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December 20, 2008 / compassioninpolitics

Getting Started in Social Media Content Development and Community Management

A Guide to Getting Started with a Job in Social Media Content Development and Community Management

Recently there has been some discussion of how to get started in social media. I think there seem to be three varieties of people’s tales in social media:

1) Razor-like Niche Focus. They’ve been involved in technology, interactive, or design for a year or more (sometimes less: Brian Gardner taught himself how to design on WordPress in about 6 months and is now at the forefront of WP design. His Revolution theme is all over the web. Laura Fenton is now a rockstar in the community and Twitter sphere and speaking at major conferences after less than 6 months. She’s got lots of personality and brings the (social media) party online.

2) Social Media Cross Overs. they got pushed into online marketing from a traditional marketing, pr, or writing position. Some have trickled over from jobs in digital journalism, but this may be the exception.

3) Social Media School of Hard Knocks. they started a blog or podcast on an issue they were passionate about. they executed well, they got a little lucky, and they marketed their butts off (or at least contacted or were found by the “right” people). Folks like Cliff Ravenscraft of GSPN Network, James Kotecki who is now at the Politico, or Gary V. of Winelibrary TV [warning: he curses a bit]. Gary says “Legacy is better than currency.”

So….. be realistic: it takes about a year to get real social media experience.

I think the best strategy for getting started in social media is:

Social media takes a long time. Have a day job. Betting 100% of your future on social media is unwise. It takes 6 months to even a year or two to develop an online position. Google’s algorithm makes this particularly true. You can rank for certain terms within 3 to 6 months, but the odds aren’t terribly good if your search term is competitive and you don’t have SEO knowledge. If you’re a designer or developer this time frame can be shorter, but save extreme circumstances and being in the right place at the right time. Certainly, there are people who have gotten lucky…but many of them added experience in a niche market + amazing/original execution + luck = success.

Never Eat Alone. Take a social media expert out to lunch at least once a week in order to understand “the conversation” and the market (and to pick their brain._ Be interesting. Have something to share and add to the conversation. If you don’t have social media folks in your area, ask to interview them on your blog.
• This particularly applies at conferences. Mingle out and talk about life, your projects, and your passions in the halls or places where people are. Don’t go to sell. Go to listen and start conversations and have fun. Do bring a business card. (I’ve pretty much grabbed most of this advice from Chris Brogan’s Advice for People Attending Conferences) If you’re worried about missing some part of a presentation, take a voice recorder along and let a friend borrow it and record the sessions.

Go the passion route. If you decide to talk about social media like 95% of the other people do, pick a niche of how it overlaps with your passions and the passions of potential readers. This helps brand you, it helps make you unique, and it gives you an edge over every other blog out there (people in the community space have done this pretty well)
• If you’ve seen the Beautiful Mind you’ve seen this going for the small fish strategy before. If its good enough for a Princeton grad its good enough for me. The social media space is over bloated (and some…or most of the blog marketing space is a terrible echo chamber. And I’m guilty as anyone.)
• In order to do this, you may want to have a random thoughts blog that serves as an experiment or social media sandbox similar to a tumblr, I would still put this on wordpress.

Be relentlessly focused and go with what works. This is always a balance. Apple had no idea that their computer would catch on with graphic designers. Focus your blog on your niche or a half dozen related issues.

Think outside social media. Once you’ve seen what most of the social media and community development, and public relations blogs have to offer–try to limit yourself to only 3 or less blogs in that space. Leverage the other time soaking in other interesting fields or doing stuff in the real world to bring back to the social media space. I suggest this both for productivity and originality sake.

Think outside google. Social allows you to move beyond the need to rely on Google. If you make extraordinary content and great relationships you should be successful. Writing magnetic or sticky content will almost always be a successful strategy. Likewise creative a tribe or a group of a 1,000 true fans can be successful (and monetizeable).

Go the other direction. This is zig when they zag. The alternative strategy is to fill in the gaps. Find where there are omissions and fill in those gaps. If I can’t convince you to not have a “this is how to do social media blog.” Focus and nichify that effort–for instance “social media for doctors”, “social media for real estate agents” or “social media for lawyers” These gaps are quickly filling in so it is vital–no VITAL that you bring something original–a unique/interesting/engaging twist to the table.

Think off blog. Think of ways to make your project or mission or content be different than what you’re seeing. If you’re re-mixing it–thats at least a step in the right direction. I think creating personal, engaging, or useful content is where the sweet spot of social media is. I suggest creating flagship or cornerstone content.

Link Out. Take a page from Aaron Wall’s book. Linking out is marketing. Link to sites that add real value to the conversation. You’re visitors will probably return, Google will like you more, and you might make some great friends on or offline in the process.

Think Usability. Make your best posts and content shine. Make it easy for your users to find your best content (I’m very guilty of needing to fix this.) These tips from Jacob on blog usability are golden.

Aggregate your stuff. This may be basic, but it will help you long term. Friend Feed or creative users of Soupio is great (too bad RSS Mixer is dead–someone needs to revive it)

Be Strategically Proactive. Don’t think they will come to you, because your blog is indexed in Google. Blog does help SEO, but it is not a panacea of SEO. Be in the right communities + take real action. People think about the arc of their careers. Think about the arc of your online community engagements on social networking sites.

Have a social media focus. Setting clear goals (think S.M.A.R.T) about what you want the direction of the community to be. Is your focus number of community members? Is your focus community engagement? What metric are you using to track success? The focus of your goals (traffic vs. community) will help determine how your social media community develops.

Keep it fun. Keep it fun for you and your users. Its more likely to develop a community based on fun, conversation, and affinity (identity) than almost any other characteristics. This is why message boards work so well as social media communities and its also why “use” value isn’t the only content you will find in the threads. Keeping it unique, creative, and designed can help with the stickiness and “Wow” factor of your social media community. Seth calls this extraordinary.

Break down the walls and the barriers. After all thats what social media is all about…right? Be a brazen careerist. Or a career renegade.

Find your calling and pursue it. Tau who is creating his own startup gives great advice for getting out there:

Will soon graduate in July 2009 (4 yr degree), however, I have since fallen out of interest with what I went in to university for. So I invested most of my final year student loan in doing some research and launching a social media site. Registered a company, to run the project, hence limiting the liability.

I am doing final touches to the whole project before fully launching.

I am very optimistic this will boost my CV hugely.

From this project I will walk away with a dozen or so set of skills, including but not limited to;

Website design, development, hosting selection, contract negotiation, research, branding, marketing, entrepreneurial skills, accounting, copy writing, “networking” (very important these days), etc

Having a career in social media can certainly be both exciting and challenging. Its a market that is constantly changing, and while the fundamentals of communication and audience analysis and market research haven’t changed, communication is increasingly more collaborative, targeted (micro), community oriented, often visual in nature, and transparent. Multi media communication and mobile are also taking off with a fervor. What do you do and other business owners do in such an environment?

What are you waiting for? Any suggestions out there?

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Chip Dorman / Dec 20 2008 6:22 pm

    You can rank highly for search terms on Google quickly if you know what you’re doing. My goal was to brand Chip Dorman, and I already own the top 3 spots with my LinkedIn page and blogsite. This was after only a couple of weeks.

    But you are right about not betting the house on Social Media. To effectively market on the Internet, you should build a solid foundation by integrating keyword rich quality content across multiple touchpoints.

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