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Leveraging Social Media: My Journey To Untangle The Web

in Do What You Love, People & Products

The Social Web

Early last week, Chris Guillebeau unleashed his newest guide, aptly named The Unconventional Guide to the Social Web.  It’s taken me nearly the entire week to get through all the different content (text, audio, and video) that’s included in the project.  While I’ll dive into some more specific details later on, digesting this content stimulated some interesting reflection on my recent journey into the world of social media.

For me, the ability for content to cause this sort of self-reflection is the number one sign of value.  While reading, listening, and watching, I thought back to how radically my perspective on social media has shifted over these last few months.  I’ve transformed from non-believer to a card-carrying member of the social revolution.  Viva La Twitter!

Seriously, though, the power of the social web is awe-inspiring.  Absolutely anyone can have a voice. Heck, I have a voice, now.  You do, too, even if you aren’t amplifying it as much as you could.  Mass corporate media has relied far too long on pecking orders and chains-of-commands.  And while they still exist in the world of social media, they have a short shelf life.  They are in constant upheaval, shuffling around so frequently that they are nearly impossible to monitor.

We have to possess that spirit of giving.  That’s part of the practice.  Not to be all doomsday, but you can’t take it with you when you die.  So practice giving it away now.  Touch that place within you that recognizes your connection to all people, everywhere.  Forget followers numbers, forget friend numbers.  Focus on sharing what you have, giving what you can.

- Gwen Bell, Yoga for the Social Web

Blogging & The Birth of Man Vs. Debt

Of course, this blog is a huge part of my social media presence.  When I was first getting started, I didn’t consider my blog to be a legitimate part of “social media.”  I thought that MySpace and Facebook pretty much filled that definition themselves.

Now, however, I’ve awaken to the fact that the social web includes any platform the enables you to connect with a like-minded group of people or community.

Social media allows you to preach to the choir…  It allows you to connect with people who are naturally interested in what you have to say.

- Chris Guillebeau, Social Media for Introverts

Early in blogging, I ignored focusing on connecting with other people.  I just was going to plaster up my opinions on a wide-variety of personal finance topics.  I wanted to journal about our journey out of debt and occasionally rant against things I thought were silly.  That was it.

As it turns out, the blog’s voice caught on a little faster than I predicted.  As I started to get positive feedback, my vision morphed.  I now demanded that Man Vs. Debt be the premiere place for people looking to get out of debt.  I wanted a huge resources site, chocked-full of all the best strategies and methods for destroying debt.  I wanted my own step-by-step, fool-proof system.

I clearly didn’t get it, yet.

Sadly, it took me longer than I’d like to admit that this didn’t fit me. It wasn’t my personality.  It wasn’t even one of my strengths.  I got tired of chasing the latest news and trends.  It wore me down to outline posts on lease-options and CD ladders.  I was trying to fit the mold of what I thought a “personal finance blogger” should look like.

Your blog is your mothership.  What happens on your mothership is completely in your control…  What you do with your mothership is up to you.  Just make sure you have one.

- Gwen Bell, Yoga for the Social Web

More recently, I’ve finally been able to take this “mothership” concept to heart.  My vision for Man Vs. Debt has morphed once again, but this time it feels warm & tingly (in a good way… like home).

My new vision for MvD is a community.  A community of individuals whom are passionate about taking control of their finances and just as passionate about living their lives deliberately.  That’s it.  No huge resource.  I could care less if it’s ever called premiere.  I just desire a cool group of people to learn and grow along side of.

Now, I am getting the hang of it.  The social media dots are coming together. To be honest, we already have a community here.  I already feel like I’m sitting at the cool-kids lunch table.  Now comes the fun part… super-sizing exposure while maintaining the “cool” status.  I’m pumped to tackle this together.

Community emerges from a sense of playfulness, from asking questions and experimenting.

- Gwen Bell, Yoga for the Social Web

What The Hell Is A “Tweet”

5 months ago, I had heard of Twitter, but has absolutely no idea what it was.  I didn’t see any value, let alone the potential for it to become a fundamental part of my online networking.  After some time, I saw enough of my fellow bloggers using the service to commit some focus to learning it.  The twitter obsession hit me like a ton of bricks. I dove in head first and still haven’t surfaced for air.

