As an editor of an online publication and principal writer of its blog, I have to pay attention to social media. And, I’m the first to admit I spend more time reading social media content than contributing to its wealth.
In the past few months I’ve run into a few social media quandaries. I want to discuss them since I suspect many in our industry are starting to face the same issues. The first one relates to LinkedIn.
To Link or Not on LinkedIn
I’ve got about 170 “connections” from my 25 years in the industry. I’ve met nearly all of them in person and the few I have not, I’ve connected with enough to feel as though I have.
So, when I received a request to connect with someone that I didn’t consider to fall into the “I’ve met you or feel like I have” category, I tried to decline respectfully. I explained that I really wanted to use LinkIn to connect to people I knew well. That did not go over too well. The response was akin to, “But you do know me! I run [this company].” Yes, I did indeed know the individual ran that company, but I still didn’t feel a connection at the level I required. The requestor left in a “huff” and noted he’d learned a lot about me.
At first that bothered me since I thought it implied I was a jerk. Looking back, the comment was exactly correct; the requestor did learn a lot about me! He learned something those with whom I have those connections may already know: I don’t have a lot of casual business relationships.
I learned (okay, was reminded) from this exchange that everyone uses social media differently. For some, Facebook is for business. For others, it’s for friends. For some Twitter is about sports. For others, it’s a publishing medium. It’s up to each individual (and organization) to decide which platforms to use and for what purpose. I also learned it may be best to ignore such requests rather than trying to explain “it’s not you, it’s me...” which never works.
Getting the Conversation Going
Social media is often defined as a conversation, one with two or more participants. Some geospatial blogs (one of the earlier forms of social media) have reverted to a single voice, more of a broadcast model because comments have dried up or been turned off. I attended PodCamp Boston 5 this fall to explore the demise of blog comments. It’s been suggested (on social media, where else?) that geospatial discussions now takes place on Twitter. While I see a lot of disconnected discussion on Twitter (which may or may not relate back to blog posts or articles or other tweets), I’ve always felt strongly that comments should travel with the original content. (It’s just like how metadata should travel with data...)
As I noted on All Points Blog, I didn’t get too much of a chance to discuss the issue at the event. And, over on the geospatial front, there was a watershed event in the blogging world: James Fee, who works at WeoGeo and blogs at Spatially Adjusted and had turned off comments, turned them on again. I can report that commenting continues on our properties and that the use of Disqus (a moderation tool) has made our lives much easier.
I saw a tweet recently from a geospatial organization asking that readers of its content “like” it, retweet it or comment on it. I appreciated the sentiment and wondered if imploring followers in that way would cause the desired action. I also wondered if “do as I say, not as I do” works in social media. The organization didn’t seem to be a big “liker,” retweeter or commenter itself. When I looked further into opportunities to comment on its content, I found a very long and detailed comment policy that may, in itself, put off potential commenters. Further, the policy didn’t seem to be implemented based on the comment spam on the blog.
I draw two conclusions from these experiences. First, if you want a conversation, raise interesting topics. Which are interesting? I will admit I am never 100% sure which topics will spark discussion on All Points Blog, though I was spot-on regarding the story blaming GIS for slicing houses in half during the redistricting process. It currently has nine comments, far more than average on our, or most, geospatial blogs. Second, if you want social media attention, give some. This takes a lot of energy and time and I applaud those who do it well. The rest of us should simply do our best.
E-mail is Social Media
While most social media has a public face (i.e. sending a tweet to the world), it also has a private one (sending a direct message tweet, or limiting who can see a photo on Facebook). E-mail has those same qualities, especially when it’s used to alert the media. I’m typically one of many people (sometimes among my colleagues, sometimes among hundreds of people on a press list) receiving an e-mail pitch from a press person. Last week I received an e-mail, as did my colleague. Then we each got a phone call asking to confirm receipt of the press release and offering an interview. I really thought every PR firm in the world had realized the return on a targeted, snappy electronic pitch was far higher than a press release followed by a phone call. I was apparently mistaken.
Sometimes the e-mails are a bit more customized. Here’s a hard to believe, but true, example. I received an e-mail from a manager who runs a site hosting listings of nursing schools. She asked me, by name, to add the site to an article on All Points Blog. Which one? The one titled: “Slightly Off Topic: Link Bait Hitting Geo: Why?” The e-mail was titled: “Nursing Question.”
The function I most often wish for in e-mail is the “unfollow” or “unfriend” button. Now, due to the CANSPAM Act and other factors, I’m sure, more and more e-mail marketers are providing a way to “opt out” of e-mail notifications. Some, however, perhaps the same ones who follow up by phone, do not. In one case I had to request removal three times (the final time with a blatant threat to call him out by name on Twitter) to ensure removal.
It’s clearly still early days, aka “The Wild West,” in social media. Not only are the hosts of these services working out the kinks (and sometimes shutting the services down entirely) but we the users are determining best practices and etiquette to achieve our goals. In many ways it’s like going through high school a second time and having to commit all those faux pas all over again until you learn to fit in.