Reader Questions

Social Media for Humans (in 3 Easy Steps!)

Lately, lots of people have been asking about how to handle social media on an individual level. The questions really boil down to this: “How much should I share?” and  “How ‘strategic’ should I be about what I share?”

My answer is simple:

1. Keep an eye on the content you’re putting out about yourself and determine if it’s an accurate representation.
2. Think about what content you want to — or should — share.
3. Try stuff, and see how you like it. Keep doing the stuff that feels right and quit the stuff that doesn’t.

Business Strategy vs. Personal Strategy

There’s a difference between organizations and individuals when it comes to social media. Generally speaking, an organization’s goals are relatively static; it’s strategies and tactics that, to varying degrees, change more often. But, as a human, goals change all the time. Sometimes, there is no goal. I’ve certainly published content about myself that had no point except that I wanted to say it. (Actually, that pretty much sums up my 20s.) But the same goes for real life, too — we have all sorts of pointless conversations with each other because that’s what humans do. The seemingly pointless actually does have a point and that point is socializing. That we would create technology to facilitate this was inevitable.

Organizations are starting to get comfortable with the notion that if they can figure out how to socialize with us — or at least connect with us in social spaces without pissing us off — it might lead to business. But, ultimately, their goal is business. No matter how you cut it, how awesome an organization’s social media engagement is, the hard truth is that they’re trying to sell you something. There’s nothing wrong with that (Go, capitalism!), but organizations aren’t in the business of being our friend. They’re in the business of business.

So, like I said: sometimes, for people, there is no goal. At other times, our goals are quite concrete: Get a job. Sell a house. Find a daycare. And during those times our social interactions, online and off, are often in service of those goals. It is in those times that we are grateful for all the non-goal oriented interactions we’ve had with people, because now we feel okay about asking them for favors. We get a little (ahem) strategic about who we communicate with, and how.

When my son was a baby, my goal was to find some new friends to hang out with because I felt kind of lonely as a too-busy working mom with two young children. Did I write that goal down and create a strategic plan to find friends? Nope. I organized a happy hour with a bunch of chicks I knew via Twitter. People that seemed funny, smart and interesting based on the stuff they were sharing. I formed an opinion about who they were and whether or not I wanted to hang out with them based mainly on what they had shared online. In other, more gross jargon-y talk, I selected them based on their personal brand.

But getting overly “strategic” about your personal social media usage can be skeevy. It removes some of the humanity that makes social media…social. On the flip side, not stopping to think about what you share can be damaging to you, your employer (and therefore, your employment), and your family and friends. So, how can you be thoughtful about what you share online without going overboard and creating a spreadsheet and quarterly reports about your bad self?

My© Patented™ Process♥

1. Keep an eye on the content you’re putting out about yourself and determine if it’s an accurate representation.

To take care of the “keep an eye on the content” part of this, Google yourself, and set up Google Alerts (see our 5-Minute Guide to Google Alerts) for your own name, and any other names or terms you want to keep an eye on.

As far as whether or not it’s an accurate representation, you can decide that for yourself. Or, better yet, ask someone who doesn’t know you very well to Google you and send you a recap of who they think you are based on what they find. You might be surprised.

If what they find dismays you, start cleaning it up by creating new, more accurate content (or, if they didn’t find anything — start creating ANY content). LinkedIn is a great place to begin because it’s very low risk (in terms of sharing personal information) and ranks highly in Google search results.

2. Think about what content you want to — or should — share and make public.

  • Does your Facebook profile show up in Google search results? Do you want it to? How much can strangers see of your profile?
  • Are you going to use location-based networks like Foursquare? Who do you want knowing where you are?
  • Who do you want knowing what your political or religious beliefs are?
  • Do you want to connect with clients or co-workers?
  • How might revealing personal information affect your professional life and vice versa?

There are no right answers. What do YOU want to to share? There are valid reasons for making lots of your information open to the public, and many risks, too. It’s just like the stock market: some people have a high tolerance for risk and others don’t. Figure out how safe you want to play it, and start there. It makes no difference what works for someone else: figure out what feels right to you. Start with what feels comfortable. Over time, your risk tolerance may increase as you start to see some of the personal rewards that can come from healthy social interactions online. I don’t know what that “reward” may look like for you: keeping in touch with family, expanding your professional network, establishing yourself as an expert in your field…there are endless possible benefits.