The first step to learning anything new is to get comfortable with it yourself.  Invest time with the tool and it will serve you well.

- Gwen Bell, Yoga for the Social Web

Twitter was fundamental to my success in getting my foot into the personal finance community.  Even though I was doing everything horribly wrong, Twitter was my number one source for traffic, networking, and exposure in the first two months.  That should tell you something.

I started off using Twitter the way most people do.  I had elaborate conversations back and forth with a small group of people (often taking 3-4 tweets to get in my train of thought).  I promoted my own posts several times a day, making sure to ask daily for help with promotion.  I was focused on me, me, me. I had it all wrong… again.

Luckily, I’ve always been a big fan of modeling.  I realized that I need to seek out the thought-leaders within my field and model how they were using this tool (and others) successfully.  My relentless search began.  I was the Follow Friday fanboy, going back through all the suggestions and following anyone with anything to do with personal finance.  For a short period of time, I was truly the King of the Twitter Trolls.

Be 100% honest about what you do decide to share, but you don’t have to share 100% of your life to be successful.

- Chris Guillebeau, Social Media for Introverts

But it paid off.  I quickly was able to identify the thought-leaders I had been seeking.  I immediately saw a difference in how they used the service.  Sure they would broadcast their posts, but that wasn’t their main focus.  Instead they concentrated on providing value.  They shared relative content, insightful quotations and quips, and just enough personal updates to be “real” without being annoying.  It was 90% other people, 10% themselves.

I immediately started to model them. I stopped @ replying to everyone and took any private conversations to direct messages.  Stopped auto-RT’ing every person with more traffic than me and started really looking for relative content to share.  I made sure to share personal updates, but not for 5 hours straight all night on Saturday.  I shifted the focus on to supporting other people and providing value.

It didn’t take long for the positive effects of this change to be seen.  In almost no time at all, I  began to be referenced as part of the blogging community.  People were linking, re-tweeting, and offering advice…  I was now being followed by the thought-leaders I had modeled.  Everything started snowballing from there.

You are not your blog.  You aren’t your tagline.  You aren’t your company.

Think of the social web like phenotypes.  We pair up and match on certain interests we create a red flower.  Later in the day we meet someone with another set of interests, we create a purple flower.

The point is, we’re co-creating our realities.  The social web is about planting seeds.

- Gwen Bell, Yoga for the Social Web

“But… But… Isn’t Content King…?”

Yeah, nothing will trump quality content.  But all the content in the world is worthless unless you can get in front of a passionate audience.

Be yourself.  There really are people out there that are going to be interested in that.

- Chris Guillebeau, Social Media for Introverts

Isn’t that the ultimate goal?  It doesn’t matter if you are a restaurant looking for customers, a non-profit looking for exposure, or a power-hungry blogger looking for a bigger ego.  Whatever your intentions or cause, the power of social media lies in your ability to connect with a like-minded audience that craves the value that you have to offer.

This is the reason I love The Unconventional Guide to the Social Web so much.  It embraces this theory and provides the motivation and inspiration to help you capture it.  It’s not a step-by-step guide to twitter.  It’s not going to tell you that you have to tweet exactly every 2.5 hours on a specialized alternating schedule.  It’s not going to outline how to set-up wordpress or what dates/times you should post to your blog.  [Despite popular belief, this isn't the information you need to succeed]

Instead, the information in the guide seeks to transform the filter through which you view social media.  It opens up your perspective by showing you what’s possible, while at the same time providing direct suggestions to prod you into action.  It plays that balance very well.

It touches on broad topics such as simplicity, overcoming fear, and cultivating happiness.  It tackles tangle areas such as observing online trends, turning online connections into personal connections, and creating “flow” when generating content.

