How to Shape YOUR Online Experience

I saw a cool post this morning on Social Media Today from guest blogger Lena West of xynoMedia. She talks about how she personally deals with social media in her own workflow, and points out that “last time I checked, we each set the rules for how we interact with other people. Social media is no different.”

Lena is so right. We spend a lot of time talking about the most effective way to use social media tools, to get the best results, the biggest ROI and so on. But really, at the end of the day, it’s about creating your OWN experience. There’s no perfect fit that works for everyone.

We all use the Internet in different ways. I thought it would be great for us to share some of the ways we use the Web’s bountiful offerings, for the benefit of anyone who might be seeking some more information about what’s what and different ways people shape their online experience.

I’ll start, then you provide your own tips in the comments, okay?

Email. I am working on tackling my email differently. I have three email accounts – my work email, my personal email, and my college email. I get upwards of 20 emails a week from students (doesn’t seem like much until you realize that they are mostly questions that require some sort of acknowledgement or response). I get countless work emails per day, and then my personal stuff, most of which is generated from friends or from my social networks. I use Gmail to catch all of my email in one place. I use labels and filters to pre-sort my college email (which I only check twice a week). I recently discovered AwayFind thanks to this guy and although I’ve yet to receive an urgent contact, I have the peace of mind knowing that I can step away from my email for several hours and not worry about missing something critical. (My AwayFind review is coming soon, BTW).

Twitter. I’m a power user of Twitter. It’s network central for me. I have many forms of communication on Twitter. I use it to talk about random things. I use it to post links to interesting content I’ve discovered or to re-post (a.k.a. re-tweet) others’ interesting info. I use it to post links to my own blog posts (in moderation). I use it to have conversations with people, and I’ve even used it to edit a video (through direct messages). TweetDeck is my tool of choice on my desktop computer, because it allows me to manage my feed, my replies and my direct messages. I use TwitterFon on my iPhone because I like the interface.

Delicious. I get a ton of use out of my Delicious account. Delicious is a social bookmarking tool but what I like is it allows me to tag groups of bookmarks for different purposes. I collect bookmarks for use in my classes, bookmarks that I share out to my students, and I even have the demo reel for our company bookmarked through delicious. It’s super easy, whenever a new project goes online somewhere, I just bookmark it, tag it, and voila! I also have my “Other Writings” column over on the right there done through delicious. I just tag any links to other online writing I’ve done and boom! It shows up in that column. Pretty neat!

Those are just three of the tools I use online to help me shape my experience. I do have others but I want to hear your take. Post in the comments what tools you use and how you use them. Hopefully we can pass on some valuable info to others, and they can take what they need from our collective advice and use it to shape their own experience.

In Case You Were Wondering…

In case you were wondering what all this social media business is all about, let me give you an example. Last night, I was hanging around on Twitter and this question appeared from master woodworker and Twitter afficionado Keith Burtis:

inspire1

I thought for a minute, then responded:

respond

And then Keith made this video.

This is what social media is. It’s real interactions, between real people. It’s about seizing the opportunities and inspirations that are laid out for you in this space. It’s collaboration, communication, and creation.

This is powerful stuff.

How has social media changed how you interact? How has it changed how you are inspired?

Why I’m Here

As some of you who read this blog know, I got my start in community access television. At 19 years old, I was hired to be what they call a “staff” producer. My job was to work with volunteers who wanted to produce TV shows. These were people from all walks of life, who would come to the station once, twice, three times a week or even more, and give freely of their time to create engaging content for our little station. They would shoot, edit, direct, and write. I would help them with the finer points of putting a TV show on the air, but essentially most of the hard work was done by them. Not to say that my job wasn’t time consuming – I had, at one point, 5 weekly half hour shows to produce, and 2 bi-weekly shows. I worked, on a good week, 75-85 hours. I got paid crap. I was a kid, though, so I handled it without too much complaining – after all, it was a job in TV, and in 1990, I was ahead of most of the people I went to college with. 

