is a containing thought, linking to others to expound upon it is open for debate [comments] just like the current malleable state of social media.

Listen first!

Your boss asked you why you aren't on "The Web 2.0 Twitters" yet... you are itching to go out and create that Twitter account, even though I told you not to... don't, you need to learn to listen first. [And don't worry (s)he's just asking because (s)he can't figure it out :)] So many people go out create those shiny new empty accounts maybe add one or two friends [who don't participate] and say "it doesn't work", "I don't get it" and "whats so interesting about this" here is the truth it's not interesting or useful by itself... it's a communication channel not a television! You need to discover interesting conversations and people and then jump in on it, your empty account is one of hundreds of thousands out there who didn't realize discovery and a little work is a must.

Discover by Listening

Let's find something interesting and see whats being said about it... this is where my first tool 'spy' comes in but there are many others to look at too. The idea with 'spy' is to "listen in on the social media conversation going on around you" on something you already care about for example say the name of your company... spy on Best Buy Now we're going to see all sorts of interesting things being said... you feel the vibe of the public towards you today... people hate us, people love us, people post weird [really weird] things... but in that mess at least one things will get you motivated you'll read a post and say "hey, I can fix that for him", "hey, she needs this product to make that better" or "hey, that's completely not true where do I find this guy!" or any of a myriad of other responses... there it happened you found a connection an interaction you want to have this is one bud of a conversation in this global decentralized chatter going on around us every day. If you are an Apple nut or are argumentative about politics, among so many other examples, your sure to not go dry on topics to listen to and converse about. Take something you personally care and plug them into tools like Twitter Search, 'spy', or maybe check out Twellow a list of Twitterers by their interests when you do get started you'll know who you want to listen to. One of my personal favorites is to watch trends, not "what's next on the internet" but what are people talking about casually right now... Google can step aside here this is the rawest view on open conversations on the web -- real time conversation trends. If you take a look at the "Trending topics" or "Trends" sections on Twitter Search and 'spy' respectively click on any one that interests you you see up to the second conversation on that topic from hundreds or maybe thousands of participants. Yes you are going to see bad TV shows (American Idol and your sort I am looking at you...) celebrity gossip, and a bit of spam but real time shines during national or global events if you are watching you'll know about any national event first far before the traditional media can report on it, even full time cable news. During events like the US National Debates or the terror in Mumbai a real powerful side conversation is being had in real time of which you are listening and can participate, I remember watching the debates on the TV with real people's Twitter commentary scrolling on my laptop in full screen on 'spy' totally changes the experience. My second tool plays in this trends space, there is a concept on Twitter where you "retweet" someone's Twitter post when you think it is important and you want more people to see it, more about retweets here. My tool retweet radar gathers all those "retweeted" messages and attempts to pull out relevant terms and plot them... this view quickly allows you to see what people think is interesting so far today and even right now, an interesting way to keep your finger on the pulse of the conversation and a fun little project.

Listen and Participate for Business

Listening as closely as possible to customers and interacting with them should be the first thing that comes to mind from a business mindset when we discuss these tools, we've already talked about it a bit above. You now have the unique ability to put your ear to the masses, ask them questions about your product and share in their excitement or pain using them. In this medium some customers are turned into zealots on both positive and negative sides of the fence, they have a megaphone to speak their mind and they do. This can be good for you, they serve to keep you honest, keep a spotlight on you and spread the word of your brand and products this channel allows you to keep up a conversation with zealots and use them as a leading indicator for your decisions, maybe even including some of them in those directions. As an example, the day a new Best Buy marketing pieces hits people's homes the social media channels erupt in conversation both good and bad an almost immediate barometer on the impact of that offer, particularly today a get $100 off an iPhone offer hit all Best Buy RewardZone Silver customers and the social media conversation was very positive. A further example, the day RewardZone Black was accidentally emailed to millions of people, Barry Judge our CMO noticed the increased conversation on the 'spy' in his office and quickly issued an apology through his Twitter account and his blog a first for Best Buy in both speed and openness to admit our mistake. Best Buy and other Twin Cities companies were written up in this Pioneer Press article for our early social media efforts including blueshirts from the stores, corporate workers and even our CMO on Twitter not to mention some nice 'spy' coverage. Outside of Best Buy using 'spy' to watch the social media conversation in the Hub, HP has implemented 'spy' in their internal marketing portal to help their workers keep up on the conversation around their company. Chris Brogan and others covers ideas for business well in video and bullet point format so read on.

Participate for Yourself - Your Growth, Your Career.

Wherever and however your expertise, passion and occupation line up there are a limited number of people who do what you do, the way you do with the experiences you have... social media thrives on this fuel. People who throw out that new idea, business tip, graphic design guide, free font or nugget of web development advice are lifted up. People are eager to hear from others cross pollinate ideas and practices and generally to learn, putting yourself in this pool and being looked to for advice by this international group of "followers" can propel you to learn more, advance your skills and show you the market out there for you as a leader in your space. I have been writing this blog for about 8 months now, polluting the internet and social media with my then poor, now slightly better, writing abilities; I progressed, I helped people, I participated in thousands of conversations with people I would have never met including many big names on the internet and getting my name out there. Your ability to use social media, build your niche and "personal brand" as they say is nearly limitless. If you are the "best X person in the office" take it to the web, I guarantee you will learn something further and people will recognize your skills and you will be rewarded as many times as I feel I have been, your company, your industry, your world can be flattened by these barrier crossing social media connections.