Exploring Social Media: Start With the Basics

Filed as Features on November 16, 2008 12:09 pm

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Exploring Social Media article series badgeIn Exploring Social Media: Social Media Tools, I featured a list of what other social media sites and experts recommend as their social media tools. Let’s take a step backwards and explore the basics you need to have in place as part of your core social media tools for bloggers and businesses as part of this ongoing series on Exploring Social Media.

While the concept of social media and social media tools confuses many, the basic social tools are ones you probably already have and use. You might not think of these as social media tools, but they are crucial to today’s communication strategies.

You probably understand why you need these, but let’s review the reasons you should have these basics in place to start your blog, online persona, business, or media campaign.

Domain Name

You need to have a name for your website. This is usually your name or business name, or brand, or some combination of words that represents your intent and purpose.

This used to be the most important part of creating an online presence, with many highly recommending that you have your own personalized domain name like blogherald.com or fredsmith.com. Today, it can be lorelle.wordpress.com or ma.tt or some other combination, but it should be easy to remember and say. Domain names such as sexy46549.wordpress.com or anything98.blogspot.com are rarely taken seriously.

A bad URL name example

There is a lot of debate over whether or not your domain name should be example.com or a subdomain name such as example.wordpress.com. Honestly, there are two factors to consider: memorability and relationship by association.

What matters most is the memorability of the name, not the issue of whether or not it is a full domain or subdomain. If it is easy to pronounce, doesn’t require finicky spelling, and is easy to remember, it’s a great name.

Choosing a subdomain, such as one with or Blogger/Blogspot, may influence your reputation from the domain name. Currently, sites with wordpress.com are consider valid, healthy, and good sites. There are some top bloggers and websites using WordPress.com. By association, you are in good company. However, currently, Blogger/Blogspot doesn’t have such a shining reputation as that free blog hosting service is littered with spam blogs. MySpace is also now considered a “poor neighborhood” and people are flocking away from it as it seems to no longer serve them or they are judged by their presence on that service. Things may shift and change with trends and fads, but choose wisely, or do not choose to use a subdomain service.

Whether you choose a full domain or subdomain site, make your domain name serious and reflective of your purpose. Your domain name is part of your virtual business card, the spot where everyone should go to find and contact you.

Web Presence

You must have a web presence. It can be a static site, a blog, or a Facebook or MySpace account. A blog as a blog or CMS (Content Management System) is the best choice for most, though many rely upon their Facebook, LinkedIn, or MySpace account to be their window to the web.

Again, the web presence platform plays an important part in your online reputation, especially if you use a subdomain specific website service. MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn are now replacing some static websites and blogs for an online presences. In the early days, Facebook was only for the young, but it has grown in reputation and functionality as a quality social forum and resume. MySpace’s reputation has dropped significantly and is frequently seen as a playground for children rather than a serious forum for content, but these wide paintbrush perceptions come and go with the ever changing tide of public opinion. Again, it’s a matter of reputation by association.

If you are hunting for a job or establishing yourself as an expert, a LinkedIn page is a must as an online version of your resume and network. LinkedIn relies upon who links to you and who you link to as part of building your online reputation evidence.

Choosing one or more of these options for your web presence helps to establish your virtual address on the web, but also connects with the other social services you choose and build over time.

The website choice you make must contain the following basic information:

