Make the Most Out of Social Media

Jul 2 2010 by Alex Kessinger | 17 Comments

Make the Most Out of Social Media

Social media is more than just socializing online. There is a broad range of conversation that happens online. One form of which is people talking about what they want to do. Sometimes, this can lead to great opportunities such as being able to work on awesome projects or meeting people to collaborate with.

Goals

Social media is useful to you, and in that regard, I have some goals for you.

First, the handful of you reading this who may not be already consuming social media: I want you to start. I want 100% of you all to become consumers of social media.

Some of you consumers, I want to turn into curators. Curators are like the decomposers of information: We take in a bunch of raw material and churn out gold. The curator level is super important. Curating is as simple as tweeting a link or sharing something on Facebook or Google Reader. It’s really easy.

Finally, some of you out there may be on the verge of creating, of being a producer: I want to give you that extra push. This won’t be the last time I say this, but the real secret message I have for you is that the best way to get more out of social media is to be a producer in the ecosystem.

The Theory

Social media is different from many of the media that came before it. That difference — however slight — is super important. It’s important theoretically and pragmatically to you.

I have two big ideas from two big people; both are heroes of mine. Both are groundbreaking in their own way.

"The medium is the message"

Marshall Macluhan is a big media theorist. He was a Professor of Media Studies in Canada who wrote a lot about media.

This guy realized the moment we connected the world together into one global telecommunications network that one day it would be instantaneous and the nature of that kind of communication would have huge ramifications. This concept manifests itself in a statement he made, "The medium is the message."

Think about that: The medium is the message.

Now think of a band like The Beatles. Arguably the most awesome band in the world.

How did they become the most awesome band in the world? Sure, they had talent, but what if we didn’t have vinyl records or radio stations back in the day? What if we didn’t have televisions, magazines, and newspapers?

Without the major broadcast medium, The Beatles would have just been arguably the most awesome band in Liverpool.

The idea is that the medium of communication matters more than the message that gets communicated.

The reason I bring this up is that sometimes when evaluating social media, I think we tend to look at all the wrong parts, and I am going to talk more about this later.

"anything that’s created wants to be mediocre"

Ira Glass is the host of "This American Life" is a show in the United States. Each week they choose a theme and put together a show around that theme. Usually it will be a mix of real stories, interviews, spoken essays, sometimes some fiction, really anything goes as long as it’s good.

Even though they aren’t "creating" the stories, they are producing the stories.

What I find interesting is they have put on 400 shows, maybe topping out at 1,000, 1,200 stories, but they started in 1995, which puts them, tops, at a 100 stories a year.

Only 100 stories a year is good enough to put into their show.

These people do their show year round. They go all over the country and they can only come up with 100 good stories a year.

Over 300 million people. 50 States. 365 days a year. And they can only find 100 good stories worthy enough to tell.

In one sense, it feels like they aren’t trying hard enough, but in reality, all we have to do is look around us.

Do you all tend to walk around everyday having really important conversations? No. None of use do.

Ira glass once said, "It’s like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that’s written or anything that’s created wants to be mediocre."

If we look at what Glass is saying — that most things are mediocre — he doesn’t know why, and it’s not really a bad thing, it’s just the way things are.

It takes a serious act of will to make something good, or even great.

Social Media Sucks

I might be preaching to the choir here, but there are more then a few gentiles out there.

Even though I find internet-oriented people to be more open, there are still a lot of social media skeptics. Here are common criticisms about social media.

Privacy?

Privacy is a real concern and shared by many. Social media isn’t great at this issue. While there maybe a little getting used to the new-world order, there are still better ways of handling privacy.

It’s Filled with Crap

Danah Boyd is a social media researcher and she has been doing some great stuff around investigating actual use of social media.

It’s filled with crap. Twitter is filled with crap, blogs are filled with crap, why would I ever want to look at a blog about some woman’s dog, I don’t care what people ate for lunch.

Sure, I get it, and I totally agree, but if we look at what Ira Glass said, most things are going to be mediocre, why do we expect them to be something else?

Context is King

JoeChicago: I just ate a bad sandwich.

Yea, not so interesting.

MarioBatali: I just realized that basil grown in Sicily is the secret to a great pasta sauce.

Okay, maybe.

CoWorkerJane: A Korean BBQ Truck just pulled up outside Yahoo!

