Putting the 'Social' Back in Social Media
I've seen a lot of information recently in social media spaces and RSS feeds I follow that portends a bit of a change in the way people approach social media, and the inevitable 'information overload' we've all heard so much about. A lot of people compare today's information environment to a stream, and I think that's a very apt analogy. There are two primary ways that people seem to be reacting to this glut of information: more filtering or scaling back who they attempt to have 'relationships' with online.
I honestly believe the answer to this dilemma is to incorporate both approaches. In a nutshell, the way I've always approached 'social media' is to remember first and foremost, it's about people and relationships, not about how high you can drive your Twitter, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, or Facebook follower count. It's also important to utilize tools to help you filter out the most important pieces of information.
One of the most important tools is the network of contacts you build. My colleague (and I do consider him a colleague, though I've never met him in person) Steffan Antonas wrote a great blog post recently about his 'social media reboot' on Twitter. He had a lot of great content in the post, but this is by far my favorite part:
"The bottom line is, chasing numbers doesn’t matter in the long run. It’s just a waste of time. The only networking that matters is consistently taking an active interest in others, helping people achieve their goals, writing and sharing great content."
I agree with this 100%, and I find it interesting that this 'counter-culture' trend in social media is now starting to bubble to the surface. Maybe all of this is easier for me, as I'm not really trying to 'monetize the Guy Martin brand.' It's a good thing, too, as I think the Guy Martin Group (cool music BTW) would most likely be the beneficiary, not me. :) I participate in social media & write in this and other blogs as a creative outlet, and to keep my skills and knowledge current. It's true I'm not being completely altruistic here, but I also don't plan to sell 'MashedPotatoTech.com' t-shirts or even become the next Chris Brogan (though I admire the business he's built). I'm content to build up a network of trusted individuals (differing degrees of trust is ok) whom I can use as a sounding board for ideas, and on whom I can rely to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of information out there. The value of social media isn't so much about the technology involved; it's about creating relationships that you can count on to help you navigate the stream successfully.
I think people in the know are starting to realize that by successfully navigating the information stream, you are not only more productive and less stressed, but business opportunities come more naturally to you. I know I've harped on the early days of Usenet news groups as an example of this phenomenon, but I have distinct memories of the communities built up in that era, and, for my money, they were as productive (if not more so) as some of the social media we have today. I suppose you could say that they were the original 'social media,' where social was the focus, and the systems were a set of tools to get the job of information transfer done. I think it behooves us to start treating our current crop of social media systems a lot more like those tools of a bygone era.