  1. About Page: Also known as your Profile Page, this is your story. It needs to tell the world a little about who you are, what you do, why you do it, and why we should care. For many, it is their chance to promote their resume, the history and examples of their expertise.
  2. Contact: It’s important people have alternative methods of contacting you. Make it easy but offer more methods than a contact form if you want to be found.
  3. Recent Information: What you did in the past is important, but we live in a “now” world and the site should offer information on where you are and what you are doing recently.
  4. Location: While the web makes it easy to live and work anywhere, people still like to know where you are in the world. Neighbors want to work with neighbors, but people want to understand better where someone is coming from when they communicate with them, and location is part of your story.
  5. Events: The web is about participation. People want to know what you are doing and where, and if they can be a part of it. If you are involved in any events or social activities, consider sharing them with others.
  6. Feeds: All of today’s websites must have feeds, text-based versions of your blog content read with feed readers and used by aggregators to promote your blog content excerpts and titles. Feeds are today’s “subscriptions” which allow visitors to monitor your site’s activities with their feed reader or via email.
  7. Images: People like to know what you look like, or at least see pictures of you doing something or with other people. They like the visual social aspect of your business and life. It makes you “real” to them. Whether or not you add a picture of you or a visual brand identity, at the least consider adding a gallery collection of images from conferences or meetings.
  8. Clear Purpose and Focus: In order to be hired or contacted, you have to be known for something, and that “something” is usually your specialty. You might turn to a neighbor for recommendation on a doctor, but you might not turn to your neighbor for help with a lump in your breast unless that neighbor is a specialist or breast cancer survivor. We go to the experts. We want the experts. Your expertise needs to be clear, visible, and fairly focused to show the world you know what you are talking about.

Email and Contact Information

Example of an over social business cardWhile Twitter might be replacing traditional communication methods, your email account is still a key to contacting you. Make sure you have an easy to remember and pronounce email address.

Part of the social is your email address and its reputation.

In addition to your email address, you need to provide information on how to be found. This can include Twitter, Skype, GTalk, AOL, IRC, and any number of other online communications resources.

Don’t forget that a snail mail address is also welcome by many and considered good business practice. And if it is important that you be physically found, especially if your online purpose requires people find your business or event, you need to have a map or a link to a map such as Google Maps ready at hand.

Your business card is a critical source of information about how to contact you, but make sure you have all of your contact information on the web, too.

The problem today with all the various methods people have for contacting you is that there are too many ways. It’s exhausting keeping track of all the open windows, tabs, feeds, and sites you need to monitor to be open to “the call” when the call comes in. Whoever consolidates all of these into one will be the next king of the web.

Until then, it’s important to keep all of your communication inputs in one central location. There are so many they don’t fit onto a small business card any more, and people aren’t asking for your business cards, either. They want your website or blog address. Put your contact information there.

Some add all their social media contact locations to the bottom of every blog post, while others just clutter up their blog sidebars with an icon bar with their Twitter, Delicious, GTalk, Skype, Phone, FriendFeed, and all the different social media communication sites listed.

Personally, I recommend that you put all that information on your Contact Page and make sure you spread the link to that page out everywhere. Make it a one-stop place to find all your contact information, and keep it current.

Avatar/Gravatar/Brand Identity

Today’s online presence comes with a visual identity. It is often called your “brand identity” which is actually the words and visual images that summarize your online identity. It can be a picture of you, a graphic, cartoon, logo, or artwork, whatever you want as long as it represents “you” whoever you want to be online.

It also must be flexible. It must resize from 16 pixels to 128 pixels or larger and still maintain it’s quality and integrity visually.

Examples of the various sizes a gravatar is displayed

Called avatars, or more commonly gravatar (Globally Recognized Avatar) mostly in part due to the popularity of the Gravatar now owned by , parent company of WordPress, these are small icons which are used to “identify” you on various social media services, blog comments, forum posts, and even in Google’s Gmail contacts. Gravatars link to your email address, so when you interact on a site using Gravatars, it pulls in the image associated with that email address.

Most social service sites allow you to upgrade your own avatar to use throughout their service, but only within their service. Gravatars work across all WordPress blogs enabled to integrate with Gravatars via Plugins like the official Gravatar WordPress Plugin, WordPress Gravatar Plugin by Il Filosofo, or Easy Gravatars by Dougal Gunters, though the next version of WordPress should have Gravatars built in.

While there are other services for avatars, I recommend you sign up with Gravatar and upload an image to match the email address you mostly use online, then add the same image to all your social media tools which require avatars so you have the same visual identity, or brand, across all social services, including your blog.

Your Contact List

Twitter Sidebar, example of a modern contact listYou and your business does not operate in a vacuum. It’s important to keep a contact list in various forms to communicate with, be it friends, family, or business associates. These contact lists can be traditional mailing, email, and phone lists, or any of the modern contact lists.

