Frequently when talking about the subject of social media, people will tell me they choose not to participate because they feel no one will be interested in what they have to say. I find this interesting, because it shows a misunderstanding of social media on two different levels.
First, there are more than 250 million people in this country, and billions more on this planet. It’s true that not all of them want to hear about what you’ve been doing lately– but it’s also true that social media provides opportunities that before existed to connect with people that are interested in a seemingly never-ending list of activities and interests.
Second, many people make the faulty assumption that the most important aspect of social media involves what you have to say. I would argue that the greatest benefits in social media come to those who listen. In fact, a healthy dose of listening will also improve the odds that when you do open your mouth, something worth listening to will come out.
As smart as you may be, the chances are you don’t know it all. By following the posts of the leaders in your area of interest, you can accelerate the rate of your own learning. You can listen in — and participate in — conversations about just about any topic imaginable. You can do this through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and countless other social media platforms. You’ll find that after a short time, you’ll have enough information to make informed comments, and people will be interested in what you have to say.
About three years ago, I was interested in setting up a website for a business I was looking to start. I didn’t know anything about setting up a website, but I’d heard good things about a blogging platform called WordPress. I thought about paying someone to do it for me, but a friend recommended that I do it myself. “How,” I asked. He suggested I listen to some podcasts, so I gave it a try.
A podcast is a series of digital media files, either audio or video, that are typically released on an ongoing basis, and can be downloaded to your iPod or MP3 player from sites such as the Apple Store and many others. Most of the podcasts I’ve found have been free.
My daily commute to work is about 40 minutes each way, so I was soon listening to more than six hours of WordPress podcasts per week. In a matter of a month or so, I’d learned more about WordPress than I might have in a semester-long college course. I built my own customized website, and then another, and soon realized that I could learn just about anything if I was willing to look for it online.
Through social media, I have met some of the most amazing people (you can meet some of them here) — mostly in Westchester, NY, but around the country and the world as well. You may not have any interest in WordPress, but that’s not the point. Maybe you’re interested in conservative politics — or liberal politics, for that matter. Perhaps you’d like to promote a charitable cause, and find others who share that passion. Or you could be looking for information on a health issue, how to get into better shape or scores of other subjects.
So how do you want to change your world? The opportunities are only a few mouse clicks away — just be prepared to listen.
Chris S. Cornell is the Director of Social Media at Thompson & Bender — a Westchester-based PR, advertising and marketing firm. He manages several online communities, and consults, speaks and writes about social media. You can follow Chris on Twitter at Cornell140. This column first appeared in Generations Magazine, a monthly print publication in Westchester, NY.