In all, the “guide” contains:

  • Yoga for the Social Web. A 35-page e-book, which I’ve quoted above several times.  I expected that e-book to be informative, but what I didn’t expect was how interesting it was going to be to read.  Yoga is a perfect backdrop.  Gwen divides the content into short, easily-digestible sections and provides “microactions” throughout to help create action.
  • A 20+ minute audio recording of Chris Guillebeau. In the audio, Chris details his own journey through social media and how he’s been able to create such an impact despite being “shy” and “introverted.”  Chris is a role model of mine and is one of the “thought-leaders” I modeled to learn how to provide value on Twitter.
  • A collection of over 30 social media success stories. For me, this was one of the coolest parts of the whole guide.  It contains short, real-life stories of people who’ve had success leveraging social media.  It covers small businesses, non-profits, farmers, cats, and even puppet-makers.  I loved reading (and gaining some ideas from) the wide variety of experiences.
  • A separate FAQ document. Chris tackles some of the most common questions on social media.  Includes how to get more followers, creating true fans, and even how to approach established bloggers.  Includes categorized questions/answers on Privacy, Monetizing, Twitter, and Facebook.  This is a great compliment to the e-book and audio content.
  • Several audio interviews with other “Thought-Leaders”. Gwen interviews Danielle LaPorte (White Hot Truth) and Nelly Yusopova (WebGrris).  They touch on their invidual stories, philosophy, and tips on how social media has enabled them to build successful communities.
  • A 14-minute video with a small business owner who generates over 60% of his business from Twitter.  Talk about a real-life “social media expert.”  This guy is actually walking the walk.
  • An optional 30-minute, personal “jump-start” consulting session with Gwen Bell.  I just saw an update that said she’s been booked for the next two weeks straight!  I guess people have been taking her up on her offer.
  • Continual future updates. This is one of the biggest reasons I love Chris’ unconventional guides.  Not only does he provides a wide variety of text, audio, and video, but he continues to send out content over the course of “at least the next 6 months” as he says.  I know because I’m still getting exclusive content out of the blue from purchasing his earlier guides (travel for example).

You can see why it’s taken me a full week to digest all of this.

In the end, I think this product best fits one of two groups of people:

  1. People who have a passion or an idea for a project, but are new to social media. For me, I wasted a ton of time not with the details on setting up a blog or creating an online account, but on my approach to social media in general.  A large portion of my trial-and-error could have been significantly reduced with the focused approach Gwen and Chris discuss.  It has the potential to eliminate some serious headaches.
  2. People (like me) who are already leveraging social media, but need a shot of inspiration and adrenaline. As you can see above, the product sent me into some deep self-reflection.  It helps validate some of the principles I’ve been slowly adopting, in addition to stimulating several intense brainstorming sessions.  It’s got me fired up about the possibilities that exist in my near future.  If you’re already creating killer content and just need the means of getting more people in front of it…  you can’t go wrong here.

If you fit into one of the two groups above, you can get more information of on The Unconventional Guide to the Social Web’s website.

Either way, I’m interested to hear your comments on your own journey with social media.  (commenting on blogs is social media, too, ya know…)  In what way has your perspective on social media changed?  How are you using it to accomplish your goals?  Which platforms, sites, techniques do you find most effective?  Join in by leaving your comment below.

photo by MR+G

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

kosmo @ The Casual Observer August 24, 2009 at 8:46 AM

I struggle a bit to get up to speed on all of the aspects of social media. Heck, I didn’t READ my first blog until about 18 months ago, until a friend suggested a blog devoted to my baseball team – as a great way to get tons of data on minor league players without doing the collection myself.

I’ll admit that I’m horrible with Twitter. Other than my daily tweets to announce posts (poor man’s RSS, for those who don’t like RSS), I rarely tweet, although I’m trying to become more active.

Part of my slowness is probably because I’m old (34). I’ve always been a fan of technology, but it seems like social media just kind of sprouted up around me when I wasn’t looking.
.-= kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..Buying a home – nine innings method =-.

