Last week I participated in a webcast featuring Jay Cross (@jaycross). During the chat, Jay told the story of two Army Generals who got together for drinks daily and discussed the stories of their day. At one point, they realized that others would benefit from hearing their stories as well, and a blog was born. Many of the simple stories shared, like the fact that it's quicker to open a wax-paper-wrapped Tootsie Roll than a plastic-wrapped Jolly Rancher in 120 degree heat (an thus reduce the amount of time you could be standing still in a potential sniper's sights), saved lives.
What I personally do as a Learning Professional is by no means a life and death scenario, no matter what my stakeholders may sometimes think. However, I was reminded of Jay's story during a conversation I had with my friend Mark Britz (@britz) later in the week. He was asking me what my personal strategy was related to social media, as the story might be useful for a project he is working on (details below)*. As I typed up the story for Mark, I was reminded of Jay's story of the Army Generals. It's for that reason that I ended my email to Mark by asking if he would mind me using the story as a blog post, which if you're reading this, he obviously agreed to.
So, if you find this post of value, I'm glad. If you don't, well... blame Mark. ;-)
My Social Media Strategy
To be completely honest, I didn't start with a strategy. I played with Facebook a bit personally, but didn't really fully embrace social media until about two years ago.
I avoided Twitter under the common banner of ignorance labelled "I have no interest in what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast". Still, something compelled me to try Twitter to see what all the fuss was about. It was there that I discovered #LRNCHAT and learned about PLNs (Personal Learning Networks).
The concept of networking has always been there, but looking at it as a community that I could both add value to and pull value from was a structure I had not considered before. As I became more comfortable contributing, interacting with peers, and developing relationships through Twitter, I started to subconsciously plan my social media and PLN strategy.
There wasn't a specific "What's my strategy?" decision moment at first. It started with more of an awareness, and a concern around image or brand. I remember seeing a tweet that was incredibly hilarious, yet in truth, completely filthy. I was about to hit the retweet button thinking that this was too funny not to share, and paused with a thought..."Does this joke match the image I've been forging?"
I think that's the moment when my social media strategy was born. That moment of pause made me reflect on my interactions on Twitter. I realized that the vast majority of my tweeting was based on my profession. Likewise, most of the people who had chosen to follow me seemed to share the interest in the Learning and Performance field. Through my activity, I had unintentionally created an image, or possibly, a brand. With that realization came focus, and an important connection.
I hope to one day work exclusively as an independent consultant. Right now though, being a family man with two young kids and a mortgage mandates the steady income and health benefits of an organizational role. I've been dipping my feet in consulting and speaking professionally, but my opportunities have been limited, usually to one or two events per year. I was well known in the local ASTD community, but not too much outside of that. I knew that if I wanted to increase my opportunities, I needed to extend my reach. I saw Twitter, and my PLN, as a major resource to further develop my skills and extend my outreach.
I started participating more, and decided to finally make the leap to blogging. That move to blogging too, wasn't strategic at first. I'd been interested in blogging, but hesitated under the insecurity of "Who would want to read it?" I remember Dave Ferguson (@Dave_Ferguson) telling me "Blog for yourself, not others" and that inspired me to finally make the leap. Starting this blog was a major milestone in my social media strategy.
The blog very quickly became a labor of love, and something that is deeply meaningful and beneficial to me personally. Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that people were interested in what I had to say. It was genuinely surprising to see people talking about my blog, posting comments, and asking me if they could repurpose posts. That's when my strategic plan really kicked into high gear. I wanted to leverage this momentum to create a brand for me, with the ultimate goal of creating an awareness of what I bring to the table, and in turn, hopefully having doors and opportunities open up to me. So far, it's been working.
The 'brand' and reputation I've built were directly involved in me booking my first paid speaking engagement, which was much less about the money and much more about the "Holy $#!+, someone paid me to speak" experience. I've currently got three additional speaking engagements booked through April, all of which came from doors that were opened by the brand I've forged via this idea of social media strategy.
I'm growing personally and professionally, plus - and this is the most important part of the equation - I'm loving every minute of it.
Keep in mind, my strategy is still in it's infancy. I only started blogging in October. Social media moves fast; the best description I've heard has it described as "moving at the speed of Jane"**. The tools change quickly, and it's likely that today's Twitter will probably be tomorrow's MySpace. Any social media strategy would need to keep pace with that. My strategy will evolve and expand over time with the tools and through my successes and failures. It's likely though that my primary three-prong approach will remain the same: Participate, add value, and create an awareness of what I bring to the table.
For me, the most important moment of my social media strategy was it's birth. Looking back, it's kind of humorous to realize that my strategy was born of a 'dirty tweet' that I decided not to re-tweet because it didn't match the image I hadn't even been aware I was creating.
Want to create your own personal social media strategy? I bet you, like me, already have and may not even realize it. Take a look at your tweets. Take a look at who follows you. Recognize the pattern that likely exists and ask yourself if that's the image you want to be creating.
Regardless of what the answer is, you probably have the birth of your personal social media strategy. From there it's just a matter of nurturing it to maturity.
Good Luck, and I'll see you in the network.
*If you're in the Central NY area, on March 30th Mark Britz will be speaking at the Career Connections Conference in Syracuse. This is more than a job fair; it's a comprehensive day of workshops, job-seeking services, employee recruitment, and more. For details, visit http://www.cnyworks.com/ or reach out to Mark via Twitter (@britz).
**If you don't know what this phrase means, follow @JaneBozarth and you quickly will. ;-)