Modern contact lists reach out individually or collectively. They include:

  • blogroll link lists
  • LinkedIn contacts
  • forum members
  • Twitter follows and friends
  • blog commenters
  • blog readers
  • shared media friends
  • Facebook friends
  • feed subscribers
  • feed email subscribers
  • newsletter subscribers

When you connect with others through these various contact lists, you become part of a community. Social media means sharing the “social” in your life, offering information to others about your life and business.

While the names of these lists change over time, a contact list is a way of sending out one message to many across the web, in your community, and around the world. Different contact lists reach different demographics, but also have different types of rules. Take care not to abuse your contact lists.

For instance, selling something or coming across with a hard pitch on Twitter is considered extremely bad manners. The process of “social” there is being social. Communicating over time, building a relationship, and encouraging people to want to do business with you because you are a friend and have established a reputation for interaction and social. Twitter users hate the hard sell. Recently, Wendy Piersall, CEO of SparkPlugging published “The Five Most Annoying Twitter Usage Trends” that targeted just such abuses. I’ll talk more about the social etiquette and demographics of various social media tools in upcoming articles in this series.

There is also the issue of targeting your demographics properly. WAHM Blog Product Reviews twittered recently:

I closed my account with MySpace within the last few weeks as it wasn’t worth the ROI & rather to FB & LinkedIn

MySpace just wasn’t bringing in the traffic nor business as much as Facebook and LinkedIn. By studying your traffic statistics and client base referrals, you learn what works, what doesn’t, and where to put your energies.

If your clients and readers aren’t on a specific social media service, then you shouldn’t be on it either. You need to be where they are, which we will talk about more in this series.

Tracking Device

You must have a way of tracking all the social your life and business online will experience. It won’t be one thing, and not everything is one-size fits all. At the least, you will need a feed reader and/or email, and a web analytics program.

A feed reader is a way of bringing all the websites and blogs you track to you. You can also track social media sites through feed readers. By “subscribing” to a blog, you track a site’s activities and latest posts through your feed reader, bringing many sites to one location which you control.

Many sites offer ways of tracking their content activity through emails and emailed feeds. FeedBlitz and FeedBurner offer services which emails feeds to those who subscribe to the service, bringing your blog content excerpts right to their email inbox.

Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts will also email you when the keywords you use to sign up with are mentioned in their news resources. Many will track themselves by their name or blog name across the web to find out what others are saying about them.

There are a variety of ways of mixing and combining feeds to get information from around the web to you so you can track your social, such as with Yahoo Pipes!. Tracking your social means tracking you and your online presence across the web, as well as what is being discussed and covered in your blog industry or specialty.

Web analytics helps track the activity on your site, as well as elsewhere. As Moomettesgram of WAHM Blog Product Reviews learned from monitoring the return on investment through a web analytics (blog statistics) program, you put your energies where you most need them, which includes where you get the most traffic, or where you should be getting the most traffic and aren’t.

Woopra Web Analytics

By tracking the numbers and statistics through programs such as and Google Analytics, you get an idea of what is working and what isn’t on your blog, in your content, and around the web. Without this statistical information, you can’t plan and you can’t react. You are floundering and just hoping you are hitting the right buttons with your readers and social media strategies. By studying web analytics, you make informed decisions.

By tracking yourself and your topic across the web, you get a unique ability to get useful feedback never before experienced in business or life. What you do with it is up to you and your goals, but tracking the information is critical to understanding the presence you’ve left on the web.

Exploring Social Media Series

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  1. By Mark Boudreau posted on November 17, 2008 at 11:34 am
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    Despite what you describe as the decline of MySpace, if you are blogging or podcasting about music it is absolutely essential that you have a presence there.

    Reply

  2. By Hendarin posted on November 17, 2008 at 12:19 pm
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    Very nice post here, could you suggest us (newbies) on how to get more from google analytics? it seems that it have huge facility, instead of just tracking activities, that have not been properly explore especially by newbies

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    • By Lorelle VanFossen posted on November 17, 2008 at 8:44 pm
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      There are a lot of articles that talk about web analytics and Google Analytics in particular. This has little to do with social media, though understanding basic web analytics does, and that I will cover, though generally.

      Reply

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