I don't know about you, but all these social networking sites are making me dizzy. :)
The reason? I don't know where the conversation is anymore.
It used to be that you didn't have to worry about conversing online anywhere, except maybe at the occasional message board or perhaps email.
Then came blogs, and suddenly you had conversation on your blog, with readers leaving comments. Or readers might extend the conversation to their own blogs, by discussing your company, you, or even a blog post you wrote. So you had to track the conversation on other blogs as it related to you.
But that's not what's making me dizzy. No, what's making me dizzy are all the social media sites that now encourage sharing, comments and/or voting.
The conversation now is taking place at multiple places ... potentially thousands of sites if you are a large company and thankfully fewer if you work in a small business or are a solo entrepreneur.
The past two years have seen an astonishing range of "social" sites or sites with a social component enter the picture. In my case I only pay attention to perhaps a dozen sites (aside from individual blogs), but those keep me busy: Facebook, MyBlogLog, Twitter, Stumbleupon ... to name a few.
Others that encourage sharing and commenting include YouTube, Amazon.com, iTunes, Yelp, Google Local, DocStoc. And the list goes on.
You have to pay attention to trends, too, as the popularity of these sites changes. New social sites can enter the scene with amazing rapidity. The trend I've noticed in the past 60 days is that while Twitter is still red hot,FriendFeed is picking up followers at an accelerated pace, especially among the entrepreneurial crowd.
So how do you manage to monitor and participate in the conversation about your business or anything that interests you, if the conversation is distributed across the Web? Without it becoming a full time job?
I don't purport to have all the answers. But I can share a list of 4 tips that have helped me manage:
(1) Quickly Decide Which Sites to Participate In. As soon as you start hearing about a new group social site, make a quick initial assessment of it. Is it likely to impact your world? If no, then put it out of your mind and avoid the mental clutter. If yes, then you or your staff need to get up to speed. Unless you manage a mega-multinational brand, you probably are not going to have to participate in or track 100 or 1000 different social media sites -- you may only need to pay regular attention to a handful. Example: if you are a management consultant and have published no books and do not manufacture any products, then you can quickly rule out a site like Amazon as a site to monitor -- the conversation there just won't apply to you.
(2) Bookmark the Sites You Track. You can't track or manage your profiles or your activity on social sites from memory or haphazardly. Lack of organization leads to unnecessary distraction and anxiety because you are worried about forgetting or missing something. This is where one of the new breed of start pages comes in handy: iGoogle, Netvibes, PageFlakes. Also, use an RSS reader to subscribe to RSS feeds of influential blogs covering your industry.
(3) Hire Social Media Savvy People. Hire people around you who have one foot in the technical world, even if it is for what has traditionally been a "non-technical" position: marketing, administrative assistant, writer. Steve Rubel wrote last year about the need for marketers to combine both traditional marketing and technology in The Geek Marketer. The same goes for a variety of roles within small businesses. Surround yourself with people who understand this online world, and who also have enough skills to navigate it. For instance, an "old school" writer thinks the job is done as soon as an online article is written. The "new media" writer understands that publishing a blog article is just the start, and a conversational element then begins -- that person is a hands-on user of social media and knows where to look for that conversation and how to participate in it.
(4) Use Monitoring Tools. Sign up for Google Alerts. These email alerts will notify you when the discussion touches on you, your business or your products in Google's Web search, Google News, Blogs, Videos and so on. Get familiar with other monitoring tools that show links to your site(s), such as Technorati and Google Blogsearch. You'll need to use several tools, as most of these monitoring tools can be hit or miss -- not everything will immediately show up. Get used to checking your traffic stats, too, to identify where traffic is being referred from -- often you can spot conversations through traffic analytics.
Phew! I feel less dizzy already.