The Many Ways We Use Social Media

originally posted on Concept Hub

As more and more people join sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or begin to follow blogs or find that Wikipedia is their primary reference, there seems to be more questions about social media than answers.

This past week I sat at a meeting where everyone in the room was on either LinkedIN or Facebook and everyone in the room agreed that social media was the best way to reach their audience. The challenge was coming to an agreement of what the best approach would be.

I sat and observed as everyone expressed what they felt would be the best approach, from LinkedIN groups to Facebook groups to blogs and branded networks. The disconnect that I witnessed was that everyone was  focused on a traditional top down approach. The goal was to decide what the organization wanted to do and then push the strategy down to the people they were trying to reach. The challenge with that approach is that there are no real established rules, no standardized approaches for how people use Social Media.

  • There are the early adopters, the people who jumped on Twitter in 2007 and created a community, uncovered uses for the tools and developed add-on applications to enhance the tool. These are people who are on to something new by the time the rest of us figured out that this was something called Twitter.
  • There are the casual users who have figured out that they can re-connect with old high school friends on Facebook and maintain their rolodex on LinkedIN but have not really integrated social media tools in their world of business.
  • There are the strategic hunters who are actively using social media to find business opportunities and to stay connected with what is going on.
  • There are the “project managers” who use social media for specific projects, whether it is to promote a brand or to collaborate with a team and share information.

Many people use social media for more than one of the reasons listed above and they uses different tools, networks, and communities for different purposes.

The very next day I was at a business lunch and the question came up about best practices of “friending” people on each network. Many people see Facebook as the place where they can “hang out” with friends and family and are  trying to keep work relationships out of that network circle, so if your organization is trying to promote an event simply in Facebook you will not be able to reach the people who have chosen to keep their network circle closed. Many people are on LinkedIN but for lack of real training on these networks, do not know how to do much more than set up a profile and make connections, so there are stumbling blocks to reach your audience there.

The top down approach to a social media strategy can only work if you are truly able to mandate and manage which networks people will be on and how to use them. In the meeting I spoke about how social media needs to be a bottom up approach. We need to find where people are and then go to where they are. The challenge with that approach, though, is as mentioned above, people have different reasons for being in their various networks and different levels of engagement in each network.

As I explained the situation to my husband he identified that the best approach is neither top down or bottom up, it needs to be a center-out approach. We need to establish our goals and purpose and then reach out (or syndicate content) to the various networks throughout the Universe of Social Media.

What really strikes me is that no matter what we are trying to do with social media, we really need to remember that we are trying to reach individuals, not masses of people, and we are trying to develop a relationship with each individual based on trust, respect, and value. As our attention becomes more and more scattered and fragmented throughout online networks the only way to truly reach people is to not worry so much about where our message should be, but to make sure our  communications efforts become more personal/individualized as well as more focused on adding value to the lives of each individual.