3. Start trying stuff out, and see how you like it. Keep doing the stuff that feels right and quit the stuff that doesn’t.

This one should be pretty self-explanatory. Explore. Hey, it’s the internet: it’s pretty fun, and you won’t break it.

Online vs. Offline

Ok, really? This “process” is just a digital version of what we do in real life all the time. We edit ourselves every moment of every day based on our environment (am I at home or at work?), our company (am I with my boss or my swear-like-a-pirate sister?), and our motivation (am I trying to get a job with this person or trying to get them to wake up?). The thing is, in real life, we rarely need to stop to think about it. It just happens. It’s a natural human response to our surroundings.

Online, we don’t have those same social cues. Updating my Facebook status feels different than standing in front of a room filled with 500 people, and yet the two actions have a similar effect. So, here’s a pro tip: don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t stand up and say in front of a room full of strangers. It sounds simple, but I’m often amazed at the things people say online that they would never have the guts to say to someone’s face. So, while you don’t need to draft some kind of complex content diagram for yourself, it’s important to take a minute to think about what you want to share online because of its ease and relative permanance.

I’ll admit I’ve had my fair share of awkward moments where I’ve shared something that I later wish I wouldn’t have. It happens. It’s easy to forget when you’re tweeting or blogging or Facebooking that you’re writing something that could be seen by a whole lot of people — some of whom you may not know — and that it’s contributing to their idea of who you are.

So while “personal brand” is a popular term (and one I’ve been known to use myself), I don’t think anyone needs to take themselves so seriously that they need to create an official brand strategy for themselves (and, by extension, some kind of complicated personal social media plan).

If I had to sum up my thoughts on this in two sentences, it’d be this: Think, but don’t think too hard. Be the best human being you can be, and it will come through in everything you do — online and off.

Geek Chic of the Week: Widgets!

The Geek Girls received this reader question recently:
Eeeeek. Tell me about widgets! Are these like a Flickr badge that I might put on my blog? What are they for? How do they work? What’s in it for me or for the widgetee?

Sincerely,
Wondering about Widgets

So let’s begin a the beginning: what is a widget? A “widget” in the interactive world is typically used to deliver content to a web page or a desktop. They usually involve some sort of feed that goes out and brings back the specified information to the location you want, rather than you going to different locations.

Web Widgets

Web widgets are commonly used, well, on the web. Generally, it’s a box containing information from another site that is embedded on web pages, user profiles (like Facebook, Flickr, and Myspace), and blogs. Below is an example of a widget (provided by Facebook) embedded on a different web site.

Common web widgets include tickers, event countdowns, Twitter feeds, photo galleries, and profile badges. These types of widgets are usually available to the user (you) by embedding them on your site via a set of provided HTML code or JavaScript.

Widgets make it easy to incorporate dynamic content into your site, and make it easy to connect all your profiles together. For example, on your blog or website you could embed a Twitter widget to feature your tweets, a Facebook widget to link to your page or company’s page, and a Flickr widget to feature your pictures. All of these things also ensure that people who are interested in your content are aware of all the different places they can connect with you.

It’s important to note that you can only embed widgets on pages that you have access to add or author the HTML or JavaScript code.

Below is an image showing the process of creating a FourSquare Mayor widget for your location’s site or blog.

Step 3 shows you the snippet of code that you need to embed in your site’s code to display the widget. This may feel far too technical for some of you — luckily some of the new blogging platforms make this really easy. You just drop an HTML component on your page, paste in the code and bam! Easy-easy and you don’t even have to dig into the page code if that’s not your thing.

Desktop Widgets

Desktop widgets run on your local machine: y’know, on the desktop. 😉

These widgets are sometimes called applets because they are like mini-applications running on your computer. These widgets are typically associated with content that the user accesses often, like a clock, calculator, weather feed, or up to the minute stock market results.

On Windows Vista and Windows Live they are found in Microsoft Gadgets; on a Mac, widgets live on the Dashboard (pictured below). By default, there is a dashboard icon in the toolbar; clicking it will reveal the widgets.

Who Wins?

