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Social Media Starter Kit: The Tools You Need

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Work of any kind requires an understanding of the appropriate tools for the job, and social media is no different. You can't pitch hay with a shovel, and you can't dig a ditch with a pitchfork.

Here are some serving suggestions for a set of social media tools. The actual applications will change, over time, because technology tends to do that. But the basic functions should evolve a little more slowly.

Listening

In social media, as in life, listening is twice as important as speaking. Online, the tool for listening is a news reader. This type of software allows you to understand the conversation going on out there, and the best of them permits you to do a little more understanding of what you're "hearing."

I recommend Google Reader. It's easy to use, has ways to roll through information quickly, supports the import and export of OPML (simply, the bundle of all the feeds you've selected to follow), and has some powerful sharing features that make it more compelling to me than other readers.


What should you listen to? It depends on how you're intending to use the tool; but, if you're part of a company in a certain space, here's a way to think of it:

  • Build an ego search. Use tools like Technorati and Google Blog Search to build a search on your company's name, your products' names, key employees' names, etc.
  • Build the same for your competitors.
  • Find blogs about your specific space or industry and subscribe to a handful of them. (Easier to add tons and subtract a few than think you're getting the best and be missing something better).
  • Find a few tangential categories. If you're in software, subscribe to an art or marketing blog. If you're in marketing and PR, subscribe to an economy blog.
  • Add in a few hobbies. This should help you use this reader more frequently. (Don't overdo it, kids.)

There are several advanced listening tools that take the data you receive and help you make better sense of it. As of this posting, I'm partial to Radian6 because it's flexible and allows a somewhat deeper dive on the information gathered. There are many tools in the advanced category, but I'll save that for some other time.

Speaking

Blogs and podcasts and videoblogs and Twitter and dozens and dozens of other tools exist for speaking. It's almost too much to tell you about all the various platforms, because I could deliver hundreds and hundreds of things for you to check out. Most of you probably already use something that you're comfortable with, and that you prefer.

Instead, let's just talk about some ways to "improve" the quality of your speaking—that is, some ideas on how your voice can be better heard:

  • Use FeedBurner to improve your RSS feed. No built-in RSS feed has as many features and enhancements as FeedBurner provides. Bring your existing blog feed to FeedBurner, make a new feed there, do all the little tweaks and add-ons that they suggest, and then promote THAT feed as your subscription mechanism to your media, no matter what form your media takes.
  • Use Facebook and MySpace and other social networks to point people towards your primary media. Use these services to tap into audiences that might not find your work otherwise. Seek out like-minded people who are making similar media, and share attention with them (that is, give them attention and offer your media as something they might like, as well).
  • Make sure your email signature and your business card have your URL to your media. This is about reaching the people with your conversation.
  • Make sure your site and all your media points back to you, so folks know who you are, where you are, how to reach you, and what you are all about.

Community

Social networks abound. By the time this is posted, there will probably be another dozen launched. A week from now, there will be a new 100.

Here are some thoughts about social networks, how you might use them for your social media experience, and a few that I like.

  • Twitter—Twitter is simple, and yet complex. You get 140 characters to say what you're doing, or, if you use it a little differently, to tell people what has your attention. Twitter is a great place to meet people, to build digital relationships and to add value to conversations. It's my current favorite social network.
  • Facebook—The benefit of Facebook is that it's a place with millions of active users and has had a powerful growth curve in the last several months: In other words, if you don't already have a huge audience, Facebook is a good place to find people who might like what you're doing. It's also gaining ground as a place businesses are investigating.
  • LinkedIn—It's a place for building an equivalent to your resume or CV, and that means it's another place to encourage people to interact with your media. List yourself as the publisher of a blog, or a media maker, as one of your "current jobs." Show people how to find your media there as well.
  • MySpace is appropriate if you have a youth element to your project, if you're in the music or entertaining space, and/or shouldn't be scoffed at, given that the user base of MySpace still far and away dwarfs other services. I have an out-of-date account there, and probably should listen to my own advice and tidy mine up.
  • Ning—Ning is a great white-label social network opportunity, allowing you to create a place for your audience should you already have a decent audience. It's modular, offers RSS for all the various pieces, integrates well with third-party applications, and can be branded nicely with your existing properties. Several large media companies are using Ning.
  • Other social networks. There are many other networks with great pocket communities for various interests. Flickr has built community around photo sharing. Digg has built a strong community around tech news. Seesmic is growing as "Twitter for video." And there are many more.

Rich Media

For content creation beyond blogging, I will touch briefly on some applications that I use to create media. There are tons of things that make this tricky to just touch on. PC vs. Mac. Price point. Your ultimate goal. Here's what I'll say is a good starter pack for making audio and video podcasts, for PC and Mac:

  • Audio—in both cases, I recommend Audacity. It's free, open source, and works on several platforms. For Macs, Garageband is good, too. I haven't found the analog on PC. Other solutions without hardware could be Utterz, Talkshoe, and BlogTalkRadio; each has its advantages and opportunities. Back in the day, I recommended Odeo, too. Still a good company, but I haven't touched the product in about a year.
  • Video—I use plain old iMovie, which comes with a Mac. You can use Windows Movie Maker on a PC with similar levels of skill. Beyond that, most folks swear by FinalCut Pro. I recommend FinalCut Express unless you're an amazing filmmaker and really want to make a new classic.
  • Audio hosting—for audio and for free, there are a few choices out there. You can use your blog's storage and bandwidth, and if you're a WordPress user I'd recommend PodPress. Some folks take advantage of Ourmedia's free hosting (but it can be slow). If you want to pay a few bucks, I believe LibSyn is one of the better outfits in town.
  • Video hosting—there are many more choices here, each with advantages and challenges that I won't talk about in this post. You already know about YouTube, but really read the terms of service to understand whether that's a good choice for you. I strongly recommend Blip.tv, and then beyond that there are tons of great services like Vimeo, Viddler, Revver, and tons and tons more.
  • Live video—Another new player in the works is live video. There are opportunities to build interesting and compelling opportunities with live video. Services like Ustream, BlogTV, and Paltalk offer different experiences in this world.

Beyond these four segments, I have a few more tools I'd like to recommend, in case you're not aware or have other suggestions for me:

  • Firefox is my browser of choice. I like the power that the various add-ons bring to my Web-browsing experience. Other people swear by Flock as the social media browser of choice. You could try both and decide.
  • Miro is a free, open source Internet TV and video player. It's got some really great features and allows you to discover great video content.
  • Del.icio.us—social bookmarking has two benefits over using your browser's bookmark system. You can get to it anywhere you have the Internet, and, second, you can discover new things from friends.
  • Meebo—Web-based IM aggregator application, allows you to be logged in to various instant messaging clients. App versions include Adium and Trillian.

And I imagine you've got some ideas on other stuff to add to the starter kit. Email me (blog {at} chrisbrogan dot com) with ideas of what I've missed, or what you'd add.


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Chris Brogan is president of New Marketing Labs, LLC, a new-media marketing agency and events company. He makes media of all kinds at chrisbrogan.com, a blog in the Top 10 of Advertising Age's Power150 and a top 100 blog according to Technorati. Connect directly by emailing blog at chrisbrogan dot com.

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