Social Networking 101

20 Feb

So, it’s been several weeks since I’ve written anything. Part of it is the pressure to be funny and witty and interesting, part of it is that I’ve been busy as hell at work and haven’t had much time to think of anything to write about, and part of it is the “winter doldrums”. Whatever. I’m writing today!

I thought I’d take up the subject of social networking from the perspective of someone who works in the business. Because of my chosen profession, and because I’m a very active participant in it, I gete a lot of questions about things like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. What are they, why should I use them, what’s the point of them, how do they make money, etc. etc. So, without much more conversation, here’s sort of a “social networking for dummies” that you can use when someone says to you “I just don’t understand Twitter” or “Why does Facebook mess with the experience all the time?” I’m also going to do this in the form of Q&A – trying to cover the questions I get from people. So, onwards:

  1. “Why does Facebook keep messing with the experience? I hate timeline, hate that my news feed isn’t what I want it to be, etc. Why do they do that to their customers?”
    Well … you see, dear Facebook user, you ARE NOT THE CUSTOMER. Repeat it, you are not the customer. Here’s how you can tell? How much money do you send to Facebook each month for the privilege of using it? None? Hmm. So here’s the deal, Facebook’s PRODUCT is you – very simple. And their customers are both advertisers and people who buy their data. The data is made up of information that you and your friends generate as you interact online. YOU are the product because it is you using Facebook. When you meet with a Facebook advertising rep, the first thing they tell you is that Facebook has nearly a billion subscribers worldwide, and something like 200 million in just the US alone. You are the product that Facebook monetizes. And they get you to stay and interact not because of their experiences but despite them. You stay because that’s where your friends are.Here’s my prediction: I do think Facebook’s influence and growth has pretty much peaked – I think everyone that is inclined to use it is using it. I do think that they are not going away anytime soon, and their revenue will continue to grow as they get better with their ad products, but in terms of user growth, the curve has flattened a lot in the last year, and I think is about at it’s peak.
  2. “What’s Twitter? Why twitter? How do I use Twitter? Etc.”
    I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a Twitter fan nor much of a Twitter user. I do “tweet” (the act of posting a 144 character post on Twitter), but I don’t use it that much. Basically Twitter is Facebook but in a shorter form. You are limited to 144 characters for each post – whether a tweet (original post), a reply, a retweet (when you share something someone else tweeted), etc. Where Twitter loses me is wading through all the tweets to find things that are interesting (see the next topic, Hashtags). There’s just too much traffic. The typical power-user of Twitter has the whole thing linked to their cell phone through texting. Outgoing Tweets, incoming tweets, etc., all deliver to your text messaging. If you choose to receive, you better have unlimited texting, I’m just saying. I can’t imagine getting that all in my phone. I visit Twitter once a day, scroll through Tweets from people I care about, search hashtags that interest me and that’s about it. I Tweet primarily to share articles, promote my blog, etc. I’m not one of those “eating dinner” “on the bus” Tweeters.
  3. “What’s a hashtag? I think that’s a Twitter thing but I see them on Facebook now. What are they and what’s the point?”
    A hashtag is a word, preceded with the # symbol that is designed to improve the searchability of your Tweet and to organize Tweets by topic. It has been adopted by Facebook users as well, although the searchability of those posts is still really early stage. That said, it’s generally used as a way to follow a trending topic. During a big event, like the Russian meteor event from last week, people will start hashtagging their posts with something like “#meteorshower” or “#russianmeteor” or “#armageddon” or whatever, and the more people that use that hash tag, the more content that Twitter has to categorize into a common thread. If you go into Twitter’s site or mobile app and type in a keyword preceded by a hashtag, you’ll see posts by that topic. It’s that simple.
  4. “What is a ‘trending topic’ on Twitter and Facebook?”
    Pretty much anything that is a hot topic on Facebook or Twitter – and on Twitter, it is generally denoted by a hashtag. So for example, when Marco Rubio got cotton mouth last week (humorously so for anyone other than a Republican), immediately, there was a whole bunch of humorous tweets with the hashtag of “#rubiothirsty”. During the Superbowl, when the blackout occurred, there were tons of posts (many funny) with the hashtag “#superbowlblackout” (among others). Hashtags are how Twitter has become useful/meaningful for me – it allows me to categorize all the noise that’s on Twitter.
  5. “What’s Pinterest and why should I use it?”
    Like Twitter, I’m not a Pinterest expert, but it’s basically a version of Facebook or Twitter where sharing things you like or are interested in happens, but in this case, it’s all about images. You can be online, see an image in a story, a catalog, etc., and “pin” that image on your Pinterest “pinboards” (and you can have different ones for different topics), and those are shared with friends who are following your activity.  You pin them through a utility that you install on your browser.  I have a Pinterest account but have to admit to not using it much, if ever. It is actively used by companies and brands though to promote their products, and I know a lot of foodie friends who use it for recipe sharing and such.
  6. “What’s Instagram and why should I use it?”
    Instagram is basically a social network based on photos you take or upload to the site. It differs from Pinterest in that Pinterest is more about sharing images you see elsewhere online, whereas Instagram is more about what you create yourself. I think Instagram is one of the most creative spaces on the web. It allows you a huge leeway in how you process and modify images, and there’s some amazing creativity going on within it. I dabble with it – I love taking pictures, and do so a lot with my iPhone 4S (which has a great camera in it) and enjoy sharing them on Instagram. Now then, Instagram was bought by Facebook and Facebook has integrated a lot of Instagram’s functionality into it, but … Instagram on it’s own is a pretty cool thing, If you’re interested in photography and art, I definitely recommend it.
  7. “What’s LinkedIn and why should I use it?”
    LinkedIn is the social network for professionals – you put LinkedIn and Facebook together and it’s the social networking equivalent of a mullet – business in the front, party in the rear!  Seriously though, it’s an unbelievably powerful networking tool.  I literally got my job through networking on LinkedIn and probably get five job opportunity solicitations per week.  If you’re in business, it is absolutely essential.  And if you’re not, it’s not.  Your LinkedIn profile is basically your resume, people can endorse you with skills and capabilities and write recommendations for you, you can post articles, comments, status updates etc. just like Facebook, and you can link your profile to friends and network contacts.  The critical thing about LinkedIn IS your profile – having a powerfully-written profile is what puts the wings under you – and by powerfully-written, I mean “search friendly”.  I literally have an entire paragraph, that while written in plain english, is jammed full of keywords for searching to find me.  I manage and curate my LinkedIn profile constantly.  It is an absolute essential for my career. You can look at my profile here, and of course if you’re a LinkedIn user, well, let’s connect!

There are plenty more social network products and experiences out there of course – Tumblr, Reddit, etc. etc. and there will be more to come. But above are the most common questions I get from folks about social networking.

Hope you find this interesting and useful!

As you were,



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