just because it’s there, should you use it?

The emergence of new forms of communication reminds me of the spread of desktop publishing in the 1990s. Back then, anyone who had a layout program suddenly thought they were a designer; today, does a YouTube channel make everybody a programming mogul? As always, whether technology means anyone and everyone should use these tools is a different question.

Without going into too much detail (because it involved people I like), a college entity sent a newsletter last week that linked to an outside YouTube video. That well-intended video’s linked related content (albeit not really related) could be seen as offensive, or that’s the way an alum found it when he sent an email to our college president, among others. One of our team members quickly took care of the issue (on a Saturday morning), but the usual questions over use of social media arose.

One of the simplest ways to prevent this is knowing YouTube and its embed settings that keep videos from showing related (or what YouTube thinks of as related) content … or posting it within an edu partner account. It’s not a very obvious setting, but it’s the kind of detail you need to attend. Such an incident, of course, leads into policy discussions about who should or shouldn’t post and disseminate official content on behalf of an institution, and what “official” means — a potentially serpentine process.

But more broadly and basically, the more important lesson ties to a key plank of communicating via social media: Get to know the medium, its capabilities and its community as well as you can. Sure, we all know the guy who hops straight on The Twitters, tweets about a new weight-loss pill, follows 4,000 people via keyword search and auto DMs any chump lazy enough to follow them is, clearly, doing it wrong. But plenty of hard-working, well-meaning individuals encounter mines while jumping into terra incognita.

I signed up for Facebook and Twitter and explored them for months before launching anything in these media representing the college. And just as you’ll find people using media poorly, you can find those using media really well who can serve as examples, perhaps even role models. And since these people use social media, they are easy to reach and — in my experience — very helpful with any questions. We all learn about so much of this stuff as we go along.

Another worthy consideration is: Just because it’s there, should you use it? In just a couple years, I’ve had to learn about communicating via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, UStream, Watershed and other options I’ve already forgotten. And there’s always a new platform or community emerging that warrants consideration. But that doesn’t mean we should use all of these outlets for everything. You should get to know — emphasis on the word know — these media and then employ those that work well for what you’re trying to do and the audience you’re trying to reach. Missteps, in the realm of social media, are magnified in reach and immediacy … so it’s always important to learn how to watch your steps.

3 Comments

Filed under Web

3 responses to “just because it’s there, should you use it?

  1. kprentiss

    There’s a balance needed.

    In my experience, for every person that tries an outside youtube link and gets embarrassed by a related video, there are 20 people that are afraid to try because they heard that kind of story and think they’ll never know enough to be safe.

    You seem to have found your balance – your formula is something like: Try on a personal basis, find models, explore professionally when you are ready. I’m glad this works for you. I know your work, so I’m not worried about you – others, however : )

    I worry about requiring social media expertise as a prerequisite for participation. Yes there are tricks, many non-intuitive, and some of these need to be learned the hard way.

    Many professionals prioritize risk avoidance and get so worried about making mistakes, that they don’t try anything, and thus limit their learning.

    In Ken Robinson’s words: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

    To push forward the practice, people have to make mistakes.

  2. Rico

    To be honest, I even hate the phrase “social media,” it makes an industry out of something that is a natural extension of the tools we already have and use. You make a good case for professional managing of the image of an institution, an event, a public figure.

    Isn’t there also a great forum for these tools to be used ad hoc, open source as it were? I think with so many things, if it’s there, people will come. But if reputation and profit are at stake, you’re best leaving it to the pros.

    What’s true regardless of anyone’s opinion, having a Twitter, flickr, blog and facebook is de rigeur for public figures, a mixed blessing of publicity and obligation.

  3. insidetimshead

    KEVIN: As noted in our Twitter discussion, I agree with your direction. I’m a big fan of Tom Peters, who trumpets the value of failing over never trying. My point relates more to learning the ropes and trying to fail small to prevent failing big. And I encourage everyone to participate, definitely, but it’s like learning more about your neighborhood before throwing a block party.

    RICO: You’ve made a good distinction between professional and personal use. The latter, I think, is different than how the average user would expect to participate. And if any person or penguin comes up with a better name than “social media,” I’d be all for it. We had new media and Web 2.0 among other sobriquets, and I’m sure people are itching to quantify something as Web 3.0. Personally, I’m trying to patent antisocial media, so far with little success.

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