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May 6, 2009

Doing your homework

Filed under: General,Perspective,Sage Advice — Tags: , , , — Bryan @ 12:53 am

I can’t emphasize enough for people who want to jump on the social media bandwagon. DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST.

If you get invited to a party hosted by someone you don’t know, you might ask some questions “what kind of party is it?”, “what should I wear?”, “am I expected to bring a bottle of something to drink?”, “should I be on time or fashionably late?”, etc… You get the idea.

Think of social media in many ways as a world party. First a little secret though. I can tell you right now that by the time you hear about the next big thing you’re already fashionably late, so we can settle that question right away. If you by some happenstance find yourself as an early adopter though, you’ll know because you’ll be one of the people annoyed (oddly enough) that your world was just swamped with a million people who don’t know what they’re doing.

So anyways, you’re going to the big party now and you want to fit in with the cool kids right? Well that’s where you do your homework. First things first, go ask your friends and family if they’re already using the new thing. If anyone is already there, ask them for their perception of the social etiquette for the environment. Initially 95% of them will probably be wrong but listen anyways because right now you’re developing a consensus.

In the neutral scenario, you ask 100 people who all give you the same bad answer, at the least you’re following social norm so that’s a win of sorts. At best you find someone from the 10% crowd who’s totally up on everything and will give you the straight scoop. In the worst case you hook up someone from the opposite 10% who has less of a clue than you but are so emphatic with their bad advice that it all seems reasonable.

Next go to your favorite search engine and enter “_____ for noobs” where blank is the new thing (eg, Twitter). Now, just so you understand what you’ve just searched. Noobs is derogatory slang for the word Newbies which is itself effectively derogatory slang for the term New Users. Many people ignore the derogatory nature of these terms anyways and I wouldn’t let yourself get to upset over it either. It’s the fastest way to find the information and it’s the common term used within the community where many of these things start. The important thing here is to read through some of the pages that come up in your search, and take it all with a grain of salt. The people writing these pages are frequently early adopters who are complaining about the missteps of new users or they are existing users making a genuine effort to reach out and educate new users so the new users can integrate with the activity faster without annoying everyone else in the process and/or embarrassing themselves at the same time. For instance check out this slide show presentation on Twitter that came up as my first search result at the time of writing this. There are certainly some gems out there.

Beyond that, you’ll do yourself a big favor by going out and trying to learn what problem this new tool was invented to solve. For instance Blogs were originally created by people who wanted to keep a public journal of their lives for their friends to read. Maybe that’s not what it’s being used for by everyone now but it can clue you into a greater understanding of what may or may not be a successful tactic to take in using the new thing. I would suggest doing some research on Wikipedia but if you do remember that Wikipedia editors are like the guy at the big box store you paid to pre-assemble your kid’s new bicycle (secret, he’s just reading the instruction book and probably never assembled a bike before… just like you).

On a tangent note let’s through out an example, if your mom always roasts chicken upside down, are you going to do the same thing when you roast a chicken or are you going to ask her “why are you doing that?”. Maybe there’s a better way to roast a chicken and maybe your mom is doing this because that’s what her mother told her to do and she never asked. Seriously! Go get a cook-book and see how other people roast chicken. Maybe doing it mom’s way ends up being the best way but you’ll never know until you do your research (for the record my mom does not roast chicken up-side-down).

So what’s the bottom line? Soak it all in.

In general, if you take a day and study up on any given social media platform you’ll be able to glean enough information to know if it’s something you personally want to deal with. Remember just because the cool kids are using something doesn’t always mean its right for you and just because everyone else is jumping in head first doesn’t mean you have to as well. That, also doesn’t mean you should ignore it though. Step in and get you feet wet for a moment. Post a comment on someone’s blog. Be sensible. Think of it like the social event party where everyone is offering you a drink. You can skip the party, you can drink a soda pop, you can carry around the same bottle of warm beer for the next four hours, you can drink sensibly, or you can wake up the next day without a clue about what happened the night before. If you’re a grown adult, it’s your call. Just think about how you want to be perceived before you participate in the community.

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