Awesome, right? It’s an integration of local, timely, personal, and pull-based notifications.

This is where we can begin to see the medium is the message come into play — the medium of Twitter and other real-time microblogging services — is what allowed those contexts.

Good Stuff about Social Media

Social media’s great because it gives us a way to create connections with real people around or remotely from us.

Geolocation

Something Twitter and other real-time social media services can do is to provide a geographical and date context: Geolocation.

Crowdsourced Pattern of Events

What if you were a mayor and you started seeing people tweet something like:

HenerySanJose: I just heard a huge bang, what’s up?

What if we multiply HenerySanJose by a 1000s and put it on a Google Map?

We can start to see a pattern. This is exactly what happened in Portland this year. Out of a thousand tweets, you can extract useful information.

Twitter Movies

Another example of the possibilities of social media is this guy is tracking tweet volume around movies coming out and being able to predict with a high degree of accuracy how much money they are going to make.

Practical Super Secret Tip

First part of being practical is to give back to the network. Be prepared to share. Tweet a link, blog a picture. This maybe the most important takeaway. I can tell you about how to consume until I am blue in the face, but you will never truly get it until you contribute back to social media.

Not So Super Secret

Social Media is a stream — well, more like a river — a torrent of information flowing past you.

Far too many people think they need to consume it all, they think of it as a task to be done like getting your unread emails down to zero. You are going need to fish for good stuff.

Keeping up with Social Media Using the Triage Technique

One of the ideas I want to share with you is the idea of triage. What I know about triage is what I see on medical dramas on television like ER and Trauma.

The idea is that in the face of an insurmountable, completely opaque task, just start making decisions. Tackle social media consumption by prioritizing the more critical stuff.

It works better the more you do it, just like doctors with 10 years of experience will know quickly who needs immediate care and who doesn’t.

You need to get better at recognizing the good stuff.

What is The Goal of Triage?

To read less crap and more quality stuff.

This is where something like Google Reader really shines. I can just use the star feature, and then its gets filled away for latter perusal.

Google Reader

Organize For You

Your #1 folder is your protective cradle of what you enjoy best. This folder has to be like your crack cocaine, it needs to keep you coming back for more.

A rule of thumb for me is if I am not enjoying at least every third item I see from a source, then something is wrong, and I need to weed out the bad content.

This folder is easy to clean out in like 20 minutes, and it drives most of my pleasure. When this folder is done, I move down the stack into the larger folders like Twitter.

Organize For You

Where to Consume

You don’t watch newspaper on the TV, and you can’t see the radio host. I find it easier to consume stuff in different ways, like tweets can be read in the Google Reader, but long form journalism deserves the iPad or Kindle treatment.

I use instapaper for this sort of thing.

Your Plan of Action

Start small, cultivate sources, organically grow. You need time to develop a sense of social media, but investing some time can pay off in the end.

How do you use social media? Why have you chosen to engage in social media?

Related Content

About the Author

Alex Kessinger works for Yahoo! as a front-end engineer. Elsewhere, he likes to curate great stuff from the web on his blog, alexkessinger.net. He is also a founding member of the Tastestalkr Network, a brand group. When not working, Alex lives in the bay area and enjoys really good food.

17 Comments

Darren Appleby

July 2nd, 2010

Great article!!

Jordan Walker

July 2nd, 2010

I have had a hard time breaking into social networking – seems like one more time drain.

Kalvin

July 2nd, 2010

Being from Canada and in Marketing, “the medium is the message” is hard coded into my brain. Insightful to apply it to social media, though. Thanks for the article. And you might want to check your spelling on the Beatles. Not my generation, but

Paul Singh

July 2nd, 2010

Hello Alex
Great post :-) Constantly, with clients, I try to emphasize the benefits of social media and what it can do to their business. Somehow, even after several sessions, some folks are too rigid to see the potential. We use blogging and twitter for our work and it really does help. Makes sharing and generating conversation easy.

Cliff

July 2nd, 2010

Mediocracy (is that a word?) is just another victim of the bell curve you learn about in statistics and happens to be everywhere in life. Mediocre content isn’t bad, but it’s not that good. It’s what it sounds like. Mediocre. Average. Nothing special. But the definition of average is just that – representative of the general population. If everything we read was great then it would become the new mediocre – it would set the norm.

