Take some chances. Start by learning the landscape. The Web 2.0 directory, Go2Web20.net, lists nearly 2,500 social networks. You can’t possibly keep track of them all, so pick one and learn about it. Most networks share similar features, so get a sense of why people join them, how they use them and what are the networks’ strengths and weaknesses.
Sign up for Facebook or LinkedIn and connect to some friends who are already there. Spend an hour navigating the site and look at how other people are using it. Social networks aren’t all that complex. The value will be apparent to you pretty quickly.
Spend 15 minutes learning how to use Google Advanced Search. This will save you at least an hour a week, so the TIME investment is well worthwhile. More importantly, understanding the search will help you understand how people find information online. That is a key first step toward understanding the utility of social media.
Pick an RSS reader, any RSS reader. Read the “getting started” section and subscribe to a few RSS feeds. Learn how to use this valuable tool, because it will show you how a new generation of Web-savvy consumers organizes information.
Find a couple of blogs that interest you (browsing on Technorati is a good place to start) and add them to your reader. Check in every day on what the authors are saying. Look for patterns in their topics and voice. Successful bloggers know how to keep readers coming back. Submit helpful comments, being sure to set aside your professional objectives. Your goal is to learn, not to promote.
Attend a meeting of the local Social Media Club or PRSA Chapter to connect with your fellow practitioners and hear about what they’re doing. Everyone is still feeling their way around, so don’t worry about looking stupid. We all feel pretty stupid right now.
Try to master one new tactic or tool every day, whether it be a Google command, software tool or feature on a new network.
Over a few weeks, you’ll be amazed at how fast you become comfortable with this new style of personal publishing. You may even feel like launching a blog yourself. If you do, go for it! There’s very little downside to trying new things right now, so let go of your fears and dive right in. The water is fine.
By Paul Gillin is a writer, speaker and content marketing consultant specializing in technology and new media. He’s a veteran technology journalist with more than 23 years of editorial experience. His book, “The New Influencers,” was published in 2007, and his next book, “Secrets of Social Media Marketing,” will be published in the fall of 2008. Gillin also manages a blog called Social Media and the Open Enterprise.
Join Gillin for his teleseminars and Customer-Generated Advertising: Leverage Customer Creativity to Build Grassroots Campaigns and 10 Secrets of Social Media Marketing: Learn How to Leverage Your Social Media Efforts.