I recently had the opportunity to talk with social media expert Muhammad Saleem about social networking. For those of you new to the site, I interviewed Muhammad back in February on Lifehack Live.
Muhammad is the one to watch in the social media sphere. He’s a top-ranked user on Digg, Propellr, Reddit, and other social news sites, he has almost 2000 followers on Twitter, and he blogs or contributes guest posts just about everywhere. He is jsut the person I wanted to talk to about making the most of social networking services like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Although I wasn’t interviewing him for Lifehack, in the course of the conversation Muhammad gave a good number of tips on how best to approach and use social media sites. We talked for over an hour, but I’ve boiled his advice down to the following nine points.
Almost all social media sites, from Digg to Twitter, have some way for users to control who can and cannot reach them. These are minimal standards, though — all they do is open a channel. Don’t abuse people by trying to fake them out or overwhelming them with updates — they’ll just close the door entirely.
Don’t add relationships willy-nilly. Limit your “friends” or “connections” or whatever they’re called on your favorite social media site to people who share at least some of the same interests as you. And be selective when sending out “shouts” or “DMs” or whatever you send — send updates to people for whom they are meaningful, not everyone you just happen to have some connection with.
It should go without saying that to make the best use of a social network, you have to network, but a lot of people seem to want to do an end-run around that. Building relationships starts with a friend request or invite — it doesn’t end there. Get to know the people you are connected with. Answer their questions, send them a link or piece of information now and again, and read their profiles.
Don’t be phony! Be yourself — it’s what your social network friends added you for. There are, of course, many ways to “game” just about every social media system, to get more diggs, to appear to have more followers, to get your posts Stumbled, and so on. But in the end, it’s an empty gain — people who follow you because you appear to be something you’re not will quickly un-follow you, people who end up at your site because you managed to get more votes on a post than you deserve will leave without reading, and all you’ll have is an empty number to show off.
Signing up for social networking sites and social news sites is easy, but unless you’re willing to put in some work, you won’t get much out of it. You need to keep your profile reasonably up-to-date, maintain at least a marginally active presence, and talk to other people now and again to make it work. If you have a hundred different profiles on a hundred different sites, you’ll soon get overwhelmed and none of them will get the attention they need to thrive. Pick a handful of services and sites to put a lot of energy into — or however many you have time to really commit to — and stay off the rest.
That said, don’t participate in too few sites, either. First of all, if you slip up and damage your reputation at one, you’ll have to start from scratch somewhere else. But more importantly, different sites have different strengths. LinkedIn is best for professional advance, MySpace for broadcasting your interests and creative work; Digg is traditionally better suited to news, especially technology and weird stuff, StumbleUpon to smaller niches.
Social networking is about connections between people, not profiles. Make use of the means for self-expression offered by each service — whether that’s the way you summarize stories for social news sites, or a blogging platform, or feeds integrated from your non-social network sites. Worry less about finding the perfect background or your 5 favorite songs and more about creating something people want to pay attention to.
You have to put into social networks in order to get out from them. This is basic human nature — anthropologists call it “reciprocity”. If you want recommendations on LinkedIn, start writing some — people will usually return the favor. If you want followers on Twitter, start following people — again, people will usually return the favor. Once you do something for someone, they will generally want to do something for you in return. But you have to take the lead.
9. Add Value
This is the single most important thing to remember on any social networking site. Do whatever it takes to make your posts, your profile, your story submissions, or whatever the “currency” of the site it, as valuable as possible. You add value when you submit a link; you add more value when you include a really good description of the article; you add more value still when you explain why I would want to read it; and you add yet more value when you tell me what the author left out or how the information might be used.
Social media sites can be great ways to promote a brand, promote your business, find clients, get jobs, find new employees, and build personal relationships, but they don’t “just work”. They’re tools, not machines — you have to use them, not put in some inputs and wait for them to do their magic. Keep the 9 principles above in mind, and you’ll find that people start responding pretty quick — after all, they’re there for the same reason you are, to find people whose interests mesh with their own.