Social Media is NOT an Innovation

Way back in 1999, the man who invented the World Wide Web, Al Gore Tim Berners-Lee, wrote a book about how he created the Web, called “Weaving the Web: The Ulitmate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor“. I have the original, hard cover edition of this book. I’m not sure if it’s been updated in the newer editions or not. Here’s the most striking quote from the whole thing:

The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together – and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is of the sort we intend.

— Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web


Berners-Lee wrote this in ’99, and if you read the book, it turns out he’s been thinking about this concept of a worldwide social web since sometime in the 1970’s.

1999. It was the infancy of Google. It was pre-Wordpress blogs. Definitely pre-Twitter, podcasting, Digg, Delicious, and StumbleUpon, and any of the other many tools that we use in this space we call “social media”. Back in a time when a web page was not much more than plain text on a screen and even before that, Berners-Lee had incredible foresight. It’s a common misconception that Berners-Lee invented the Web for computer programmers and scientists. In fact, he invented it for everyone.

He actually had to jump through a lot of hoops at CERN where he worked. He snuck around, trying out his project on people, all while making it “look” like he was building something that only physicists could make use of. All the while, he was building a tool that would allow for sharing, communication and collaboration by everyone, anywhere in the world.

Skip forward to 2008 and we now have what many consider a real innovation called “social media”.  Well, I’ve got news for you. Social media is not an innovation. It’s the raison d’etre for the Web. Social media is merely the buzzword we’ve decided to attach to what was the original point of Berners-Lee’s invention. It’s the evolution of what he described as the ultimate goal, “to support and improve our weblike existence in the world”.

Case in point: Imagine if suddenly, Twitter was gone. Vanished. A permanent Fail Whale sort of gone. Imagine if suddenly, your blog disappeared, or the blog of your favourite blogger ceased to exist. Imagine a world with no Stumbleupon, or Digg, or YouTube, or Delicious. Whatever would we do?

I know what we’d do. We’d find another way to connect. Someone would build another tool, and we’d all head over there. Or maybe we’d actually meet in person where feasible, and connect that way. What I do know is, resourceful as we are, we’d find a way to still carry on the conversation that we’ve started here. We’d still have our weblike existence, because that’s how the Web is set up.

In the end, whether something is labeled as “social media” or not might be a moot point. This has become more and more apparent to me in recent weeks. There’s a shift happening. Maybe you’ve felt it too, depending on how involved you are in your networks and what you’ve been reading. The focus is starting to move away from the latest new tools, gadgets and technical creations, and more towards what Berners-Lee envisioned as a “social creation”.

More and more of the conversations I’m reading and having are about the social marvel that is the Web itself …not the marvel that is “social media”. This is a really, really good thing. It means that we are starting to move beyond the latest craze/gadget/guru phase. The environment is maturing. Communication, collaboration and communities are starting to become the mainstream ways in which people are using the Web. The social Web is no longer just for the “social media crowd”. I suspect, over the next 6 months, that this is going to become even more prevalent. I also suspect, that over the next little while, our label of “social media” is going to, if not go away, at least change.

10 years ago, people saw the Web was a place to get information. Today, more and more people are seeing it as a place to connect. Therein lies the difference. The shift to this thinking in the mainstream is going to be the next big revolution on the Web. It’s going to be the realization of Berners-Lees’  incredible vision. As he says, the “Web society” is forming before our eyes. We are ultimately all responsible for how this new society takes shape.

How do you think things will shape up?


Social Media’s Secret Sauce

Every time I go to a Podcamp, I come away with so many new things to think about and explore. Yesterday’s Podcamp Ottawa was no exception. Our group was smaller than most Podcamp groups (about 30 I think), but the discussion was compelling. I always have one big takeaway from the day. Yesterday’s take away was a pretty big one for me.

We talked about all sorts of things, from building relationships to writing books to the dreaded “M” word…monetization.

I get a bit persnickety when people start talking about monetization. I tend to lose my usual cheerful nature a bit. It’s not because I’m against monetization. I am an entrepreneur, after all…I do like to make money. What gets my knickers in a knot is the attitude that anyone can make quick buck shilling social media. I had several discussions with other Podcampers yesterday about this. And here’s what I’ve concluded.

