Posted by Dr. Pete
I came across a great analogy over at Zen Habits, and it’s got me rethinking how I view social media:
If my personal website is my digital home, then my social networking profiles on Facebook and Twitter, etc. are my embassies. Embassies exist to maintain relationships with "distant lands".
Although the post is really about gaining focus and managing your digital life, I think the idea of social media profiles as embassies in distant lands is fantastic, and I’m going to run with it. My apologies to the author (Tyler Tervooren), who probably didn’t intend anything I’m about to say.
Here are 6 ways to build up your social media embassies without an international incident…
1. Declare Independence
Before you can really have an embassy, you need to be a sovereign nation. It’s great that your Facebook page has 100 Likes and your band’s MySpace profile just cleared the double-digit friend mark, but what happens when the rules change? An embassy isn’t a permanent home – politics change, alliances shift, and you ultimately have no control over someone else’s territory.
The impact of social media is growing, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean you should surrender your entire presence to someone else’s site. Make sure you have a permanent online home that you control. Your social media embassies should be an extension of that home.
2. Be a Model Citizen
Your embassy is, first and foremost, your face to the world. You don’t see countries set up a lawn chair next to a cooler under an umbrella with "Embassy" written on it in permanent marker. It’s ok to create a light profile for some recon – you may decide that a given social network isn’t for you – but once you’re in, remember that you’re representing your home country. Finish your profile, and put a little time into it. Connect with people and participate. Nothing says "poser" (or "spammer") on Twitter, for example, like someone with 1 update, no bio, and an egg for an avatar.
3. Respect the Locals
Being on a social media site is like travelling in someone else’s country. If you never plan on coming back, you can play the obnoxious tourist all you want. If you want to set up a home away from home, though, you need to respect the locals, their customs, and even their leaders. Don’t assume that what flew in some other country will be acceptable in your new embassy. To put it simply: listen first, and then participate.
4. Learn the Language
This is an extension of (3), but it’s important to enough to stand on its own. Every social network has its unique lingo, and talking the talk can really help smooth over any diplomatic missteps. Know your hash-tags from your emoticons, and remember that the slang that can be hip in one country can make you look like a loser somewhere else. I’m not saying you have to talk like you’re in high-school or pepper every conversation with "OMG LOL WTF?!", but learn to appreciate the flavor of the local language. It will also help you avoid misunderstandings.
5. Bring Your Credentials
Anybody with an email address can set up a social media embassy, and it’s easy to forget that being a stranger in a strange land is a privilege. What do you bring to the table? Can you produce the paperwork, if you have to? Treat this as a thought exercise – I strongly believe that the more you understand your own value proposition, the more effective you’ll be in social media. Know why you’re there, and you’ll be able to back it up with real contributions.
6. Foster Allegiances
Embassies have an important function – to be in the right place at the right time when a crisis occurs and to be near the heart of international relations. Your social media embassies aren’t just a place to broadcast your opinions and hurl links at people. They’re an opportunity to build relationships. I’d estimate that 60-70% of my current consulting business has come from a combination of blogging and my participation in social media.
Take the time to learn about people – Twitter and Facebook blend business and personal relationships in a way that makes it easy to build rapport (if you’re sincere about it). Pay close attention to existing allegiances – who do your allies know, and how many steps away are those contacts from you? Done carefully (without pushing your own agenda too hard), it’s easy to broaden your circle of influence, sometimes in just a couple of steps.
How’s Your Embassy?
How is your own social media presence like an embassy? Are you on good terms with the locals, or are you teetering on the brink of war? This is mostly a thought exercise, and I’d love to hear what other people think about it in the comments.
Photo borrowed from Bodew.com. It really has no relevance to the post, but I was looking for a picture of a flag umbrella with a lawn chair, found this, and loved it. I’m not even entirely sure what it is, but someone please go buy one.