So, why bother with widgets? As a web widget user, you get an easy tool to share the widget maker’s service or product, which in turn generates more traffic or notice for the maker’s product or service. Do you think Twitter would have gotten as big if there was no way to share it within spaces that people were already going to? And what about something like Flickr? Widgets make it easy to feature galleries and share images, but you still have to go to Flickr to upload the actual photos. In the end it’s not taking traffic away, it’s creating traffic by using spaces and sites that people already frequent.

Some desktop widgets exists for the same reason: by downloading a news widget you are interacting with the news outlet’s content and, in some cases, going to their site for additional content. You win by getting the headlines delivered to you, they win by keeping you engaged with their brand and driving traffic to their site. Other desktop widgets (like, say, a desktop lava lamp) are more like phone apps; they’re just for fun.

So, Wondering…I hope we answered your question. Let us know how the widgeting goes.

Email Extensions

A while ago, geeky reader Lorelei from Seattle wrote to ask, “Does the type of email you use matter (yahoo,gmail etc)? A tech guy on NPR seems to think it really says a lot about a person. Thoughts?”

Here’s how I personally feel about this:

1. Your email prefix means more than the extension (e.g. [email protected] vs. [email protected]). Whenever possible, use your name or some variation of your name for your email address. If possible, avoid numbers. Numbers just seem outdated and less professional. If you have an old “unprofessional” email address, go ahead and keep it for personal stuff. You can set up a new one to use for more professional communication.

2. The extension might mean something to some people, but it means less than the prefix. The only extension that seems really outdated is  @aol. @gmail seems more current. @msn, @hotmail and @yahoo are just sort of…whatever.

I think the geekier you are, the more those extensions “mean” to you in the sense that you may pass judgement on people based on them. But reallly? I don’t think I’d refuse an interview to someone just because they had a Yahoo email address. I may, however, think twice if their prefix is [email protected] (Man, I hope that’s not someone’s real address, but it probably is. I’m sorry in advance for using you as an example! I’m sure you’re a nice person.)

Resources

Lifehacker brings up a good point in their post: there are times when what’s most important is to have your own domain. Like my address @meghanwilker.com vs. my address @gmail.com. If you own a small business, it adds to your credibility to have an email address at your own domain instead of one through a free service.

Again, it depends on your audience. Most muggles could care less about what kind of email address you have, so if you’re selling teddy bears on eBay it probably doesn’t matter. But, if you’re looking for venture capital in Silicon Valley, it’s a different story.

Hope that helps! Now let’s just hope krazzygurl1980 doesn’t come after me…

DIY Web Tools

Geeky reader Allison from St. Paul wrote to ask, “My uncle, a retired lawyer, is thinking of offering his services to students, helping them get into law school (and figure out if it’s even what they want). 2 questions: 1. any suggestions on how to build a simple website, and more importantly, optimize it so it shows up in google searches? 2. if he were to try some grassroots Facebook marketing, would you suggest a Group or a Fan page?”

Great questions! Sometimes, when you’re just getting started on a new idea, you have to do things yourself for little to no cost. Here are some thoughts:

DIY Website

For a quick and simple site, my favorite tool is Weebly — even for the least tech-savvy person, it’s a great tool. Your uncle could easily build a small site himself; they have some excellent templates to start with. If he likes it after playing with it a bit, he can upgrade to a Pro account and use his own URL (www.hisname.com instead of hisname.weebly.com). That’s a great place to start, especially if his business is just starting out. If things really start to take off, he can invest in a custom web design. (He can have someone create and install custom design templates into Weebly.)

Here’s a post that Nancy did about inexpensive sites (including Weebly) in ’08.

SEO

As long as he’s creating a clean HTML site (which Weebly does) he’ll get indexed by Google. He may want or need to just figure out which keywords to focus on. Google has a keyword research tool; using that, he can check to see how many searches are done with particular words or phrases. The more searches are done on a given word, the more competition there will be to be a top result for that word.

Getting ranked by Google in organic search results takes time; the algorithm considers how long a site has been around and how many other sites link to that site in addition to how relevant the site is to what the user is searching for (which is where the keyword stuff comes in). So, you either have to be patient or consider buying AdWords if you want to show up in search results right away.

Here’s a post Nina Hale wrote for us in ’08 on Pay-Per-Click advertising.

Facebook: Pages vs. Groups

For Facebook marketing, there’s a few things he might consider: first, Facebook Ads are pretty cheap and he could test them out to drive traffic to his website and see if he gets leads from it.

