Social Media 101: Get your feet wet with Facebook

This morning I was part of a panel discussion, talking to the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Insider Breakfast, held at The University Club. The topic was social media. One of the questions from the audience was (to paraphrase), “I know of MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., but the only one I am a member of is LinkedIn — and I barely know how to use that. How do I prioritize as I get my feet wet in them?” Panelists had varying opinions, but I opted for a one-word answer: Facebook.

Facebook announce this week it's becoming more like Twitter. Click to via a larger graphic

Start with Facebook, I advised.

Others, notably GMC president Julia Taylor (whose Twitter presence is @JHTaylor) and Cd Vann (@ThatWoman_SOHO), “participating visionary” of SOHO|, disagreed. They leaned more toward Twitter as a place to start. As much as I enjoy Twitter, and find it invaluable in my consulting business, I rarely suggest a client start there as a way to understand the experience. Here are my reasons:

4 Reasons Why Facebook Is A Better Set of Training Wheels

  1. Twitter is too scary — Three weeks ago NY Times tech columnist David Pogue finally dipped his own toe into the waters of Twitter. Pogue began the column by saying, “I’m supposed to be on top of what’s new in tech, but there’s just too much, too fast; it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I can only imagine how hopeless a task it must be for everyone else.” This was his apology for being a “geek” and not being willing to face the ugly, 140-character beast that is Twitter. I feel for him. But more importantly, I feel for the clients who have to learn the arcane nomenclature of “re-tweets,” hash-tags and Twitter agents. When the panel discussion was over, I confided to Mary McCormick of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee that mere mention of Twitter causes most of my clients to go into spasms. I wouldn’t knowlingly wish that on anyone!
  2. Twitter is too amorphous — The same quality that makes Twitter so popular also makes it a little too much like a multi-faceted, super-charged desktop application (think Excel) that is daunting specifically because it is so versatile. I find myself using Twitter for a lot of things, and this versatility can lead to early abandonment and disappointment (read the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less for how this veritable banquet we face can be psychologically overwhelming).
  3. Facebook lowers the chance of a “crappy first experience”Robert Scoble wrote that there is a barrier we’re facing today. It’s a “new digital divide.” The divide is between the folks who can swim easily in the social network pool and the “normal” people who refuse to or are afraid to dive in. Scoble writes that when these normal people get into a social network, “they enter a pretty lame environment since there are no friends … The first experience is a real crappy experience, since there’s no input. And it’s all about input from other users.” Facebook is more helpful than Twitter, and it’s easier to find a group of folks you can immediately “friend.” They can help you, and reduce the crap risk significantly.
  4. Facebook is becoming more like Twitter by the week — Just this week Facebook announced new changes to their interface. They make this social networking site, which already has a version of “tweets” in their mini-feed feature, even more like its competitor for user attention and participation.

I think all of us on the panel would agree that if you are a business leader, you need to start personally leaping the chasm — the digital divide — to get a feel for the new communication medium. You need to give social media a try. If you choose Facebook, I’m here. If it’s Twitter, I’ll see you there too, at @TheLarch!

7 Replies to “Social Media 101: Get your feet wet with Facebook”

  1. I would tend to agree with you, although I probably would have asked the person: “What do you do?”

    There may already be some more narrowly focused social network Ie.g., Banktastic) specific to what that person is involved in.

    Facebook might be a bit daunting to someone new to social media.

  2. You’re right Ron. In fact, I think my fellow panelists may have been focused more on which is the most effective SM channel than which is the best SM 101 “sandbox” to play in.

    If I’m mistaken I’d love to know. Anyone want to defend Twitter over Facebook?

  3. I think this blog post has it exactly right, and except in a few exceptional cases, I can’t see any good defense of Twitter as a starting point for social media.

    For someone without much experience with social networking, the concept, pacing, and limitations of Twitter may be a little much to deal with (as compared to Facebook) — it assumes a slightly greater level of technical know-how, in that images/video/etc must all be handled off-site and linked to (much of the time using a URL shortening service); the userbase is smaller and less structured; the content can move extremely quickly at times; and most importantly, it often does not seem to become quickly evident to someone why others would care to hear the answer to the question “What are you doing?” at any given moment.

    Facebook has a huge userbase, a more formal/easily understood structure and feature arrangement, works to be as self-contained and do-the-work-for-you as possible, and is almost certainly slower moving than Twitter. There is a reason we’ve all recently heard that a rapidly growing demographic on Facebook is the middle-aged crowd: it’s more friendly and immediately useful even to those who don’t care to contribute much of their own material. Pictures of people/their kids/their pets, personal information like location and relationship status and interests… the purpose of sharing these things is immediately obvious, you have time to peruse them (because they aren’t just flying past on a timeline and then lost forever), and the technical experience required is very low.

  4. Jeff,

    Both services offer value, but I believe Twitter offers more value once another social identity has been created.

    When I broke in to social networking, a colleague suggested that I get Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Slideshare, Tumblr and SocialMedian. I use FB and Twitter more than the others right now, but I will find more and more uses for the other networks in short order.

    I agree with you Jeff – FB should be the first stop for someone new to social networks.

  5. Absolutely!

    Facebook is a great place to start, just because the whole setting up your page, tinkering with it as you will, finding & linking with friends “thing” is moderately self-explanatory, and something that can be put down and picked up at will, days later, without feeling like you’ve missed anything.

    Leave Twitter unattended for days, and you may never catch up! Twitter is not difficult, but probably not a great starting point.

  6. I agree that Facebook is a better gateway to social media for most people, and that Twitter is better for those who have their social media legs under them.

    In recent months I have watched my mother leap into Facebook, happily friending the people she knows and commenting on their status and pictures. It’s easy, it’s fun, and you automatically have something to do once you get there – connect with the people you know.

    Twitter is a network I love passionately, but most people just don’t get it. Who do you follow? What do you Tweet about? Isn’t it weird that people follow you who don’t know you – like stalking?

    I came to Twitter as someone who already read a lot of blogs, and had started a blog of my own. I followed my favorite bloggers and authors, searched for people who were interested in the same subjects as me, and had plenty to Tweet about. I’m not sure exactly which personality types thrive on Twitter, but I know it has been a hard sell to my clients, even the ones who are interested in blogging and social media.

    A lawyer/client of mine called and said, “I’m on Facebook and I love it. I’m on it every night. Now how do I use it for marketing my business? I mainly use Facebook to find friends from high school, fellow Unitarian Universalists, and people who are into Burning Man.”

    I suggested the lawyer start a blog about legal stuff, and then explore using Twitter to build an audience. Leave Facebook for the fun stuff.

    Am I the only one who gets a bit overwhelmed by our personal lives and our professional lives getting so tangled up online? I like to leave a bit of separation – post my personal stuff on Facebook, and focus on my professional life on Twitter. But I notice this is getting harder as Facebook and Twitter become more entangled. Tweet Ups that have Facebook groups, etc.

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