I’ve been blogging for almost four years now, but I think I’d still call myself a late adopter. It’s only been within the last few years that I’ve begun to realize the power of optimizing my site for search engines, so I spent a couple of years blogging while nobody was listening. I’ve also been slow to catch on when it comes to social networking, but I’m quickly realizing I’m not alone – though many networks seem huge, most people I know still aren’t on them.
I thought I’d take just a few minutes and talk about the power of social networking and why I wish all my friends would jump in with both feet, as well as a couple of warnings…
The Power of Social Media
Social media is difficult to understand. Why is Facebook worth at least $15 billion? Why is MySpace so popular in spite of the ugly and messy designs it normally features? (more on why I don’t use myspace later…) And what in the world is Twitter and why would anybody “tweet?”
Let me sum up the power of social media – it offers the ability for anybody to engage everybody (who is online, that is) about anything. Thousands of blogs begin every day. Many step into the arena without a full understanding of the game, however.
In the 90’s, people went online to learn. We thought it was so cool that you could watch an interactive encyclopedia unfold before your eyes – to visit the zoo, research the Civil War, and find plenty of recipes for Spam. Today people go online to connect. In a recent article I published on another site, I argued that what happened in 1989 when the net went public was akin to what happened in 1455 when the Gutenburg Bible was first printed.
The social networking craze isn’t just a passing fad, it’s a cultural shift. We now see a generation of kids who will never know a world without it. Consider that the most recent presidential election was one in which one party saw the power of social networking and the other did not.
Not everybody has to get involved, however. I don’t think my two living grandmothers would enjoy it one bit, and I don’t think either would care the least about their Twitter grade. Who should get involved then?
- People who want to connect with their past. (old classmates, genealogy, etc.)
- People who want to sell something… anything.
- People who want to join a global conversation… about anything.
- People who want to share information or research.
- People who want to speak up no matter who is listening.
- Pastors and church leaders who want to engage another side of culture.
My own experience has been an interesting one, at least in the last year. I’ve gotten involved in a few political discussions, though this isn’t my thrust. I’ve engaged with people who believe very differently than me about God, the world, and people. I’ve connected with some old friends whom I haven’t seen in years. And I’ve had fun.
Social Media Arenas Worth Entering
I’m sure others would add to this list, but I’m sticking with the basics. I think you have to limit yourself on social media involvement so that you remember that most of your life still needs to be lived in the real world with flesh-and-blood people. But here are a few thoughts on arenas worth entering…
I design blogs. I focus primarily on designing sites and blogs that work via WordPress, but if you’re just starting out, I’d recommend going with WordPress.com, a free, hosted blogging environment that allows you to get started. Did I mention it’s free? Talk about relevant stuff and people will comment and join an ongoing conversation. Blog about family, politics, faith, technology, a product, a philosophy of life, photography, cooking, or anything else that peaks your interest.
I was a slow adopter of Facebook. I joined and had an inactive account for about six months, then started logging on for a few minutes every few days, which is about my current pace. The beauty of Facebook is in its mysterious way of suggesting people from your past. I’ve talked with old high school and college friends for the first time in a decade. I see pictures of their kids and what careers they are involved in. It’s pretty neat to catch up.
I was a slow adopter of Twitter also (see a trend here?). For six months I thought Twitter was the dumbest idea in the world – post a sentence or two, 140 characters or less (so it can be done with text messaging), about whatever you’re doing or writing about right now. People follow you. You can follow people. Still sounds dumb, but I’ve made a few interesting connections here too and my favorite aspect of Twitter is that I can display my updates on my blog (over to the right –>) and it becomes a “micro-blog” of sorts. Further, it automatically syncs with and updates my Facebook status.
And here are some great tips for using Twitter better!
Delicious offers the simple ability to catalog favorite links in a way that your favorite sites and articles are shared publicly (which is optional), so that others see what’s popular.
That’s about it. I’m not a fan of MySpace – it isn’t moderated closely enough and it’s too open as far as minors are concerned, in my opinion. (Plus the designs of most pages look terrible.) There are hundreds of popular networks and thousands more in the abyss of social media mediocrity, but I’ve limited myself to these, which leads to my last little topic…
Warnings About Social Networking
Here we go:
- Don’t get so sucked in that you forget life is still lived off-screen, in fresh air, with human beings.
- Don’t waste time. Leisure isn’t the same as time-wasting, but they can overlap.
- Don’t open your life up in a dangerous way – don’t post your address or personal information in such a way that invites con-artists and stalkers, and if you’re a minor, stay as private as possible and always talk to your parents about your online activity!
- Keep your integrity and don’t look at pornography!!! (or anything close) If you struggle with this, visit PureIntimacy.org.
- Don’t get so immersed that you have to have it to feel important.
- Realize it only matters for eternity if you’ve been able to communicate the gospel or represent the Kingdom in some way.
- Don’t fall for any get-rich-quick schemes. If you think there are a lot of them on late night infomercials, just search for “online marketing!” Then… click away!!
- Don’t try to do it all. Choose a few favorite networks and stick with them.
- Realize that Google is about reputation management, which is deeply affected by your online activity – don’t do anything to make people hate you.
- Don’t forget to connect with me!
At the end of the day, if you don’t join Facebook, life will continue as normal. The world will keep spinning whether you “tweet” or not. Just know that this is where the world is going. Barack Obama knows it. Terrorists know it. Innovative church leaders know it. I just wanted you to be aware.