Social media has expanded well beyond a cadre of esoteric fringe leadership bloggers or the perceived frivolous activity of our teenagers on Facebook.
In October, I celebrated my ninth anniversary in social media. My social media history began October 4, 2004 with an uninteresting and poorly written blog post about going to the dentist that included the hackneyed expression, "the same old drill."
Since that time, I have published over 2,500 blogs posts, composed 10,000 tweets, founded and host a worldwide employee engagement network with over 6,100 members, and maintain a strong presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.
I approach social media less as a social media expert and more as a social media practitioner.
In nine years, social media has shrunk my world and expanded my mind. I am closer to some professionals in Pune, India than to people one office building away, as social media has created new ways of thinking, communicating, and working.
I believe it can do the same for you whether your engagement in social media is with the external platforms that I use, or enterprise social media primarily limited to communication inside your organization.
What follows are nine tips to help you engage in social media. This is less about the nuts and bolts, such as how to write a good tweet, and more about engaging fully with the overall social media experience.
1. Just start.
Begin anywhere. If you haven't used social media tools before, stop worrying about being perfect or trying to figure out exactly how it works. Engage and learn.
Begin as a reader of blogs or micro updates like Twitter, then bump your engagement up a level by commenting on a blog post or sharing the post with others.
The TalentSpace blog offers a terrific range of authors. Go beyond reading their content to sharing content and contributing to content by leaving a comment (why not start with this post?).
2. You tweet already, you just don't know it
Social media offers new tools for old ways of doing things.
Some of us experience fear or trepidation surrounding the new tools. Let me bring a medium like Twitter back down to earth.
One morning a couple years ago I went for a 6:30 AM jog in Nipawin, Saskatchewan and ran by Carla's Diner. There were about twenty pickup trucks parked outside the diner and although I didn't go inside, I know what they were doing.
They were tweeting.
Not with computers and tablets, but sharing information about crops, weather, fertilizers, and equipment at the counters and tables as they ate breakfast with each other.
Having been in diners like Carla's, I know that not one farmer could get out more than one sentence (about the 140 character length of Twitter) without someone else interrupting, offering another point of view, or suggesting a new crop seed.
Twitter is just like your local diner or coffee shop; a place to stop in and either start or join in on a conversation already underway.
3. Be human
Much of what occurs or is posted on social media is ephemeral. I see many potential users stymied by trying to say something brilliant, or to ensure there is not one error in their posts.
I don't advocate deliberate errors but I do believe that good can be good enough. Back in 2009, I wrote a short post on finding GEMO (Good Enough, Move On). If you're prone to perfectionism, I recommend you "find GEMO" by reading my article.
4. Enter the magic mirror
I am about to date myself...
As a child I really liked a program called Romper Room. I especially liked it when the host pulled out the magic mirror and led us to believe that she could see us as the magic mirror opened and she looked right at the screen.
It was a thrill when she saw "David" (I still get excited at 59). You can watch a clip of it in this YouTube video:
Who knew that Romper Room would be the precursor to video on Skype?
Social media is the real "magic mirror" that allows us to see and be seen. It can contribute to transparency and community within the organization.
The real magic is engagement with others through powerful social media tools, not to replace or supplant in person interaction but to strengthen it. I believe it is easier to engage with mobile workers than it is to engage with co-workers six cubicles away.
In addition, social media is a great tool for introverts to connect with others in the organization in very powerful and robust ways with much less trepidation or anxiety.
5. You learn what you think when you read what you say
If you want to really learn something, teach it to someone else. If you want to know what you think, read what you write.
As William Faulkner wrote, "I never know what I think about something until I have read what I've written on it."
6. Exercise caution and restraint as social media can be habit forming
I am a strong advocate for social media while not being blind to how much time and energy it can consume. I get drawn in by the nice design and the instant publishing. Curiosity about others can become insatiable, as 5 minutes turns into 1 or 2 hours of scanning updates and following obscure links.
Don't get lost in social media. After some initial exposure and learning more about the tools ensure you know why you're using it, and be cautious about when and how much you engage with social media. A great tip is to set a time limit for yourself each day - use a timer and once the buzzer beeps - move on.
7. Co-create and strengthen partnerships and alliances
Over the past nine years I've built a solid network of connections through social media. We have engaged in a variety of writing projects, speaking events, and different types of working together. I'm convinced this would not have occurred without the ease, breadth, and depth that social media offers us.
8. Make a social contribution to your organization
Social media offers brilliant platforms to make a contribution to your organization, from achieving robust results to strengthening weak relationships. Share your organization's successes, culture and compelling, educational content (as long as none of it is confidential or proprietary of course).
Engaging with co-workers via social media also helps you learn more about the people in your organization as they learn more about you. And often that incidental interpersonal knowledge can be a vital source of information and contribution now or in the future.
9. Shrink your world and expand your mind
Whether your world is the globe or your 20-person office, social media can shrink your world because you can learn about people and stay connected to them through this dynamic medium.
The people I meet in person after interacting with them on social media quickly move to closer and deeper conversation, because we don't need to pass the sniff test of checking each other out - we've already done that online.
Social media will expand your mind with cogent insight, links to terrific information, and learning from yourself as you find your voice and enrich your expression.
Perhaps Disney did get it right: "it's a small world after all."
Your turn: How do you engage with social media? Do you have any stories about this medium has helped you connect with others, shrink your world and expand your mind?