This post was inspired by something that happened to me on Facebook the other day. I was invited to join a group. Not just any group – a group of people from my old job at the cable access station – many of whom I really never thought I’d see, hear or speak to again. Now that I’m in the group, I couldn’t be happier about reconnecting with this part of my past. 

What has dawned on me over the past few days, as I’ve viewed photos and shared memories with my old gang, is that what we were doing back in the heydays of community cable was really special. We had no budget. We made no money. But, week after week, we put out good content. Here’s the kicker. We didn’t care if one person watched our show, or if 1000 people watched our show. If someone called the viewer comment line, we were ecstatic – even if they were calling to complain that they didn’t like our show. At least they were watching. Somehow, we managed to engage people, for better or for worse. 

Flash forward 18 years. Here I am, at 9:30 on a Wednesday night (coincidentally the same time and day that I used to produce my weekly local music show, “Soundtrack”), writing this blog post. I am again, producing content, hopefully good content. I am making no money at it. I don’t care if 1 person reads this or if 100 people read it. I am ecstatic if someone leaves a comment, even if it’s to complain that they don’t like what I’m saying. At least someone’s reading it. And, somehow, I’m managing to engage people, for better or for worse. 

I think I just figured out why I love social media so much.

Podcamp Then and Now

I am heading to Podcamp Montreal this weekend. It’s only my 2nd Podcamp, and I’m really excited to be going. My first Podcamp was in Toronto in 2006, and I attended pretty much on a whim. I was going down to Toronto to visit a friend anyway, and thought it might be an interesting way to spend some time in the Big Smoke. We figured we had nothing to lose, since it was free, and besides, if it was boring, we could always go shopping. 

Little did I know the life altering impact that one little un-conference would have on my life. I’ve made a pile of amazing new friends, made long-term business connections and, I learned the power that we as a community have to really shape the way people are communicating now and in the future. THAT really blew me away. 

I’ve noticed something interesting about how Podcamps have evolved over the past 2 years. 2 years ago, nearly every session on the schedule had SOMETHING to do about how to make money in podcasting and social media. The business models were numerous and diverse – everyone seemed to have the next best way to make a buck with this new medium. 

Podcamp Montreal has a very different flavour. As I review the impressive schedule, I see a very distinct shift in focus. Here’s a sampling:

  • Why the Future is Always Too Far (Technologically Speaking) : 10 Tech Trends You Need To Understand As Social Media Masters with Sylvain Carle
  • Please Don’t Suck! with Sylvain Grand’Maison
  • Using Twitter to Monitor and Build Your Personal Brand – with Adele McAlear
  • Podcasting From The Heart – The Value Of Recording A Show With No Editing And No Second Takes with C.C. Chapman and Mitch Joel
  • The Self, the Identity and the Internet with Isabelle Lopez
…you get the idea. The themes this time are focused on things branding, communication, and content. 
Now, I don’t believe for a minute that people aren’t still out there trying to figure out how to make a buck with social media. In fact, I think that trend is more prevalent than ever. But it seems that we’ve wisened up a bit. We have learned, as a community, that the money doesn’t come first anymore. What comes first is building a solid reputation online, creating stellar content, then marketing yourself around that reputation and content. 
Could it be that we are finally on the right track? I hope to continue this conversation with YOU at Podcamp!

How Labels Make Us Miss the Point

Labels. Our world is consumed by attaching labels to things, and then identifying with those labels entirely, to the point where the entire meaning of what that thing represents is lost.

Consider politics. Our politicians are depicted in both Canada and the U.S. based on labels. It’s not how well they can do the job, their integrity, their honesty that people concern themselves with. What is more important to people is to apply labels (“She’s a woman with a pregnant daughter”, “He’s an old guy with health problems”, “He’s black”.) In Canada – (“He has no personality”, “He can hardly speak English”, “She’s a livewire”).