Social media is not a product that can be sold.

I know I might be stating the obvious here, but I really do feel as if there’s a lot of misconception out there about how social media is actually making people REAL money. Sure, some people have super popular blogs and podcasts and tons of advertisers and yes they are carving out a decent living. But in my estimation, those people are the exception, not the rule. And frankly, I’m not the least bit interested in making a pile of money off just blogging or just having a podcast. To me, it just seems like too much work to make any real money at it. So what’s the secret? I think it’s this:

Share Share Share Share and then Share Some More
Jeff Parks from I.A. Consultants has a great business philosophy…”Share everything”. What he means is, if you find a place where you can provide value, then just provide that value. Seize the opportunities that come your way through the relationships you built, even if it means no immediate monetary benefit. Jeff, in his session yesterday morning at Podcamp, talked about how he gets invited to various conferences so he can interview the big thinkers in his industry (information architecture and user experience design) and produce podcasts, and how he doesn’t make a penny doing it.

So why does he do it? Because he gets the opportunity to travel around to various conferences and interview the big thinkers in his industry. He gets to spend time with people he may not otherwise ever get to meet. He gets to learn and grow and get better at what he does for a living, so when he gets back to his office he is in a better position to succeed with the money-paying clients he does have. The experience he is gaining, the relationships he’s building by attending these conferences and talking to these people far outweigh any monetary compensation he could get for doing the same.

Social Media’s Secret Sauce
My point is, social media is extraordinarily powerful when it’s used in the right way. Social media, as a tool, allows people to build relationships, share information, and succeed. We all know that. But are we actually doing it? I appreciate that over the past several months I have started to build a larger and larger audience on this blog. I said yesterday during one of the sessions that I have no intention of making any money off my blog, and that’s true. Why? Because I don’t think the amount of work I’d have to do to make any REAL money (I mean mortgage-paying money, not beer money) would be worth it. What IS worth it to me is the connections I’m able to make by blogging, being on Twitter, and going to meet ups and Podcamps (yes, I believe that these latter, in-person human contact events are social media tools as well) are far more valuable than making a quick buck off what I’m doing in these places. Sharing my thoughts with you here costs me nothing. You indulge me, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Sharing ideas is social media’s secret sauce. The truth is, you don’t make money off of sharing ideas. You don’t make money off of social media. Social media is just the vehicle by which you are able to share. You make money off of the opportunities that arise out of that sharing.

What do you think? Am I way off base on this? What’s in your secret sauce?

Are You Trying Too Hard? Or Not Hard Enough?

Back in high school, there were lots of different types of people, but the people I found the most difficult to deal with were those that tried too hard and those that didn’t try hard enough.

The kid that didn’t try hard enough always got under my skin. It was mostly because he was a spoiled brat to begin with (and my parents didn’t raise no spoiled brats!). He expected something for nothing and whined and groaned to anyone who would listen if he didn’t get his way. He was always shouting and bragging and carrying on about how great he was but wasn’t interested in what anyone else had to say. He wanted a free ride to the top and he’d step on whoever he could to get there.

The kid that tried too hard, on the other hand, was even more troublesome for me. This kid was the one that was always hanging around the cool kids, but was continuously being openly ignored by the popular set. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a nice kid; it’s that she’d be constantly tripping over herself to try and fit in. She’d try to use the cool expressions, wear the cool clothes, hang out at the cool places. She thought she was doing everything right. But instead, she was trying to be someone she wasn’t. And that was not cool.

Like any community, social media attracts all kinds of people. The majority of the people I come across are genuine. Their intentions are really good. But I think that some people are not getting everything they could out of social media simply because they are either trying too hard or not trying hard enough.

How to Tell if You’re Not Trying Hard Enough
Wondering why you post on your blog every day (sometimes twice a day) and nobody shows up? Or maybe a few people do drop by, but they don’t ever leave a comment. Wonder why you follow 20,000 people on Twitter but only 300 follow you back? There’s a chance you are not trying hard enough.

