Social Media and Simplicity, Part 1: Reduce
Muhammad Saleem is a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on multiple social news sites.
This post is part 1 of 10 in our groundbreaking series on how freelancers can use social media and the principles of simplicity to build their business.
We as human beings are always striving for efficiency. However, the harder we try, we somehow manage to complicate things for ourselves.
Just as we’re getting a foothold in the offline world, we have to compete in the online world.
Just as we think we have a fair presence, we’re rudely awakened by newer technologies that help new entrants propel themselves forward faster than we imagine.
Making changes and embracing new ideas and technologies can be difficult. Especially considering the prevailing notion that once you get sucked into the world of new media (i.e. the social web or web 2.0) that it will consume you and all your time and that there will be no turning back.
The idea behind this 10-part series is very simple. First, we want to disprove the notion that it’s either your business or the new web by providing a set of “tricks” that help you separate the signal from the noise and integrate useful technologies in your daily workflow. The tools that various social media sites provide us are revolutionizing how we conduct our business and our relationships online, and there is no reason that anyone should be left out.
You can be a freelancer or any other kind of web worker and still enjoy web 2.0, or even freelance through social media or use it to supplement your existing business. Second, we want to instill in you certain principles that help you work most efficiently with the tools you have and within the time you have, without getting bogged down by constraints.
Day 1 – The First Law of Simplicity: Reduce
The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
People often have misconceptions about integrating new media into their business portfolio or day-to-day workflow. That’s because there are so many different mediums within social media, and within each one there’s an abundance of sites that do virtually similar things. It is incredibly easy to get lost, confused, or waste time with something that may end up being inapplicable. What we want to do is limit ourselves to only the most important and most relevant, without compromising on any functionality or losing a potentially viable outlet for exposure.
Reduce ‘Medium’ Participation
Social media is somewhat difficult to define. It can include anything from a forum or a message board, to a blog, and of course services that have come to embody web 2.0, such as Wikis, social news sites, social networking sites, and photo/video hosting and sharing sites. Right away, the plethora of options can be confusing and can sound unnecessarily complicated to the point where it actually creates a barrier to entry for newcomers.
The first thing to keep in mind is that while it may not be impossible for you to dabble in all these different mediums, it is important that you ignore most of them.
By having clear goals in mind with respect to your existing business (or your freelance career) you can determine which of these sites provides most synergy for you. In doing so, you can reduce the number of different mediums you participate in and leverage.
For example, as an online marketing consultant, while I find it important to understand and keep in touch with what’s going on in the social news and social networking spheres, for the most part there is little reason for me to spend time on virtual world systems or look into video life-casting tools like Justin.tv. Pick 2-3 mediums that are most relevant and ignore the rest. A little research can go a long way in determining these mediums.
Reduce ‘Site’ Participation:
A problem that plagues social media (or Web 2.0) is that since it is so easy to emulate an existing platform, too many people have created me-too sites that accomplish nothing more than dividing the community across multiple platforms. For example, within social networking there is MySpace, Facebook, Classmates, Yahoo! Groups, MSN Spaces, Xanga, Orkut, and the list keeps going on and on!
The best advice I can give you is to determine not just the site that most of your friends use, but also the site that provides the best unique value proposition for you as a professional, and stick to that site. As for friends or professionals who use different networks, you’re much better off trying to convince them to switch than having to maintain profiles on multiple sites. As the number of networks you participate in increases, the marginal value you get out of this participation diminishes significantly.
Another thing that works like a charm for some platforms — for example, micro-blogging sites — is using third-party services that consistently maintain your profiles across sites. One such site, hellotxt, which saves you the trouble of updating your status messages on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, Facebook, Plaxo, Tumblr, and several others. Just type what you’re doing into hellotxt and it will update your profiles with that message across the board. If you absolutely have to join all these virtually similar sites, don’t worry yourself with maintaining each of them individually. Just go third-party!
Reduce Your Scope
For most of us, there are three major social media platforms that we can make work for us. The first is social news sites, the second is social networking sites, and the third, and my personal favorite (and the one I consider most important) is blogging. The bloggers among us already know this very well: a blog’s identity is tightly connected to your identity. If you don’t have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, your blog can very easily lose its identity. A blog about everything is just as easily a blog about nothing (in particular). Know what you have and want to share with the world — your specialized knowledge gained from your experiences — choose a topic, and brand yourself accordingly.
As a great example, rather than focusing on online marketing in general, choose a specific focus like search engine marketing, affiliate marketing, blog marketing, viral marketing, or any of the other subcategories within online marketing. The same principle can be applied to the rest of your social web participation. Why participate on Reddit when you have Sphinn (“Sphinn is a social site for search and interactive marketers. It’s designed to allow you to share and discover news stories, read and take part in discussions, discover events of interest and network with others.”) By reducing your scope, you instantly increase your focus and rid yourself of unnecessary complexity.
Remember, there are no secrets. Less is often more, and the key is in creating and sharing value. As we said in the beginning, step 1 in achieving simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. If you don’t feel it’s right for you, get rid of it, and focus on an alternative that works for you.
For simplifying the rest of your life, check out John Maeda’s Blog.