(DISCLAIMER – The above quotes are NOT personal opinions of mine (I have a policy NOT to get involved in politics online). I’m simply trying to make a point.)

My point is, the real effectiveness of the entire election process is lost, because people apply labels, and then are led to believe that this is what our candidates actually represent.

Turn to social media, which these days is ripe with labels. Community Builder, Enabler, Trust Agent, Social Media Guru…these are all words I’ve heard in my travels around the Internet lately. There is nothing inherently wrong with using these words to describe an aspect of the subject matter. Where the line goes fuzzy is when people start to identify with any of these things. When people are identified with being one thing or another, then it’s easier for them to push other people aside. The feeling is “You’re not a [insert label here]…what possible contribution could you have to make?”

There’s also a point where labels can give people a false sense of credibility – something they can hide behind. Just because you put on your blog that you are a “Community Builder” or a “Social Media Expert” doesn’t make you that thing.

What gives someone authenticity and credibility is their actions. Some characteristics of this kind of person include:

  • He writes/presents well, clearly articulating concepts and opinions.
  • She debates cleanly and presents an honest alternative to the status quo.
  • He teaches others.
  • She is accepting of other points of view but stands up for what she believes.
  • She is friendly, open, generous and kind to people, even her detractors.
  • He doesn’t change his “label” every three weeks to meet the current trends.

Labels are necessary in order to make sense of our world on a practical level. But attaching anything more to a label than it’s role as an identifying marker stifles the ability for people to move beyond, to what is deeper.

In the end, the underlying truth of defining this new media space will be lost unless we move beyond superficial labels and begin to explore what is really going on here.

The Art of Shameless Self Promotion

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and tweets lately about people being averse to “tooting their own horn”. And I’m not sure I really understand the aversion.

Ok, I know there are lots of spammers out there. I know there are certain types of people that seem to do nothing but shamelessly self-promote their wares. But I think that they are really in the minority.

The blogosphere, the Twitterverse, the Plurk Nation – they are all run by people. People who have something to say. People who want to have conversations, make connections, establish relationships. If we aren’t all out here “tooting”, then what are we doing?

When I update my blog, or my Twitter feed, or my Facebook page, am I not, in some way, promoting myself? Even if I am just saying what I’m up to right now, or I’m replying to someone, or commenting…that’s all promotion of myself, my ideas, my sense of humour…what have you.

I agree that there are good ways and bad ways to toot your horn. Here are a few things that I’ve learned about what I like to call “The Art of Shameless Self-Promotion”.

Admit it.
Louis Gray writes about disclosure and transparency on his blog. So does Chris Brogan. It’s pretty essential and important to consider. Sneaky tricks to promote your stuff are just that…sneaky. So, if you are going to shamelessly self promote, at least admit it! I’ve sent emails to colleagues and friends entitled “Shameless Self Promotion”. Even if they delete the email, at least maybe I’ve got their attention for a second and made them snicker. (Note that I said “friends and colleagues”. I don’t recommend sending these kinds of emails to people that you don’t have an existing, pretty solid relationship with. Make sure the people on your list have a sense of humour about this stuff.)

Be Subtle.
This may seem to be a contradiction to my last point, but it’s not, really. Self Promotion done well is a balance of putting it out there, but doing it in such a way that you are not putting people off. It’s kind of akin to giving someone a gentle tap on the shoulder to get their attention and grabbing them from behind in a giant bear hug. The gentle tapper says “I’m here, if you want see what I’m about”. The bear hugger says “Here I am! Here I am! No, right here! Pay attention to MEEEEE!” See the difference? So go ahead. Self promote, using all your channels, like Twitter, your blog, Facebook, FriendFeed, LinkedIN. Just make sure you aren’t too “in your face” about it.

