2016 / 3 May

Tools Of The Trade: Inspiring The Future Through Social Media

social_media

If you’re looking to inspire people and change the world, you can scarcely ignore social media. Well … you can … if you don’t want anyone to hear you. I’m going to assume if you’re reading this blog post that you aren’t in that particular camp.

The truth is, I‘m not overly fond of the expression social media. It just doesn’t convey the sheer enormity of what I see as the massive digital fabric that envelops a large portion of the Earth’s population. We need a better catch phrase. Any suggestions?!

Anyway, let’s look at some of the stats before I start talking about tips and tools:

Currently, over 2,000,000,000 (that’s 2 billion) people in the world now use one or more social networking sites and it’s a number that is continuing to grow rapidly. With more than 3.6 billion mobile devices in the world and companies like SpaceX and Google looking to provide global Internet access, those numbers are going to double in the next few years. It’s hard to imagine what sort of ramifications that will have on the world!

With those sort of metrics, it still amazes me how many thought leaders either dismiss social media as unworthy gibberish or simply don’t fully grasp the power of it’s potential reach. Unfortunately, academics, scientists, engineers and others that are part of the global think tank are often the worst offenders when it comes to connecting with the rest of the world. Up until a few years ago, I would have put myself in the same unenlightened club. Fortunately, I have a few colleagues who are social media evangelists and they managed to show me a different reality.

Before I go further, let me just say that I’m not a social media expert – there are plenty of those out there that are far more experienced. What I will share with you are my tools of the trade along with a few tips that have worked well for me over the past couple of years. Your millage may vary! Also, if you’re using social media primarily for personal purposes, without a specific goal in mind, then much of what I’m going to say may not be applicable.

Let’s just dive in and get started!

I’m a heavy user of both Twitter and LinkedIn – those two platforms seem the best fit for my target audience. “What about Facebook”, you might ask? While Facebook has an enormous reach, it’s mostly organized around closed circles of friends and I’ve had limited success with their public pages. I don’t ignore Facebook completely, but it just hasn’t proved as broad reaching as other platforms – at least for my purposes. Perhaps you’ve had a different experience with Facebook? There are also many other social media outlets that you should explore, including Instagram, Pintrest, Tumblr, and Google+. However, for me, Twitter and LinkedIn were a great place to cut my teeth.

Before talking about some of the tools I use, let me share a few of the insights I’ve developed over the past year or two. These aren’t Earth shattering observations and you’ll probably find similar thoughts coming from other social media gurus:

  • Content is King! The first thing to know about using social media as a tool to influence or inspire people is that it’s all about generating engaging content. You need to share information that people care about or you’re just wasting your breath and probably headed for a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome! I’d also add that you need to make the time commitment to find, create, and share that interesting content. On Twitter, I generally post 12-15 times a day spread out across about a 12-hour period. All told, I probably spend about an hour a day finding and creating content.
  • Create Original Content. If you do nothing but repeat other people’s content, you’ll certainly attract a following of people that see you as nothing more than a news aggregator. If you want to influence people, you need to create your own original content. That doesn’t mean you need to write a blog, though that’s a great idea. It does mean that you should share your own thoughts and opinions – tell people what YOU think and not just what others are saying. If you find an interesting article that you want to share, tell people what you found compelling about it? Why was it interesting to you?
  • Find Your Focus. Know what topics you’re focused on and then stick to them as closely as possible. Otherwise, your message will get lost. For me that’s talking about the frontiers of science, technology, and leadership. If I started regularly tweeting about my favorite home improvement show or how tired I am of the Midwest cold weather, you can bet people would quickly stop listening. That doesn’t mean occasionally straying from your normal set of topics is going to be disastrous. Just don’t let it take control.
  • Engage Your Audience! Social media isn’t intended to be a one-way dialog – at least in my opinion. So, when your followers ask questions, reply to something you posted, or indicate an interest in what you have to say, you should be jumping up and down for joy! Cherish those interactions and let them know you are listening. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with what they say or engage in an unhealthy debate, but people like to know there is a human being on the other end of the keyboard. The more you engage, the more people will listen to what you have to say!

My Tools of the Trade

If you’re going to get serious about social media, you’ll quickly find that there are some great tools out there that can make your life a lot easier. Some of these are free and others require a modest investment. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of tools available to help manage social media accounts and the ones I’m listing below are those that have worked well for me. The key is to experiment.

Hootsuite – I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of time to spend creating content and then ensuring I spread it out across the many hours of the day. Sure, I could just share 20 things all at once but (a) many people would never see it and (b) it get’s to be a little like spam. I also manage several different social media accounts, which just magnifies the challenges. Hootsuite is a great tool that enables users to schedule the delivery of content simultaneously across multiple social media accounts. It also has a very useful browser plugin that let’s you schedule content as you stumble across articles or other interesting online information.

Unfollowers – This is a neat Twitter tool that helps you understand the profiles of those who follow you as well as those that you follow. It’s a fact that when you follow other people on Twitter about 20% of them will follow you back. Obviously this is a tactic that you could use to try and amass a lot of followers with no specific goal in mind — something that Twitter frowns upon. However, when used properly, it’s a great tool to find other likeminded individuals who not only share in your passion but are also actively engaged in sharing their own content. Your goal should be to attract followers that will engage with you and not simply hitting a number.

Klout – Klout is primarily a free tool that does several things but their primary claim to fame is a proprietary score they assign to every social media user as a means of measuring their influence. It pulls in data about your social media activity from Twitter, LinkedIn, Goolge+, Facebook, etc. There is a fair bit of public controversy over the legitimacy of their scoring methods, but for my purposes it doesn’t matter too much. An average score is around 40. I currently have a score of around 60, which, theoretically, puts me near the top 5% of all social media influencers – if you believe that stuff. Rather than focusing on the absolute number, I use it as a gauge to understand if the content I’m sharing is strengthening or weakening my personal brand. If it drops, then I know I did a poor job of engaging with my followers that day. If it goes up, then I know I should keep doing more of the same. The higher your Klout score, the more difficult it becomes to see it increase further. The other thing I use Klout for is identifying interesting content and articles. Klout does an exceptional job finding some interesting tidbits of content based on a set of topics that you select.

Twitter Analytics – I’m almost embarrassed to say that I just discovered this tool a little more than a month ago. I can’t say that I’ve noticed Twitter advertising it much but it’s pretty useful once it’s been enabled. The first time you visit your twitter analytics page, you’ll have to enable tracking for you account. From that point forward, it will start tracking engagement metrics for each of your tweets. You’ll very quickly see how many times your content was viewed and what percentage of the time people engaged with it. By “engage”, they mean click on, re-tweet, or favoriting your content. Learn what people like, and do more of that … pretty simple!

That’s it! I pretty much use those 4 tools exclusively at the moment. I periodically check out other tools but find myself falling back to the ones I mentioned above on a consistent basis. Like I said, your millage may vary and I’d love to hear about your favorite tools in the comments below.

So, get out there and inspire, influence and help make the world a better place!

You may also want to read the second blog post in this series entitled Inspiring the Future Through Social Media, Attracting Followers.

If you valued this article and want more, please hit the ‘like’ button and also share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook social media platforms. I encourage you to join the conversation or ask questions so feel free to add a comment on this post.

 

You can also find me on twitter at @NewFrontierCIO for more commentary on the frontiers of technology, leadership, space exploration, and science.

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