An alien in the world of online networking, I have been exploring social media sites lately trying to better understand the culture. I recently saw a definition of a late adopter to social media as someone who finds a blog accidentally while Googling – that describes my most frequent encounter today.
I’ll admit that this currently makes me a lurker, in the Web 1.0 vernacular, but I think I’m almost ready to turn the page and join in. What is social media? In addition to tools that allow people to engage with a community, it includes news that you interact with, or news that’s contributed by the members of the community.
Exploring social media as a source for personal networking, I’m finding that most of the people in my “first life” communities don’t yet have a presence online. When I search for existing friends I might like to chat with, I find their name on school PTO minutes or in summaries of township trustee meetings. I know that they have e-mail and high-speed Internet, because they’re able to forward jokes and Internet folklore after the kids go to bed, but the real-time interactivity that seems to occur in today’s online networking is missing in my personal circles.
In my professional circles, most of the people who want to “link up” with me are recruiters or salespeople, and thankfully, I’m not seeking that type of networking at the moment. What I had hoped to find were thought leaders, and my initial reaction was that self-absorbed talkers were severely outnumbering the interesting thinkers.
Initially exploring as an observer, what I’m learning is that rather than individual thought leadership, what much of online social networking is about is thought patterns and trend monitoring. As you follow links and connections and see patterns, you gain an understanding of not just what one person is thinking, but what hundreds or thousands or even millions of people are thinking. Social media is a great listening and intelligence tool, and several methods exist to help you filter what you’re looking for. The preference for the tool is personal, as we all learn and interact differently.
The first tool to really intrigue me is Twitter, which I began following when the cyclone disaster occurred in Myanmar in 2008. News reports were discussing the difficulty that disaster relief agencies faced gaining access to the country. I support a first-response disaster relief charity which typically beats the response time of more established aid agencies to a disaster site by hours or sometimes days, and I was curious if they had been able to overcome Myanmar’s barriers to entry. I had just received a news release that this organization was on Twitter, and I subscribed to their feed. I was hooked on their up-to-the-minute reports on how they finally got a plane into the country from Amsterdam, and have been hooked since.
Since then, I was able to view real-time news from witnesses on-site during the Mumbai shootings (and also find out who on my staff was bored during a meeting…) Twitter has lately suffered from some security issues, but it has an ease of use that works for me. What does this have to do with thought leadership? I found a great blog that captures very closely my thoughts on why to follow other online posters.
But once listening, why start talking? Borrowing from a response to the above blog entry, a commenter paraphrases a quotation that it’s important to keep up-to-date with your industry, but not as important as contributing to that industry.
Ernie Almonte, AICPA Chair, stated at the Fall AICPA Council meeting that it’s important for the members of our profession to be up in the balcony looking at the dancers below, so that we understand the patterns of the dance going on in today’s world. But it’s also important to mingle among the dancers, so that we are contributing to and influencing the outcomes of that dance.
Social media is where the dancing is happening today. It’s time to join in.