If you look at a normal 68-95-97 bell curve, which appears to be the math, “average” would be the peak and within 1 standard deviation on both sides would account for about 68% of the entire population. Which means the majority of the stuff you see will be just mediocre content (whatever mediocre happens to be during the relative time period).

Which means most of us are gonna write “average” content, and a few will right plain crap, and a few will hit the mark.

If we take this gaussian distribution to comments – about 68% of the comments on this article will be quick one liner “great article” or “great read” (no offense to anybody who writes it – there’s nothing wrong with something quick and to the point), you might get a couple trolls that just abhor this article and think it’s retarded (“this article is retarded – oh no wonder it comes from an engineer not a writer. and he works for yahoo? wtf. nobody even uses yahoo anymore it’s all about google. oh what yahoo has a #4 alexa rating? alexa’s wrong then, nobody uses yahoo”) and a couple will write a really long comment about your article. :)

Of course, this is all based on the assumption that writing content is based on a normal gaussian curve.

Brian Null

July 2nd, 2010

Social Media comes at you fast and can be overwhelming at times… thanks for taking the time to lay it out in this fashion, the Triage Technique in particular :)

Jessica

July 2nd, 2010

How exactly does one misspell the name of “Arguably the most awesome band in the world”??

Young

July 2nd, 2010

@jordan: I also have a hard time tweeting. Enough of my friends facebook to make it worthwhile but less than 5 of those FB friends tweet, which makes me wonder what kind of people are actually tweeting – possibly not the demographic I’m interested in associating with. I also find it impossible to express my thoughts within their character limit. I mean, how much of an ADD do you need to have to always have thoughts less than 140 characters? I can’t even tell a proper joke with that.

@cliff: the word is “mediocrity.” also, you sound like you recently learned statistics, but you could’ve made your post a LOT shorter, as well as sounding less like you’re trying hard to sound smart. no offense.

Jae Xavier

July 2nd, 2010

That is an interesting perspective:

Consumers, Curators, and Producers

There are a lot for Consumers and Curators…

Its hard to find quality content these days however. Most blogs are sophisticated curators who are aggressive in spreading the message. :(

Amber Weinberg

July 2nd, 2010

I’m a huge advocate of social media, but After a few months of use, have yet to find the usefulness behind geolocation….

Carlo D'urso

July 2nd, 2010

Good article Alex. Thanks.
We tell our clients that in order to understand social media they need to use it, thus to create an effective communication plan.

Cliff

July 2nd, 2010

@young

ah that was the word. and lol no it’s been several years since I took stats actually. no offense taken.

gerry suchy

July 4th, 2010

Great article Alex. If we as designers educate our clients as to how to best use Social Media then we have taken a step towards controlling the rubbish in the stream. We as designers also must do as we say and be content aware of what we put into the stream. I do it and others that I follow do it as well, so it is possible it just takes some effort.

Take Care

Gerry

Malcolm

July 5th, 2010

Nice one Alex. Thanks.

Brigham

July 6th, 2010

I disagree with the notion “the medium is the message”. the message is the message, and the medium is what allows the message to be distributed. The Beatles were a great band, records and radio helped them be heard, but neither medium had anything to do with the message of the band, or the fact that they were great artists. They were great, whether they were distributed or not.

This quote is also a derivative of a quote by Flash guru, Hilman Curtis, who said “the motion is the message”. Now that quote makes sense, where motion, itself, is communicative therefor can express a message of itsown. The medium, itself, is not communicative, only the message is. Whether your message is distributed on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, or a web site, its still the same message, and has no relationship to the medium it is heard on (excepting the limitations that exist on the particular medium, such as Twitter’s character limitations).

I also find most social media as simply noise, that exists to clutter our lives, and distract us from reality, but then I do understand your Triage analogy, there is quality content out there, I feel similar to what others have expressed, overwhelmed by the amount of content, and I don’t want to waste the time it would take to become good at extracting the good stuff.

Oh, and my definition of a good article is whether it provokes discussion, which this one has, thus makes it a good article, in my opinion. Thanks.

SometimesElla

September 13th, 2010

I would have enjoyed this more if there were less copy/grammatical errors. Are there no editors anymore???

Jim Angel

February 21st, 2011

The media may not be the actual message, but it does provide clues about the sender of the message.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to the comments on this article.