When I’m working with students who are interested in going into professional communication positions, they often express concern regarding the amount of time it takes to keep up with social media.
In the United States, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn tend to be the most popular social networking sites. However, in the last year Google launched their social networking site Google+ to much fanfare. Quora, the questions and answer social network, has made a major splash in Silicon Valley, and the online virtual world of Second Life has over 20 million live accounts. Wikipedia provides a list of social networking sites with more than 200 examples of popular online communities. If we add the various Ning communities that develop around organizations or areas of interest, the number of social media platforms extends into the thousands.
Although I primarily discuss teaching and technology on this blog, I also spend a great deal of time researching the use of social media for targeted communication projects. However, that doesn’t mean that I think it’s necessary to be active on every new social network or master every new media tool that’s out there. Instead, I spend most of my time researching my intended audience, and then I look for the best tools to communicate with that group.
For example, there is a very active education community on Twitter interested in new technology. Also, LinkedIn has become a destination for individuals who want career development information and for discussions on professional topics. So, it’s no surprise that I get much of my information on hot topics in ed tech for ISTE through Twitter and the ISTE LinkedIn group. Given how wide ISTE’s audience is, we also have a presence on Facebook and feature both an ISTE Community Ning and ISTE Conference Ning.
The biggest issue I see with groups or organizations interested in getting started involved in social media networks is that the first question they ask is “what tool should we use?” The better question would be “what tools does our audience already use?” The Pew Internet & American Life Project offers a wealth of data regarding social media use among different segments of the population. In addition, Forrester Researchers has created a social technographics tool to show the different ways people use new media.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to actively participate in every social media network out there. However, instead of trying to be an expert in everything, communicators must work to become an expert in only one thing: their audience.