I had this idea that I bet Leon and the others can riff on. Basically: there are plenty of tools out there for lots of aspects of life. Let’s make sure we propose the proper tool (or our take on a good tool) for the right job. From managing our tasks and priorities to determining how best to engage our communities, let’s all start looking around for the right tools.

My first swing at this: Social Media.

Blogs are a Platform

Use blogs to communicate with a community about what interests you. If you’re a corporate blogger, write about the good and the bad about your subjects. If you’re just writing about yourself and your passions, great, but try to make the posts relevent to people outside of yourself. Be real. Be fresh. Communicate in both directions. Enable comments. And write back to those who comment. (Disclaimer: as a blog is a very multi-purpose tool, some of you will disagree with me on this all- comment!)

Blogs can also be used as a knowledge base, but aren’t *as* good at that function, because that relies on updates, and/or edits to fix the problems. (my favorite knowledge base is a wiki- see below).

I prefer WordPress (or hosted WordPress), but Blogger, Vox, and several others are equally good.

Wikis are Good for Knowledge Bases

Wikis are editable websites that permit multiple users to interact and easily edit details on a page. We used a wiki as the core organizing tool for PodCamp, our unconference about new media community tools. We used it for everything from posting up hotel deals for the area, to scheduling the sessions, to registration.

I prefer PBWiki and also Wikia, but there are tons out there.

Twitter is for Presence

Lots of people have opinions in all directions about Twitter. Briefly, it’s a tool that lets you post 140 characters to a group of friends via SMS, the web, IM, or several 3rd party apps. The site officially asks the question: “What are you doing?,” but you can use the tool however you want.

Use Twitter to point out items of interest on your blog, on other people’s blogs, and in the world around you. Contribute to the larger conversation amongst your friends lists (Twitter works best when you add lots of friends). Use it to show you or your organization’s presence. (And if you want to add me, I’m chrisbrogan.)

Flickr is for Color and Vibrance

Using a photo sharing site like Flickr adds a visual appeal to your social media toolkit. If you’re an organization, take snaps of the people in the company. Take pictures at your social events. Post pictures from your public excursions. And/or take pictures of things that interest you specifically as a human working within that organization.

One of my all time favorite examples of this is following Dave Gray, CEO and founder of XPlane. His personal passions translate well into the nature of his business, which is a visual thinking practice (they help organizations explain complex things with clever visualizations).

Other similar sites are Zooomr and Photobucket. There are plenty more.

Podcasts and Videoblogging are for Relationship

Building an audio podcast or a video product for your organization or yourself is a great way to bring even more humanity into the picture. Not unlike the pictures, a podcast adds another content experience, and also adds a voice (and better still a face) to the experience. Podcasts can be in the “how to” vein of using a product or service. They can be advice podcasts, which also build up your reputation as a thought leader in your space.

It’s hard to recommend tools here. There are lots of ways to skin this cat. The most important advice? Don’t spend a lot. Don’t buy some fancy solution from someone charging you thousands to make a podcast. You can do it for free or cheap, including hosting, by just looking around a little.

I recommend Odeo for the easiest audio recording experience. I recommend Blip.tv as a good hosting site for videoblogging/video podcasts (don’t get hung up on the names). If you want to edit things a bit, for audio, try Audacity. For video, use either the built-in Windows Media Maker or iMovie on a Mac before trying anything tricky and expensive.

RSS Readers and Search Tools for Ego-Surfing

It’s great that you’re going to engage with all the tools above to reach out to people, but are you listening? If you’re lucky, there are lots of blogs and podcasts and other websites talking about you or your product or your service. Not everything is going to happen on your site. You’ve gotta find the conversations and engage people on their own turf.

Use a good RSS reader. These are tools to let you subscribe to blogs and podcasts such that you read lots of things from one website or application. (Talking further about RSS- Really Simple Syndication- would take up another 2000 words) I like Google Reader, or you can use Bloglines, or one of the built-in RSS readers. The better you get, the more you should demand from the reader.

To track what people are saying about you elsewhere, use sites like Technorati and Google Blogsearch. Both let you make RSS feeds from your searches, which you can then just throw into your RSS reader for “ego surfing.” This tool, more than any others, is vital to understanding how you or your brand or your product are perceived. Hint: if there’s nothing out there, you need more work promoting what you’re doing.

And Now, Your Take

What else have I missed? What other social media tools would you recommend to do the job right? Do you feel I’ve used these tools inappropriately? Jump into the comments section and let us know. That’s the beauty of it, after all.

Chris Brogan is co-founder of PodCamp, a free unconference about new media community tools. He keeps a blog at [chrisbrogan.com]

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