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Baker August 24, 2009 at 9:21 AM

Kosmo,

I haven’t been reading blogs for much longer than that. Maybe 24-25 months now. That’s still a good chunk as far as time goes!
I would like to see more of you on twitter, though. It was a great way for me to reach out to other bloggers and find interesting content early on. I still use it to network, but try to focus on promoting others (I’ve moved from link round-ups to supporting others on twitter, for example).

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kosmo @ The Casual Observer August 24, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Agreed – I should definitely be on Twitter more, but it’s typically a time issue. I currently follow 9 people on Twitter – you and Kelly being two of them.

Cramming a complete thought into 140 characters can also be a bit challenging for an aspiring novelist :)

I do used Networked Blogs on facebook to easily share with my friends. Prior to that I’d copy/paste a link into the status, which kinda sucked.
.-= kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..Drunk =-.

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Kelly August 24, 2009 at 9:25 AM

Kosmo, don’t discount yourself b/c of age. The average twitter user is older than you think. :)

Baker, while I understand your approach to not @ replying on twitter, I have to say I respectfully disagree. One of the ways I get to know who people I like reading tweets from are really engaged with (and finding more people to follow) is viewing their @ replies.

For instance I started following someone I really enjoy who has over 14,000 she is following. For me to go through her list would take ages, so when I read something interesting she says I click through to her profile and view her @ replies. I have found at least a dozen really interesting people this way.

I fell in love with social media, particularly twitter over the last few months, so I’m still learning. I’m definitely interested in the product, but it’s not in the budget just yet. Any chance you’ll do a giveaway? :)
.-= Kelly´s last blog ..5/day challenge update =-.

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Baker August 24, 2009 at 9:33 AM

This is sort of a mute point with @replies only showing up when you follow the person they replied to now. However, I was more worried about the constant @ conversations. By that I mean sending over 3 or 4 tweets back and forth.

This sort of thing starts to annoy me when it gets out of hand and so I can see how it would annoy others. While I’m not afraid to @, If it would denote more than one back and forth I usually just direct message or e-mail.

Lastly, big kudos for you to sticking to your budget here. I probably won’t be authorized to run a giveaway, but will mention it to Chris. I’ll let you know!

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Chase August 24, 2009 at 10:20 AM

Love this. I follow Chris myself, and this post is making me lean towards buying the package more than Chris’ own promotion. The power of community on the social web is incredible.
“Community will change the world” is my newly adopted mantra from a new friend. How true it is.

Viva La Communitayyy!
.-= Chase´s last blog ..Morakot Watch pt 2: Help Needed, Community Answers =-.

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Jillian Davis August 24, 2009 at 10:35 AM

I am growing into a fan of yours. keep em coming!

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Xavier August 24, 2009 at 5:11 PM

I have just got into blogging and using Social media as a tool to communicate to a larger group. I agree wholehearted that providing valuable content is the way successfully use these tools. I will look at the the information you have suggested, thank you!
.-= Xavier ´s last blog ..Invest your way out of debt! =-.

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Matt Jabs August 24, 2009 at 10:05 PM

I had a very similar revelation. When I began tweeting… I was engaging in too many long convo’s w/a specific group of people and RT’ing everything that came across my account. Then I woke up.

I stopped all that awhile back and now focus on delivering a very similar product to what you describe above… value – and am very happy with the change.

RT’ing for the sake of RT’ing is a dead end road. Focus on promoting what is valuable to you, and people will take interest.
.-= Matt Jabs´s last blog ..Cash For Clunkers Ending Monday – Toyota and Honda profit much more than Ford and GM =-.

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Paul Norwine August 25, 2009 at 12:20 PM

Adam –

I came across your blog from a comment you left on another blog I was reading. New to the realm of internet marketing, I have been jumping from blog to blog to see who is doing what and who is doing it well. And I have to admit, it took only a few minutes for me to read your bio and this post to realize that yours is one of the few blogs worth following.

Not to get too sentimental (tear!) but your posts come across as truly genuine unlike the countless blogs that are overwhelmingly self-serving. I have subscribed to your feed and look forward to more posts in the future. Take care…

Paul
.-= Paul Norwine´s last blog ..Rich Schefren Called Me Out…but I Stepped Up to the Challenge =-.

