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Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Social Media for Dummies (and Parents)

Tuesday morning I presented some ideas on social media at my work, and I thought others might be interested. I don't pretend to be any kind of definitive authority. I'm a hack. Really. If you are an expert, if you disagree with something here, feel free to set me straight with a comment. I love nothing better than good dialogue.

(Although a really great polka is nice too. And Kalamata olives. Mmmmmm.)

Enough intro. Here's the quick low-down, with links. You can also download a presentation version complete with helpful screenshots. I built it in WordPerfect Presentations, but I saved a version in PowerPoint too.

MySpace, Facebook, Blogs. If you're not technologically savy, you're probably asking yourself,

"What’s the big deal?"

Brian Clark puts it this way:
“Good blogging creates authority, plain and simple.”
I'd take that one step further. Good social media creates authority.

Before we get too far into this, let’s define some terms. Make sure we're all on the same page here.

As I understand it, there are 2 big distinctions. "Social Media" is a broad umbrella term that refers to any media that invites interaction. This includes blogs, MySpace, Facebook, wikis, discussion boards, etc. "Social Networking" is a subcategory of social media that specifically makes real world contact its primary goal. This includes sites like MySpace and Facebook.

I made a crude graphic to demonstrate this to my coworkers:

So let's go through some of this material. Starting with...


If you didn't know, it's short for “web log.” (Hey, some people don't know that.) Here are a couple of quick facts:
  • Most blogs are free.
  • Most blogs have no more than a handful of posts.
  • Just last week I saw the first standardized “Social Media Press Release.”
  • Technorati is currently tracking 59.2 million blogs--as of November 7, 2006.
  • Blogs are becoming a powerful marketing tool.
UPDATE: My friend Dan Roloff found this super cool, concise version of the Social Media Press Release.

In his book Blog, Hugh Hewitt puts it this way:
“People’s attentions are up for grabs. Trust is being transferred... The blogosphere is about trust.”
Social Networking Sites

There are many of these, but the ones getting the most attention are currently MySpace and Facebook. Here are a couple of quick facts:
  • Like blogs these are free.
  • Unlike blogs, they contain public and private sections.
  • Only friends have access to the private space.
  • So, um, bad things sometimes happen in the private space.
In her recent NYT article "The Overconnecteds," Betsy Israel and a kid she interviewed put it this way:
"Those 14 and older spent [more than 6 ½ hours daily] on a social networking site, usually MySpace (crowded, wild, like a cyber spring break) or Facebook (graphically neater, mostly for students). These sites are like sprawling digital yearbooks, each page crammed with photos, text, videos and blogs.

" 'Imagine if everyone you knew sent you a Christmas card all on the same day. You wouldn’t actually see them but you’d have that comforting sense of being surrounded by the people you have known.' "
This isn't all bad. As I reminded the folks at my office throughout this presentation. The sky isn't falling. Really! Social Media is just a way to use technology to do what people have always done. Currently it is still in a state of near anarchy, but things will probably settle down in a few decades.

Brian Solis describes the positive element of social networking this way,
"Community and collaboration are no longer defined by physical proximity but by common interests."
Why Did I Present This at Work?

I hesitate to get this specific, but I don't think I'm revealing any trade secrets here. For those of you who don't know, I'm the Content Editor for TheHighCalling.org and FaithInTheWorkplace.com. Both of these sites are ministries of Laity Lodge and the H. E. Butt Foundation. LLYC is also a ministry of Laity Lodge, which makes sense when you consider that the acronym stands for Laity Lodge Youth Camp.

LLYC counselors often correspond and encourage their campers throughout the year. This summer, we expect campers may ask their counselor to be "friends" on MySpace or Facebook. Which raised for us the puzzling question that is rippling through the entire camping industry.

What if campers ask for access to a counselor’s “friends only” area on MySpace or Facebook?
  • This is entirely uncharted area.
  • LLYC wants to be open about looking into potential counselor’s online presence.
  • LLYC can mentor counselors in how to maintain integrity online.
  • Potentially, LLYC can pave the way for Christian camps to use social media to share their ideas and experiences.
These are scary questions because they involve people's children. Besides issues of liability and general non-profit responsibility, we want to protect our campers as much as possible. Personally, I believe the way to do that is by openly walking alongside our campers and counselors in the world of social media.