Social networks only work if they work two ways. Essentially, you get out of it what you put into it. If your blog or Twitter posts are only about you promoting your latest product, or you whining and complaining about things, or you bragging about how great you are, then there’s a big problem: it’s that your posts are all about YOU. And as interesting as your life is, people are not interested in being constantly blurted to. Eventually they will give up on you.

What To Do About It
Make your social network interactions about something that people can relate to. Touch a chord. Inspire change. Raise awareness. Help other people. Most importantly, reach out to others. Ask questions, start a conversation. Don’t sit back and wait for everyone to come to you. This takes effort. It doesn’t happen overnight. It might take years. Keep reminding yourself why you are here. Then take one step at a time.

How to Tell if You’re Trying Too Hard
You’re going along, interacting with lots of important and famous people, commenting on a ton of popular blogs, reaching out on a daily basis to anyone who has more than 10,000 followers. Last week, Ms. A List blogger even posted a follow up to your comment! Yet, since then, she has outright refused to respond to any of your emails, DM’s, requests to send out links, or latest business ideas. The nerve of some people! And you thought she was your friend.

Trying to be one of the popular kids is rarely successful. It didn’t work for you in high school, honey, and it certainly isn’t going to work for you here. The reason why is simple; when you are trying to be popular, you are not being yourself.

What To Do About It
If you are using social networks to be popular, you are doing it for the wrong reason – it’s that simple. Instead, try this approach. Be real. Be yourself. Be interested in other people whether they have 50 followers or 50,000. Be interesting to other people by having real conversations about things that matter to both of you.

In The End…
We could sit around and analyze for years why certain people gain more popularity than others. Some would say it’s dumb luck. Others would say it’s because of the kind of person they are, and how they interact with and engage others. I say it’s probably a bit of both. Look, what you do with your time in this space is up to you. If you are not getting the results you want, though, seriously consider your motivation and how you might begin to see things differently.

The Secret to Success in Social Media

I know! I know! After months of searching, finally you’ve discovered someone has the secret, and you’re here to get it! Well, okay, maybe I’m being a bit facetious. But rule #1 of writing a good blog post is having a catchy title. And hey, it got you here, didn’t it? 

Seriously though, lately I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what makes someone successful in social media. I, like most others, don’t make a penny off of writing this blog. The other day I wrote a post about Why I Blog. The points I make there are valid and true, but what it doesn’t explain is why I travel around in these circles.

Since I was introduced to social media back in 2006 at Podcamp Toronto, I’ve been a pretty active player. I’ve got accounts on all the major sites (well, oddly, MySpace has never really appealed to me, but that’s neither here nor there), I regularly read and comment on lots and lots of blogs, and I’ve even been fortunate to be a guest blogger here, here and here. I have quite a few followers on Twitter, and somewhat sizeable networks on LinkedIN and Facebook. 

But does that make me successful? Just having lots of links and friends and blog posts? Maybe that stuff is kind of important, because it helps me to get my ideas out there, and in particular it helps me to connect and learn from what others have to offer. But I really think that the SIZE of your network is not important. 

Defining success is a very personal thing. Success is based on the goals you set for yourself. My goals for social media are as follows (in no particular order) –

– Have fun meeting, talking and collaborating with people from around the world
– Have an outlet for all this crazy stuff that whirls around in my head all the time
– Make some connections that may be of value in my career/job/business 

So if that’s how I personally define my success, what’s my secret for achieving it? It’s pretty simple, actually…two steps. 

Who Are You Linked To?
Operating successfully in social media is not about being Facebook friends with A-list bloggers and Twitter friends with SnoopDog. Whether you are an individual or a business, it’s about finding people who share common interests to you. It’s like going down to the local pub, bellying up to the bar, and striking up a conversation with whoever is sitting next to you. One of two things will happen: either you will make some kind of connection on either a personal or business level (or both), or you will have a pleasant chat for a few minutes and then slide down to the other end of the bar. You either make a connection or you don’t. It can’t be forced. You just have to let it happen. 

