Social media is more than just socializing online. There is a broad range of conversation that happens online. One form of which is people talking about what they want to do. Sometimes, this can lead to great opportunities such as being able to work on awesome projects or meeting people to collaborate with.
Social media is useful to you, and in that regard, I have some goals for you.
First, the handful of you reading this who may not be already consuming social media: I want you to start. I want 100% of you all to become consumers of social media.
Some of you consumers, I want to turn into curators. Curators are like the decomposers of information: We take in a bunch of raw material and churn out gold. The curator level is super important. Curating is as simple as tweeting a link or sharing something on Facebook or Google Reader. It’s really easy.
Finally, some of you out there may be on the verge of creating, of being a producer: I want to give you that extra push. This won’t be the last time I say this, but the real secret message I have for you is that the best way to get more out of social media is to be a producer in the ecosystem.
Social media is different from many of the media that came before it. That difference — however slight — is super important. It’s important theoretically and pragmatically to you.
I have two big ideas from two big people; both are heroes of mine. Both are groundbreaking in their own way.
"The medium is the message"
Marshall Macluhan is a big media theorist. He was a Professor of Media Studies in Canada who wrote a lot about media.
This guy realized the moment we connected the world together into one global telecommunications network that one day it would be instantaneous and the nature of that kind of communication would have huge ramifications. This concept manifests itself in a statement he made, "The medium is the message."
Think about that: The medium is the message.
Now think of a band like the Beetles. Arguably the most awesome band in the world.
How did they become the most awesome band in the world? Sure, they had talent, but what if we didn’t have vinyl records or radio stations back in the day? What if we didn’t have televisions, magazines, and newspapers?
Without the major broadcast medium, the Beetles would have just been arguably the most awesome band in Liverpool.
The idea is that the medium of communication matters more than the message that gets communicated.
The reason I bring this up is that sometimes when evaluating social media, I think we tend to look at all the wrong parts, and I am going to talk more about this later.
"anything that’s created wants to be mediocre"
Ira Glass is the host of "This American Life" is a show in the United States. Each week they choose a theme and put together a show around that theme. Usually it will be a mix of real stories, interviews, spoken essays, sometimes some fiction, really anything goes as long as it’s good.
Even though they aren’t "creating" the stories, they are producing the stories.
What I find interesting is they have put on 400 shows, maybe topping out at 1,000, 1,200 stories, but they started in 1995, which puts them, tops, at a 100 stories a year.
Only 100 stories a year is good enough to put into their show.
These people do their show year round. They go all over the country and they can only come up with 100 good stories a year.
Over 300 million people. 50 States. 365 days a year. And they can only find 100 good stories worthy enough to tell.
In one sense, it feels like they aren’t trying hard enough, but in reality, all we have to do is look around us.
Do you all tend to walk around everyday having really important conversations? No. None of use do.
Ira glass once said, "It’s like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that’s written or anything that’s created wants to be mediocre."
If we look at what Glass is saying — that most things are mediocre — he doesn’t know why, and it’s not really a bad thing, it’s just the way things are.
It takes a serious act of will to make something good, or even great.
Social Media Sucks
I might be preaching to the choir here, but there are more then a few gentiles out there.
Even though I find internet-oriented people to be more open, there are still a lot of social media skeptics. Here are common criticisms about social media.
Privacy is a real concern and shared by many. Social media isn’t great at this issue. While there maybe a little getting used to the new-world order, there are still better ways of handling privacy.
It’s Filled with Crap
Danah Boyd is a social media researcher and she has been doing some great stuff around investigating actual use of social media.
It’s filled with crap. Twitter is filled with crap, blogs are filled with crap, why would I ever want to look at a blog about some woman’s dog, I don’t care what people ate for lunch.
Sure, I get it, and I totally agree, but if we look at what Ira Glass said, most things are going to be mediocre, why do we expect them to be something else?
Context is King
JoeChicago: I just ate a bad sandwich.Yea, not so interesting.
MarioBatali: I just realized that basil grown in Sicily is the secret to a great pasta sauce.Okay, maybe.
CoWorkerJane: A Korean BBQ Truck just pulled up outside Yahoo!Awesome, right? It’s an integration of local, timely, personal, and pull-based notifications.
This is where we can begin to see the medium is the message come into play — the medium of Twitter and other real-time microblogging services — is what allowed those contexts.
Good Stuff about Social Media
Social media’s great because it gives us a way to create connections with real people around or remotely from us.
Something Twitter and other real-time social media services can do is to provide a geographical and date context: Geolocation.
Crowdsourced Pattern of Events
What if you were a mayor and you started seeing people tweet something like:
HenerySanJose: I just heard a huge bang, what’s up?What if we multiply HenerySanJose by a 1000s and put it on a Google Map?
We can start to see a pattern. This is exactly what happened in Portland this year. Out of a thousand tweets, you can extract useful information.
Another example of the possibilities of social media is this guy is tracking tweet volume around movies coming out and being able to predict with a high degree of accuracy how much money they are going to make.
Practical Super Secret Tip
First part of being practical is to give back to the network. Be prepared to share. Tweet a link, blog a picture. This maybe the most important takeaway. I can tell you about how to consume until I am blue in the face, but you will never truly get it until you contribute back to social media.
Not So Super Secret
Social Media is a stream — well, more like a river — a torrent of information flowing past you.
Far too many people think they need to consume it all, they think of it as a task to be done like getting your unread emails down to zero. You are going need to fish for good stuff.
Keeping up with Social Media Using the Triage Technique
One of the ideas I want to share with you is the idea of triage. What I know about triage is what I see on medical dramas on television like ER and Trauma.
The idea is that in the face of an insurmountable, completely opaque task, just start making decisions. Tackle social media consumption by prioritizing the more critical stuff.
It works better the more you do it, just like doctors with 10 years of experience will know quickly who needs immediate care and who doesn’t.
You need to get better at recognizing the good stuff.
What is The Goal of Triage?
To read less crap and more quality stuff.
This is where something like Google Reader really shines. I can just use the star feature, and then its gets filled away for latter perusal.
Organize For You
Your #1 folder is your protective cradle of what you enjoy best. This folder has to be like your crack cocaine, it needs to keep you coming back for more.
A rule of thumb for me is if I am not enjoying at least every third item I see from a source, then something is wrong, and I need to weed out the bad content.
This folder is easy to clean out in like 20 minutes, and it drives most of my pleasure. When this folder is done, I move down the stack into the larger folders like Twitter.
Where to Consume
You don’t watch newspaper on the TV, and you can’t see the radio host. I find it easier to consume stuff in different ways, like tweets can be read in the Google Reader, but long form journalism deserves the iPad or Kindle treatment.
I use instapaper for this sort of thing.
Your Plan of Action
Start small, cultivate sources, organically grow. You need time to develop a sense of social media, but investing some time can pay off in the end.
How do you use social media? Why have you chosen to engage in social media?
About the Author
Alex Kessinger works for Yahoo! as a front-end engineer. Elsewhere, he likes to curate great stuff from the web on his blog, alexkessinger.net. He is also a founding member of the Tastestalkr Network, a brand group. When not working, Alex lives in the bay area and enjoys really good food.