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Keith August 25, 2009 at 1:04 PM

Hello,

I have known of Twitter for sometime and like you, I didn’t really give it much serious thought. Iknew my three daughters were on it ALOT, but rarely used it myself.

I’ve modified that view somewhat in recent weeks and am going deeper into it now.

Great article, very educational!
.-= Keith´s last blog ..Weigh Anchor! =-.

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Walter August 25, 2009 at 9:30 PM

Thriving in cyrberspace is so confusing. However, if you keep on going things will reveal itself, like what you have discovered in your journey. Those are valuable lessons.

Just keep on going. Something good will always come up. :-)
.-= Walter´s last blog ..Elements of a Distinctive Blogger =-.

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Margaret August 26, 2009 at 12:41 AM

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Margaret

.-= Margaret´s last blog ..Grants for Small Business =-.

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The Incidental Economist August 26, 2009 at 2:20 PM

I’m late to blogging and in leveraging social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. It was only a few weeks ago that I figured out that these things can go together to increase the value one obtains from one’s effort. Now I receive comments to my blog content on Facebook that are just as interesting and though provoking as those I receive on my blog itself. That is gratifying and is the reason I push my feed to Facebook.

FWIW, I wrote up a bit of advice on linking blogs to Facebook, after struggling to understand the details myself and finally getting some useful comments from the creator of the Facbook app NetworkedBlogs: http://theincidentaleconomist.com/facebook-good-for-me-good-for-you/
.-= The Incidental Economist´s last blog ..Happy 100th: A Retrospective =-.

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Kerri August 26, 2009 at 8:56 PM

I really enjoy your posts; I appreciate the honesty about your journey to understand your place in the social networking world online. I am just starting to learn the value of really “connecting.” It’s the Web’s greatest value. Thanks for sharing.

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MoneyEnergy August 26, 2009 at 9:18 PM

Interesting thoughts. Twitter is definitely revolutionary and has helped my own visions, work and productivity enormously. As a networking tool it is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

One possible danger I see is the difficulty in balancing authenticity with the sometimes-present effects of conformity that can kick in in a “social” media that is still trying to find its sweet spot. So everyone has their own theories and rules on how it *should* be used, etc. There is probably already a “Guide To Twitter For Dummies” book. For example, I agree that I’ve found ways in which Twitter works better and I’ll implement them if they’re authentic to what I do – but if they don’t match up with what the “consensus” is supposed to be, that can be a good thing, too.

I love Chris G’s work and have sat down to read some of his guides – you’re right, they’re really thought-provoking and mindblowing. It does take a while to digest!
.-= MoneyEnergy´s last blog ..Canadian Bank Earnings Week: CIBC Surprises and Expectations of Dividend Increases =-.

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Pokjat Personal Finance August 29, 2009 at 10:11 PM

Hi Baker, nice article on leveraging social media.Me too trying to get somethin from it.Anyway, you have cute kid
.-= Pokjat Personal Finance´s last blog ..Student Finance Direct =-.

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Danielle LaPorte August 30, 2009 at 1:49 AM

what a thorough, relevant, thoughtful review. great stuff.
.-= Danielle LaPorte´s last blog ..the burning questions with gretchen rubin, mistress of happiness =-.

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Jun Loayza August 31, 2009 at 6:09 PM

I remember the first time I met you. I was sitting with Jonathan Mead doing our first Live Ustream webcast ever. I remember being so impressed when you told me that you had only been blogging for 2 months and already had 300 subscribers.

(It took me probably 3 times as long to get to the same point as you when I first started blogging)

Watching your blog thrive has really motivated me to get my blog going again. I am currently wondering whether I should keep blogging at JunLoayza.com or if I should create another brand name. It’s probably a questions I will pose to the group.

Got not but love and respect for the community you’ve built and the great things you’ve been able to accomplish as a blogger in such a short time. To many more great things my friend!

- Jun
.-= Jun Loayza´s last blog ..Life is a Role Playing Game =-.

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