On any given day, social media can showcase the best the internet has to offer or leave you wanting to deactivate your Facebook account. One thing is for sure – it isn’t going away in 2014, so you’d do well to learn how to navigate the world of virtual communications.
1. Ignore the buzz: Social media, by its nature, is an endless digital stream of status updates and broadcast messages – often arriving directly on your smartphone. Don’t become a slave to the “new message” alerts. Respond at your own pace. The key to social media is regularity and brevity. It doesn’t matter if you update Google+ once an hour or once a week – a dozen words with an interesting link can say it all.
2. Be responsive: Having said that, don’t ask a question or throw something provocative out there on Twitter and then disappear when people respond to it. There’s nothing worse than an author who inexplicably vanishes from the conversation. If you are too busy to craft a response, tell the network “brb” – be right back.
3. No multiple personalities: Build your own singular online identity. Forget about reserving Twitter for work stuff and Facebook for keeping up with family and friends. Find your voice and stick to it no matter the forum or audience. The best tweeters, for instance, mix professional insights with personal anecdotes to great effect. If you’ve been asked to take the reins of the company Twitter account, you’ll probably assume the persona of the company in your tweeting under that Twitter handle. But for everything else, just be yourself – appropriately. If you can’t figure out what is appropriate to put out there, you probably shouldn’t be tweeting at all.
4. Pick and choose: Follow the mix of people who keep things interesting. If someone is boring or annoying, unfollow or unfriend. They’ll get over it.
5. Friend your kids: You can have a rewarding online relationship with your kids without turning into Big Brother. Join their conversations as a sort of bemused bystander, dropping in from time to time to say hi. Don’t be too alarmed about their seemingly insatiable appetite for sharing everything. Research shows that young people seek out privacy, taking conversations to instant message or email back channels – and the ephemeral Snapchat photo messaging service – when necessary.
6. Privacy is important: Spend a bit of time checking out Facebook’s privacy controls. Do you really want everyone seeing what you post, just your friends, or friends of friends as well? Privacy settings let you vet the audience. Be wary of friend invites from complete strangers – social networks are a magnet for scammers and spammers. LinkedIn is a great place to post a CV but turn off all the updates or you’ll be driven nuts with “invitation to connect” emails.
7. Defuse it quickly: If the tone of a conversation gets nasty, shut it down pronto. Life is too short to have your day soured by toxic interactions with people online. Robust debate is one thing, putting up with profanity-laced bigotry or sexual innuendo is another – unless that sort of thing makes you chuckle. Bring things back on track with an affable appeal. If that doesn’t work, block or unfriend them.
8. Get some good tech: Download a decent social media dashboard, one that takes the hassle out of posting updates to your various networks. I started with TweetDeck, but last year moved to HootSuite, which I find more stable and user-friendly. People love random photos of your pets, what you put on the barbecue, the sun setting on Muriwai beach. Keep that in mind when buying a smartphone – get one with a decent built-in camera and explore the various apps – from Instagram to Imgur – that allow you to upload photos.
9. Leverage the network: Ask for advice – social media types love to help out. Plug your favourite charity, but not in every update. If you have had crappy service at the supermarket – complain. If the supermarket chain has a Twitter account, complaint there too. The companies we deal with every day are increasingly using social media and are aware that complaints levelled at them need to be dealt with quickly.
Oh, and say hi on Twitter: @petergnz