Fear of public speaking, but not of public writing? Social media could be your platform of choice.
A friend recently asked me about the uses of social media. The request made me think about how rapidly the interactive capabilities of the web are changing, and what that means for us. So if you’re wondering just what all the “buzz” is about, here is a summary of my response to her question.
Social networking, i.e., the ability for individual users to connect with one another and contribute publicly-available content, has become a powerful force on the web.
First a word of caution; in general, social networking content does not have the benefit of being peer-reviewed or vetted by editors. For example, CNN posts what they refer to as iReports; videos, messages, etc. from people around the world. The first time you open an iReport you get this message: So you know: iReport is the way people like you report the news. The stories in this section are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post. Only ones marked ‘CNN iReport’ have been vetted by CNN.
Although blogs, tweets, Facebook, etc. may not display the same disclaimer, the fact is, readers should view social media content with a healthy dose of skepticism. After a bit of fact checking they can usually begin to determine who offers truthful, trustworthy information.
Blogs for example, can be influential, not just because of frequently updated, worthwhile content, but because bloggers form on line communities by connecting with, and referencing, one another. Those writers in turn gain more credibility, more authority, and more followers, in the blogosphere.
News reporters are expected to be neutral and not take sides on issues; not so with bloggers and other social media contributors. Our venue encourages writers to share more of our own personality and opinions. For most of us, that makes for more interesting reading, as long as we remember that we’re reading someone’s opinion of the facts, which may of course “shift during transit.”
Twitter, and now Google Buzz, a new entry into the social media foray, are micro-blogging sites. I suppose they are growing in popularity because of our ever-decreasing attention spans. (Congratulations for making it to this point in this post - 376 words so far!)
Twitter allows a maximum post size of 140 characters, and both celebrities and ordinary folks jump on Twitter and post little messages about what they’re doing, what they’ve read or seen, or links to sites they find interesting. Twitter posts are called tweets, and if someone likes what you’ve posted they can re-tweet it, (kind of like forwarding an email, the original author gets credit.)
Google Buzz just opened about a week ago – it’s Google’s answer to Twitter and attaches to user’s Gmail accounts. The concept is similar to Twitter, but Google Buzz allows longer posts, and readers/writers get to see their information as a topic thread with other commenters joining in, so there’s a bit more continuity to the messages.
As for Facebook and LinkedIn, Facebook tends to be more social – a way to keep in touch with friends around the world, LinkedIn aims for a more professional interface and encourages connections among professional colleagues, business contacts, professional associations, etc.
Wikis, like Wikipedia, allow various users to contribute content to a single topic, essentially a user-created encyclopedia. For example, someone can go to Wikipedia and search on NAMSS and get a brief article that a member wrote about the association. Other writers can jump in and add or change content, or link to the article. Volunteer editors keep an eye on content updates.
There’s more out there, and more on the horizon. Users love being able to participate in the interactive world of social media. It provides an opportunity for even the socially shy to express themselves on topics that matter to them.
Speaking for myself, I sometimes have to step back from all of it because it gets to be a bit overwhelming.
Many of these social media sites track your “friends, followers, or fans,” which can create a desire to constantly participate so you gather a bigger “fan” base. Again a caution for users, keep it in perspective, don’t get too wrapped up in the numbers, which can go up and down on a whim. Participating in social media can take a great deal of time, so users need to make sure they’re getting a worthwhile return on their investment of that most valuable of resources.