You Make Your Own Opportunities
The wisest woman in the world, my Mom, said this to me when I was just a kid. “You can’t sit around and wait for stuff to fall in your lap, because it will never happen.” You have to find out what you want, then do what it takes to get it. I listened to my Mom, and to this day, I’m not one to sit around passively waiting for everyone and everything to come to me. I decided to participate in social media. I introduce myself to people online, go to meetups and Podcamps and seminars by myself when I don’t know anyone. I get in touch with people if I feel I have something of value to contribute to what they are doing. As a result, I get opportunities to collaborate with amazing, brilliant people. I also sometimes get opportunities for my business. And best of all, I get to create, and share, and learn. 

This is MY secret, to MY success in social media. Your secrets and how you gauge your success may be very different. I feel good about the contribution I make, and most importantly, I have fun doing it. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t still be here, that’s for sure. 

What’s your secret?

Stop With the Scrambling Already!

I don’t rant much on this blog. But I’m about to…so if you’re not in the mood, then you might as well mark this one read. If you don’t mind, though, I’m going to speak my mind on this one, because it’s bugging me. 

I’ve been noticing some disturbing trends on my travels around the Internetz lately. There seems to be a lot of scrambling going on. People seem rather preoccupied with trying to be the next, big, popular thing. Some are trying to elbow their way to the top of the blogosphere. Others are hacking together web applications faster than you can say “cloud computing”. Still others are using the number of Twitter followers they have as some kind of currency, declaring some sort of social media bankruptcy if they discover that a so-called A-lister has stopped following them

I sign up for one web app after another, hoping to find what it is that’s going to be new and different and great about this one. I watch as the same “Top Ten Reasons Why Your Business Should Use Social Media” fly around on people’s blogs. I sit back and watch inane, petty conversations taking place about what so and so said or whose follow list is bloated. 

Now, of course, I’m not talking about ALL blogs, ALL applications and ALL online conversations. Of course, there are still many, many excellent, amazing, thought provoking things going on – otherwise I’d have checked out long ago.

Those who know me know I’m not one to b$%tch and complain about stuff without providing something positive. 

So, to those who insist on beating a dead horse, talking in the same circles, and thinking that simply building it means people will come, I offer some positive advice. 

Be a Problem Solver. Building something just because you can is no reason to build it. Building something that 100 other people have already done is no reason to build it (Unless you know can build it far better). I see plenty of web applications around that are designed to solve problems that nobody has. Want to build the next great web application? Look around you. Find something that bugs you. Find out if it’s bugging other people too. Then build something that fixes it. 

Be Original. There are times when it’s good to be a bandwagon jumper. For instance, if someone is promoting a worthwhile charity then by all means, get on that bandwagon – shout it from the rooftops, blog about it, Retweet to your heart’s content. No worthy cause ever suffers from too much promotion and attention. HOWEVER…is there really any need to re-hash the same content over and over again? It’s fine to talk about the impact social media is having in the business world. But I want to hear your own take on it. If I want to hear what Seth has to say about it, he’s got an abundance of books and blog posts to which I can refer. Guys like Seth Godin have made their success on giving original thought to things – my bet is, you can give it a go too.

Be Real. The blogs I like to read and the people I like to talk to are the ones who I know are the same off the Web as they are on the Web. They aren’t trying to put some sort of faux image of themselves out there. They aren’t trying to be an A-lister (even though they might very well be). What they are doing is contributing something of value to the community. They are being accessible, helpful and open with people. They are being human. You’re pretty interesting, I bet. Put that persona on the shelf and just be you instead. 

Stop Trying to Be Popular. As much as I’d like to say that it’s not a popularity contest, I fear that many people feel it is. Someone mentioned today she tries to keep her Twitter follow list small, because she wants to work on building relationships with people she feels have a contribution to make. I think she has a very valid point. It’s not about how many people subscribe to your blog. It’s not about how many followers you have. It’s about making connections, communication, collaboration. There’s no need to try to “fit in” with the cool folks here. Everyone is pretty cool. So stop trying so hard to get everyone’s attention all the time. Just get in and start having some conversations. It’s a much more fulfilling approach and you’ll be surprised how many new opportunites come your way. 

So that’s my rant…I feel better now. If you’re still here, thanks for sticking around till the end. Tell the ones that didn’t make it to here that it wasn’t so bad… 🙂