In Debbie Weil's Corporate Blogging Book, she quotes Gerry McGovern as saying,
“Blogs can make for a more open organization that engages at a deeper level with the customer. However, blogging can require an honesty and frankness that many organizations are not used to.”
What Should I Do as a Parent?

I can almost imagine someone saying, "My five-year-old is on MySpace!" Given how much my daughter uses the internet, it is almost plausible. (Short aside: when we cancelled extended cable, we sat down to explain that we would lose the Disney channel. She said, "That's okay, I'll just use Disney.com." Crazy.)

My old school district has links to lots of WARNING articles about how THE SKY IS FALLING because of social media. Legally I understand why they have to do this. But it does feel like chicken little tactics sometimes.

Here is my advice to the parents (and grandparents) who work with me:
  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Talk to your kids about what they are doing.
  3. Help them understand the dangers.
  4. Ask them to help you create your own blog, myspace, facebook, etc.
Internet lawyer Parry Aftab told Dateline News that parents should look at their kids' sites:
Are the pictures provocative? Their profiles too detailed? Who are they talking to? And perhaps most important— have they kept their profiles private, protected by a password, to keep strangers out?
Pretty simple really.

One last quote and I'm done. And I promise I'll post the first excerpt of my book tonight after drama practice.

This from Debbie Weil's Corporate Blogging Book again. GREAT book by the way. I read it in one sitting. I can't tell you how long it has been since a book held my attention like that. She quotes Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, as saying:
“Blogs are no fad. They are cheap and easy to do... People write blogs because they want to know themselves and want to be known by others and because they want their lives to count.”

I'm for keeping kids in areas where comments are out in the open. Even as an adult, I know this keeps me thinking more deeply about what I'm willing to say... when you know the whole world is watching (or could be), it's a good thing.
myspace really is an abomination unto Allah. Aesthetically, it's just a roughshod, ugly pile of HTML and people get to customize it into something uglier and more roughshod! WHAT COULD BE BAD ABOUT THAT?

I think the stories about myspace are a tad sensationalistic, though, to put it lightly. I mean, I read one article where the author lamented the use of CURSE WORDS. Oh no no no, soon they'll be dancing and getting car loans with bad interest rates!

I kinda get the impression that kids feel that myspace is really THEIR thing, and that people over the age of like 35 are TOO OLD AND CREPEY to be on it. The internet is making generational divides very easy to sense.
Hey, just wanted to let you know that this was a great post. I'm including it in a piece that I'm writing now. BTW, here's an example of what a social media release looks like. It actually announces a "how to" template for others to write social media releases. Cheers!
L.L., I agree that the rules change when kids are involved. It's tricky, though, because the kids are already on the social networking sites. At least, with social media mentors they have the chance to navigate some of the mess with a little bit of help.

Matt, I definitely agree that the Myspace articles are sensationalistic. But then again, so is most news. I'm still undecided about the generational divide issue. Although my brother in law explains computer literacy as a language acquisition issue. Anyone who encountered computers after age 20 will never be fully fluent by his logic. Computers will always be a foreign language to them.
Brian, too cool that you posted a comment here. Thanks. I think your work is really sharp. Thanks also for the link to the sample and the link in upcoming post!
Great posts...

MySpace and The Facebook is just like everything else, once the not-cool kids and parents catch on, the cool kids will leave and find something bigger and better. Their attention span and desire to be trailblazers is what drives the current trend. My advice to those looking to be involved in Social Media: Try it all, get connected, and learn from your mistakes. Not because you want to "market or advertise" to youngsters on these platforms but because this is the reality and future of media. Cheers and happy blogging/myspacing!
I agree completely, Christi. Try it all and have fun doing it. Act in the virtual world the way you would act in the real world. Be quick to listen, slow to speak. Be kind. Treat others like you want them to treat you. And life will be (virtually) good! Thanks for reading.

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