If you’re anything like most of us, you don’t have a college degree in “Social Media.” In fact, if you do, it was probably outdated about three months after you hung up your framed diploma.
Changes in the social technology field are rapid and progress is advancing at an exponential rate. Startups are pumping new apps, gadgets, and mobile sites out of Silicon Valley at a rate that seems virtually impossible to keep up with. In this totally new and constantly evolving environment, it is really experience, more than anything, that helps you find traction.
But what if you’re just entering the game now? What if you’ve only been a casual user of services like Facebook and LinkedIn? Maybe you have a Twitter handle that you barely post to, or you take a few shots on Instagram every now and then. You don’t even know what a Zaarly is.
Then, unexpectedly, you are thrown into the world of social media either by choice (“Wow! This stuff is really cool! How come I never noticed it?”), or by pressure (“Wow. My company thinks this stuff is really cool. I better start paying attention.”) How do you ever find your footing? It’s like being thrown onto the floor of the New York City Stock Exchange with nothing more than a bag of nickels and a TI-30x calculator. You just don’t know where to begin.
What’s worse is that the normal places you’d look for help on a given subject are suspect. So-called “gurus” hosting webinars may or may not have answers, and any “landmark” books on the subject could have been out of date the moment they went to press. If it were photography or skiing, a visit to Amazon or Craigslist might help you find the books or classes you need. There is no such thing for this subject in this digital age.
The answer of course, lies in one of the great lessons of social media: just listen. That’s right, it’s the same thing that anyone will tell you before you start tweeting, blogging, or sharing your knowledge on Quora - listen! Listen to the way people talk. Follow people you like. Read their articles – and comment on them. Look for feedback before publishing your stuff. Ask questions! See what people in your circles are interested in and then think about what you offer. Get into areas that you are especially interested in. Don’t worry about knowing everything, raising your Klout score, getting a million followers, or figuring out “the right place to start.”
It will take time. It will be somewhat difficult. You will encounter lots of terms and acronyms that make no sense (SEOs? Metatags? VCs?) You might ask yourself – what do I need to know? That’s a great question – and it’s unanswerable. Because there’s no endpoint in social media competency. The goal is simply to catch up, then the idea is to just keep absorbing and – eventually – become part of the conversation yourself.
But first, just listen. What do you hear?