Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sharing Social Media with the Uninitiated

As bloggers, many of us are conversant in the online world- Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, LibraryThing, Flickr, Deli.ci.ous, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. Nobody uses every online tool but most of us by now have picked a few favorites. My favorites are the ones that provide the most benefit for the time I have spend online- services that help me organize information, connect with friends and family, and meet new people in the library and book world.

Not every tool gets the same emphasis. I use LibraryThing, for example, to keep track of my reading first and network second. And some profiles are completely restricted to people I know personally. But other tools, like LinkedIn and Twitter, are all about reaching out, and while I'm hardly a superstar I've had some nice successes here and there. One example- The BostonBEA Tweetup. A group of book people acquainted with each other through Twitter decided to have their own get-together when they couldn't make it to a national publishing conference. We shared information, made new friends and forged connections. And felt pretty cool doing it.

When you're accustomed to doing business online, you'll find the tools and learn to use them; the online world is, after all, all about entrepreneurship, self-promotion and self-starting. And there are plenty of folks willing to offer advice.

But how do you promote online tools to people who aren't used to living online? Recently I've been fielding a lot of questions from colleagues and friends about how the online world has helped me and how it might help them. Here are a few things I've learned about how to make a persuasive case for the online world.
  • If at all possible, be at a computer for these conversations, so you can demonstrate sites live and show them in action. A hands-on lesson is so much more powerful than a description.
  • Start with the best thing the online world has done for you- in a single sentence. In my case, my online activities have put me in touch with book-industry professionals to whom I would have no access any other way.
  • Avoid jargon, even if you think your listener will understand. Clear, plain-spoken enthusiasm will push your message further. If your listener doesn't understand, you will isolate yourself and diminish your effectiveness.
  • Point to the specific benefits of a given service. "Deli.ci.ous is so cool" is less helpful than "Deli.ci.ous helps me find new sites for shopping/hobbies/business."
  • Emphasize that most sites give ample privacy options. Privacy is a big concern for a lot of people and it means a lot to know that users can set some limits.
  • Tell a brief story about a specific accomplishment or contact that came from an online connection. "There are so many cool people on Twitter" says less than "I met a great publishing rep who pointed me to her podcast, which I now listen to every week."
  • Make your examples relevant to your listener. "You can keep up with all your old high school friends on Facebook" might not appeal equally to all.
  • Be honest about the amount of time you spend online. Let your listener understand what you put into it, so he or she can set realistic expectations for him- or herself.
What about you? How do you talk about the online world to people who aren't in as deep as you? What strategies work or don't work? What kinds of attitudes do you encounter, positive and negative, about our online life? What else do you think is important to say to skeptics? What are your online success stories?