Post three in the “Your Social Media Journey” series is by Patrick Prothe, a marketing communicator and social strategist who never forgets that business is about people, relationships and connections. With more than 20 years of experience building brands, he develops integrated marketing communications that put customers at the center.
It was an accident that found me tweeting and connecting online. I originally set out to be a doctor way back but ended up in journalism school after discovering I didn’t have a stomach for blood. I’ve been in marketing ever since, whether making images, designing brand identities or developing comprehensive campaign strategies.
For years I thought about starting a blog. But never quite felt I had enough to say or that I could offer value different from what I already read in the blogs I followed. In fact, I was a bit intimidated. Would people laugh? Would I look and sound stupid? What could I add, I asked myself? Communication Arts ran a great piece on design blogs in the early 2000s featuring Armin Vit – Under Consideration who’s evolved quite a bit since then. The platforms have also become much easier to implement.
In the 90s when Fast Company started their Company of Friends groups, I looked into joining one, but there wasn’t one in Portland. During the time I was self employed I networked locally face to face in the Chambers of Commerce and weekly networking meetings. Then LinkedIn happened. I knew I needed to be there for my career. I saw where the web was going and it just made sense, although I wasn’t sure what to do with it at the time.
In 2005 I got much more serious about the online world and started reading a number of blogs on branding– notably Futurelab and Branding Strategy Insider. At FutureLab, I connected with David Armano’s Logic and Emotion, and the floodgates opened and I started adding blogs to my Google Reader.
In 2007 a former colleague invited me to join Twitter shortly after their splash facilitating gatherings at SXSW. Sure, I said. But then my initial reaction was this is stupid. And then came Copyblogger, And Chris Brogan and Facebook, although I can’t recall exactly when I opened my Facebook account. Curious about Twitter, I followed those whose blogs I read and started tweeting links I thought were interesting over the next few months. Inconsistently at best. In 2008, I clicked and followed my way through with a little more focused, adding commentary to links from interesting blogs and having the occasional interaction with a few tweeps, notably CK (@cksays), who I had the pleasure of meeting at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum last May in addition to @bethharte
But it was nothing significant and my coworkers looked on bemused. I was thrilled when I reached my first 100 followers – couldn’t believe it actually. Those I talked with about Twitter thought it was silly (and many still do). In 2010 I started joining chats hosted by people I respected. My first was #imcchat with @bethharte and @abarcelos. It was through these chats that engagement really started happening. Suddenly I was having two-way conversations with real people. That’s the nuts and bolts.
Takeaways from my social media explorations
Emotionally, social media has forced me to articulate the stuff swimming in my head. An introvert by nature, someone once mentioned I was a masterful observer. Often on the sidelines connecting the dots but not actively jumping in (this in real life). Online, I started jumping in and it’s helped connect with like-minded people. And form friendships that I otherwise would not have. Like with Marjorie. How would we ever have met if not for social media? The chats, however, have been the key catalysts for forming these relationships.
Social media allows me to test ideas and push my thinking. It’s helped me tune my voice and now that I’ve been blogging consistently for a year, forced me to practice my writing. I’m able to organize my thoughts – to edit and refine. I can see what I’m thinking. In Twitter, I enjoy the challenge of communicating in 140 characters. It’s helped me work on the art of brevity.
It’s enriched my life. I tend to spend a lot of time in my head. Social media has allowed me to share and discuss these thoughts with other really great people. Where else can you so easily. Titles and levels of success – barriers to connecting in real life don’t play online. You certainly can’t walk around town asking people what they think of the almost new Gap Logo. Nor could I otherwise have called up Pepsi’s Global Marketing Director and started chatting (@TomMoradpour).
It’s opened my world, helped me become more, well, social. I’ve discovered the digital neighborhoods where people congregate to commiserate and chew the fat. It’s the new water cooler. Anytime. Anywhere. It’s also helped me strike up conversations with people I meet on the streets. When you practice chatting online, sharing information, it’s infectious and spills over into everyday life. Read Shel Israel’s great book Twitterville for more on this.
It’s made waiting for your delayed plane more palatable. After all, just start up what used to be just a phone and start connecting.
It provides tidbits for offline conversation at the next dinner party. Not being a huge sports buff, all I have to do is search Twitter for the latest sports convo and I can at least sound reasonably in the know in a sports crowd. That doesn’t mean I turn fake, either. In fact, I’m the same person online as I am in real life – except for thinking a bit more about how my words might come across to those who can’t see the emotion behind them. It’s the same problem with email – the recipient doesn’t have the benefit of seeing your face, hearing your tone – which makes up over 90% of communication.
It’s helped me hone my management and leadership skills – via the chats, notably #imcchat and #leadershipchat, I’ve put thoughts shared in practice with my team. It’s validated things I’ve been thinking (comforting to know others face similar challenges). I’m not working in a vacuum.
I feel I’m just getting started. It takes time to get your social legs and form relationships. I’m sure for those that grow up with social media, it’ll be more natural. Just like in real life, you have to nurture and consistently interact. You also have to find a balance as it’s easy to forget about the time and lose sight of your to do list. You have to prioritize and manage your time effectively. I’ve found that social doesn’t scale – less is more. Having deeper conversations with fewer people pays more dividends than randomly connecting. But publicly sharing your content and conversations helps you connect with and stay connected with a broader group, whether on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook.
That said, these are the three platforms I use most – Twitter for conversations and sharing, Linkedin for forming business connections and demonstrating the value I offer, Facebook for showing the more personal, human side of my life. And my blog as my home base where I can explore ideas and people can get a sense of how I think – and link it all together.