Gauge Yourself.
Not sure if you are being too overbearing? Well for starters, if you are, people will let you know pretty quickly. Usually they will just start ignoring you, or blocking themselves from your line of fire. What it comes down to is common sense. Does it make sense to send out an unsolicited email to everyone on your contact list and all your Facebook friends and all your Twitter followers about your latest blog post? Of course not. Does it make sense to do a quick post to Twitter, and maybe a link on your Facebook profile? Sure. Why? Because the latter method is non-intrusive. It gives people a choice if they want to buy in to your self-promoting ways. And if they don’t? So be it. At least you’ve put the word out.

The #1 Way to Shamelessly (and subtly) Self Promote
I am surprised all the time by the new people that come across my blog. And you know the #1 way people find me? Through comments I make on other people’s blogs. Yup. Not through my Tweets, not through my Facebook, LinkedIN or anything else. I comment on people’s blogs. Probably 5 to 10 a day. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying go out and put inane comments on a bunch of blogs to get your name out there. What I AM saying is go out there and make a contribution to the community. Get involved in the conversation. Express yourself. If you do this with integrity, people will visit you because they are interested in what you have to offer. This is the give and take game of social media. And when you play it right, the rewards will be real and fulfilling.

So go ahead – toot your own horn!

Photo credit: Fiskfisk on Flickr.

The Reason I Heart the Internet

I apologize if I’ve been quiet the past few days. I guess I haven’t really mastered the art of blogging and Twittering consistently while on the road. I know, I probably don’t have to apologize, but I’m Canadian, and that’s what we do.

For those of you who haven’t been following my Twitter posts, my husband and I made a little road trip to Cincinnati this past weekend. Okay, there is nothing LITTLE about a 12 hour drive each way. But we did it, and we sure are glad we did.

The purpose of our little jaunt was to meet up with the group of podcasters who produce “Night of the Living Podcast“. If you are at all in to horror movies you have probably heard of them. If you haven’t, you should definitely subscribe.

A few months ago, my hubby, who has been a fan of the show since the beginning, sent off an email to one of the hosts because he wanted to produce a documentary about them.

He wasn’t really sure what to expect. I mean, imagine some stranger claiming to be a “fan” contacts you, and wants to drive all the way from Canada to film a documentary about you? What would you do?

Well, thankfully, the Night of the Living Podcast crew is just nuts enough to say yes to this sort of request. So off we went.

I heart the Internet. Sure, the technology that allows us to blog, podcast, buy cool stuff, learn anything about anything, conduct business and be more productive is truly amazing. But what is most amazing, what I really love, is the people.

We headed to Cincinnati, unsure of really what to expect when we got there. We knew the “crew” had agreed to be interviewed on camera. We knew they were willing to have us film the recording of one of their shows. We hoped they were willing to contribute to a little extra piece of the film, but weren’t sure. I mean, these people have jobs, lives, and we didn’t want to command too much of their time.

When we arrived, we received the warmest of welcomes. We discovered that all five of them had cleared their entire weekend for us – not just for the filming but because they wanted to show us their city. They took us to eat fabulous food at some of their favourite places. We went to see the X-Files movie with them (of which you will hear their review on this week’s episode of the show) . They welcomed us into their homes. They toured us all over downtown. They affectionately referred to us as “The Canadians” and were really curious about where we were from. Not only did we get a ton of great footage, we had an absolute blast.

Social media is a common thread that runs with anyone who is involved with it. It brings people together and bonds them almost instantly. We know the power of this medium to communicate, and we know the benefits it brings in terms of connecting with people you may otherwise never meet. This was one of the most fun vacations we’ve ever been on, and it’s due in large part to the warm welcome we received, not only by the NOTLP crew, but by all the terrific and friendly people we met in Cincinnati.

Freddy, Amy, Erica, Chisek and Andy – thank you for being such amazing hosts to us this weekend, for being so warm and kind, and for making our faces hurt from laughing so hard. You guys made our trip – and the doc, too. We look forward to seeing you again in Indy!