As far as a Page vs. a Group, for what he’s doing I’d suggest a Page. (There is talk that Groups will start to act more like Pages in the future — meaning activity will be more visible, but for right now Pages are the way to go. Especially for a business; a Group is really more appropriate if you want to create a community.)

Your uncle may even want to consider just doing a Page and skipping the “real” web site — as soon as he’s got 25 Fans (which could be friends and family to start) he create a custom URL (like www.facebook.com/hisname) and he could just refer people directly there to contact him. To set up a custom URL for a Page, visit www.facebook.com/username.

I’d think that referrals would be a big source of business for him at first so, honestly, I think starting with a Facebook page and building referrals from there (and maybe also supplementing with some Facebook ads that drive traffic to that Page) would be a great, very low investment place to start!

Geek Camps for Minnesota Girls (and Boys!)

Geeky reader Sandra from Minneapolis said, “I heard a provocative rumor that you have, or will be starting, a summer camp for school age girls.  I have a soon to be eight-year-old daughter who is crazy into computers and I’d love to give her some extracurricular opportunities.  Are the rumors true?”

My, that is a provocative (and awesome) rumor. I wish it was true!

At this point, we are focused more on adults and working professionals and have not ventured into much content for young girls. Not that we don’t have the desire, but with full-time jobs and both of us with young kids at home — we have to focus or risk going crazy.

With that said, here’s what I know about right now for geeky kid camps in Minnesota:

Computer Camps for Girls in MN

DigiGirlz: High tech camps by Microsoft. There don’t appear to be any Minnesota camps running right now, but this may be a good spot to keep an eye on.

Digital Media Academy (U of M): Sadly, all of the kid sessions are currently closed, but it might be something to keep in mind for the future.

Eagles Summer Camp (Science Technology Engineering Arts Math (STEAM) Focus): This appears to be free for all Minnesota students entering grades 6, 7, or 8.

Geek Squad Summer Academy: Camps run by Best Buy and Geek Squad employees on a variety of techie topics.

Giant Camps (Online Camps): For ages 10-17

iD Tech Camp (Macalester College): For boys and girls 7-17.

Science Museum of Minnesota: I have my four-year-old daughter signed up for a rocket class this spring!

Help Us, Readers!

Do you know of any computer camp opportunities for girls in MN (or any other state, for that matter)? Let’s get our girls to geek out this summer!

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online, Part II

This is just a brief follow-up post to my previous essay about Keeping Your Kids Safe Online.  I’ve had several people send emails asking for links to additional online resources that they can consult for ongoing support in this area.  I dug around a little and I found the following websites that might be of interest.  If you know of others that I haven’t included, please feel free to add them to the list via the comments on this post. 

  1. The first site was actually suggested by a reader and it’s a site sponsored by and managed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited ChildrenNetSmartz.org.
  2. The National Crime Prevention Center has info about online safety on it’s McGruff.org website.  
  3. The Girl Scouts has a website where girls can talk to each other and girls and parents can get info about online safety.  LMK = Let Me Know.

Here’s a list of links to software and web-based tools parents can use to monitor their children’s behavior:

  1. Monitor your child on the web and on their cell phone with websafety.com.
  2. The McGruff site offers a free chat and web filter (McGruff Safeguard) – it monitors intstant messaging, social networks and website visits, just to name a few.
  3. Internetsafety.com has both a home and mobile version of its monitoring software.  You can keep a close eye on your kid’s internet usage and interactions on the web and the mobile web — which is a growing concern among parents.
  4. My Mobile WatchDog is another product that allows you to watch your kid’s cellphone activity.

Just to be clear, the Geek Girl’s Guide does not endorse or claim any in-depth knowledge of any of these products.  This is just a starting point, a simple resource list for parents to begin to explore the plethora of options available to them for limiting and monitoring their kids online behaviors.  I am not a big fan of limiting, unless it becomes necessary.  I am a fan of monitoring to inform an active, ongoing dialogue between you and your children. 

Stay tuned to the blog for the cell phone safety post I am currently working on.  We’ll explore the different types of phones and the different types of monitoring devices available to parents for cell phones. 

At the end of the day its communication, involvement and awareness that will keep your kids safe online.  Those things don’t come from a software package.  They come from you.