At ScienceOnline2011, Wired’s community manager Arikia Millikan, journalist Dave Mosher, and rising communications specialist Taylor Dobbs led a panel designed to help users maximize their social media presence. Web 2.Owned presented a thoughtful and accessible guide to social media activity, touching upon issues of authenticity and “web-life.”
Have you ever shared something without visiting the link yourself? Perhaps the title caught your attention, or you were banking on the reputation of the person who originally shared the link, and passed it on without review. If you haven't already thought about your sharing habits, it's time to do so. The panel stressed the consequences of sharing things you haven't vetted yourself, with a fair amount of attention paid to misinformation. While an errant link is bound to slip in once in awhile, constant offenders run the risk of seriously damaging their online reputation.
The discussion seemed to swirl around this issue of online authenticity: participants using social media are judged by the quality their content. Conscientious participation is one means of distinguishing yourself from the "noise" that permeates social media. Jason Goldman of The Thoughtful Animal advises Tweeps to share not just their own work, but interesting pieces they find elsewhere:
Involve yourself in conversations, thoughtfully. Speaking for myself, if you're just tweeting links to your posts, you'll be summarily ignored. If you're participating in the community, sharing your perspectives, linking to good stuff you're reading elsewhere, I appreciate that.
Jason's point speaks to a need for online awareness. We're taught to pay attention in real world settings, and it's time we transitioned this attitude to online activities. And this goes beyond protecting your information—it directly impacts how others view and subsequently interact with you online. That doesn't mean you share your breakfast choices via social media, but you make an effort to share things that will be of interest to people within your network. This has a few benefits: You establish yourself as an authority, and you don't annoy your followers.
So what do you do if you need to issue a retraction? While some delete the errant post and try again, transparency is key. Web 2.Owned discussants and participants preferred posting a mea culpa with corrected information when possible, and leaving a record of the previously shared content. I tend to agree with this strategy for the simple reason that once you release content into the wilds of the Internet, you also relinquish control over that content itself.
To Share Means Letting Go
Part of the prep for the session involved a survey that was distributed via assorted electronic measures, including through Twitter. The survey was inadvertently leaked early, and though the sharer tried to retract the link by deleting the tweet, it had already been shared by others in the sharer's network. The panelists presented this as an example demonstrating the "web-life" of online content: Once content is shared, it has the potential to take on a life of its own—particularly when all it takes is a click to pass it along.
The longevity of shared content is the reason I support the "apologize and reshare" method for dealing with retractions. Leaving the erroneous information up after issuing a correction allows followers to track the incident. It also demonstrates a sense of responsibility and investment in your online presence, and promotes self-awareness in the digital space.
Social Media Strategies for Everyone
Regardless of your expertise or comfort level, these are the sorts of steps that everyone can take: be transparent and accountable for the information you share—check links, and share correct information. Social media can feel like a frat party at times, but good communities can have moments of nonsense and in-house banter and members still know that they can rely on each other for information and support.
Some additional tips from Arikia, Dave, and Taylor included:
- Bit.ly offers fairly robust analytics on their link shortening services, which may provide additional insights into your network.
- The best time (globally) to tweet anything is between 3 and 4 pm EST. [Edit: According to Dave, this is time during which there is the most global traffic. However, it does not mean that the recipient's time zone is unimportant. That certainly plays a role, but this seems to be a period during which many people are active. (1/20/11 KD)]
- Use multiple platforms to broaden your reach—Facebook, Twitter, community boards, etc.
- Consider using a third party application, such as Tweetdeck, to monitor and manage social media activity.