There are countless ways to get into the game with Social Media, but sometimes we get hung up on evaluating tools and thinking about which are the best for the job.
We go further into thinking about the variety of tools and why we'd use which ones for what, and then, next thing you know, the day's over and nothing's been done.
Here are a few sample tools and what they can be used for, and from there, maybe some new ideas will spread.
Quick note: I know and use and admire and communicate with lots of providers of these tools. For every one of these categories, I could probably name between four and sixteen more people. If I didn't list you, I probably still love you. Maybe that will be a post for another time: a big fat list of resources.
The Quick List
For the sake of summary, let's list out what's in our toolkit, and why—and then we'll go into detail:
- Listening tool—Google Reader
- Search tools—Technorati and Google Blogsearch
- Home base blog—Wordpress.com or Wordpress.org (to host your own).
- Scratch blog—Tumblr
- Better reach—FeedBurner
- Mobile blogging—Utterz (Qik for streaming video from your phone).
- Social conversation—Twitter
- Social profile—Facebook
- Business profile—LinkedIn
- Social bookmarking—del.icio.us
- Shared documents—Google Docs
- Instant messaging (Web-based)—Meebo or Campfire
- Photo sharing—Flickr or Zooomr
- Video hosting—Blip.tv (also YouTube)
What They All Do
Google Reader and the two search tools make it easy for you to set up a quick network of searches on topics, brands, company names, and whatever else you want to follow in your space. The "Shared Items" feature and the email to others feature makes this a great way to share interesting articles with others, by the way.
When I say "home base" blog, I mean that in most cases making your main Web site a blog is preferable to something static. Why? Because it hints at recurring content. It fills search engines with things to think about.
A "scratch" blog might be one that you don't even publish to the outside world; the beauty of Tumblr is that you can blurt short text, audio, video, and other things onto the site. I keep a few around for a few different purposes: one for private notes, and one for multimedia posts.
I use FeedBurner to improve the quality of my RSS feeds, to give people more options to subscribe to my posts, and for some extra functionality.
Utterz is a simple tool you can use from any mobile device (the barrier to entry is whether it has the #2), and post audio, text, photos, or video. Qik does live video streaming, if your phone supports making movies.
Twitter allows for one-to-many messaging from multiple points (Web, IM, third-party app, or mobile device). It's also good for presence, and sharing quick status information.
Facebook actually does lots of things and is a full-featured social network, but at the baseline, you can fill out a personal profile with lots of information about you, and links back to your main site and/or your blog, and it will do a great job of helping people find you. Other features exist, including groups and several third-party applications. There's lots to explore there.
LinkedIn is a popular site for posting a summary of your current job role and responsibilities, as well as a work history. There is now a group feature there as well, and you can use this tool extensively to reach out and meet new colleagues in your field and prospective employees; there are all sorts of other uses for such information, if you give it some thought.
I like del.icio.us (pronounced "delicious") for social bookmarking because it means my bookmarks are out on the Web, so I can access them from anywhere. It also means that I can add tags and other metadata to the bookmarks to improve the ways I search for them.
We've used wikis for collaboration projects, such as planning an event (we built PodCamp on a wiki, and it's still running strong!), or sharing status information that might need to be changed by more than one person. There are tons of free wiki software projects out there. I think PBWiki is simple, flexible, and easy enough to share with others. The only tricky thing about explaining wikis to colleagues who aren't up to speed is the name itself. If you just say "collaborative web page" or some such, it's easier.
Google Docs works as a great replacement for sharing word processing and spreadsheet functions. It's free, secure, and makes for less file clutter, as you're sharing a link to a shared, common document instead of sending around various versions. Google Docs also has presentation software, though I haven't had much experience with it just yet.
Instant messaging isn't dead. There are still plenty of great business uses for quick one-to-one conversations. Meebo is a great tool because it lets you bridge several services at once (Desktop apps that do the same thing are Adium for the Mac and Trillian for PC) and chat with people about quick-hit items.
Photo sharing and video hosting can be used in lots of ways. They make for richer interactions, add some dimension to the media you're making with your company, and give you an opportunity to express your story in ways different from straight text.
How You Might Use These Tools
I won't go into every tool, but here is a quick rundown of some tools and how you can use them for business purposes:
- Listening tools—understand how people react to your organization, follow your competitors' news stories, learn more about things that might affect your business.
- Blogging—communicate your company's news, discuss the industry as a whole, share information and learning, respond to things you find while listening.
- Mobile tools and social conversation—status and presence information, visuals from field engineers, audible daily meeting messages.
- Collaboration and shared documents—project plans, intention documents, status reports, meeting minutes, shared creative projects.
- Instant messaging—meetings while virtual, backchannel during conference calls, quick integrated conversations.
Lots of these tools are often explained in their typical use as a way to communicate outwards to lots of people; yet, as I explained about "scratch blogs" use, all these great tools are yours to use for yourself—as a creative type looking to capture information on the fly.
Remember that tools have an obvious first use, but sometimes they have a different use when applied to a different kind of problem. Don't lose sight of that option.
What Would You Recommend?
These are all just part of one sample kit. You probably have different kit ideas and different use cases. For instance, what would a mobile journalist want to build? What would an audio producer add in there? How would you take advantage of even more Web tools that aren't exactly media but that you love for different reasons?
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