August 17, 2009

Escape your bubble: How to grow your social media circle

Seifenblase by Photoclinique
Seifenblase by Photoclinique

Suggestions on how to quickly and effectively connect with people on LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter

Joanna LordMost of us have passed the exploratory stage of social media. We are all signed up for the micro-blogging sites, the networks, the communities. We have been trading content and pushing around links for months, if not years. With this has come so many successes — more traffic to our sites, higher conversions to our bottom lines,  new industry experiences, and of course friendships. Social media has enabled all of us to expand our web community, and lace into it — new, creative and enthusiastic minds.

For me personally, I am always a bit amazed that each and every day I am exposed to a new person who is saying something or doing something that I am genuinely interested in. As a girl who was brought up in a town of 3,000 people, I am repeatedly taken back at how large this online community of social media lovers is.

The problem, however, is the number of hours in a day. Yup, that darn number…24. By the time I respond to the emails made from new connections made weeks ago, the LinkedIn requests from those made last week, and the DMs from friends made yesterday, I find myself left with little time to reach out to new names. It is easy to get settled in the circles we have found when we first introduced our avatars.

Before you realize it, your circle of web enthusiasts grows static and you are left wondering how to go beyond the social media bubble you have created. With little time to go searching out new names, and things like #FollowFriday making it difficult to separate the noise from the potential, it is easy to see how some of us can grow complacent with our social media circles.

But we can’t forget that social media is still a tool. It is a way to reach new eyes as a visibility engine, and it is a way to meet new people in the hopes of someday turning that online connection into a handshake.

By joining the conversation for just a few minutes a day you can meet new marketers debating similar topics to your own, starting new ventures of interest and more.

So what are some ways we can all quickly find new people with similar interests? How can we all build out our social media circle with strong contacts, but not spend an entire day bouncing between profiles? I’ve put together a few ideas for the more popular communities. The idea is to use the different functions and services to help you meet new people but not steal your time…

LinkedIn: Drop in on a “group.” Most of us have the perception that any “online group” can be a time sucker, mainly because so many people join them but don’t take part in the dialogue. LinkedIn fights that stereotype with highly active groups. Two great ones to check out are “Future Social Media” (close to 10,000 members) and “Social Media Marketing” (over 30,000 members). By joining the conversation for just a few minutes a day, you can meet new marketers debating similar topics to your own, starting new ventures of interest and more.

Facebook: I know, I know. Although a powerful network, Facebook has left us super-connectors a bit jaded. We think, unless we want to send a margarita to our favorite blogger, it doesn’t have much to offer. But I have found, laced in with these less genuine applications, Facebook brought us some great ways to help grow our networks. My favorite function is the commenting exchange. It made all conversations transparent and available to anyone who wants to join them. Instead of taking the “What Country Song Are You?” quiz, take a few minutes and check out the links posted and respond to them.  Since you are notified of any follow-up comment, you open yourself to meeting new people who clearly are interested in discussing similar posts, events, topics, etc.

Twitter: You would think with so many new Twitter members a day, it would be easy to expand your social media circle, but I find the opposite too often happens. There are so many quality conversations and genuine people to engage with, that you are easily sidetracked from seeking out new followers and future friends. Not to mention, too many conversations can drive anyone crazy, so instead we tend to hit a plateau, which can be detrimental to our social media initiatives. I believe one of the most underutilized ways to grow your network on Twitter is the #hashtag. We all know it more as a conversation tag—a way to bookmark a string of tweets into one category. But it can be an exploratory tool as well, with a number of uses. Every day I take a few minutes and search hashtags like #PPC, #jobsearch, and #socialmedia. These things are all relevant to the communities I hope to build out. I reach out to the users of these hashtags, and use them as conversation starters.

OK, those are just a few ways to go beyond your social media bubble. Of course, none of us want to expand our networks to the point where conversations are diluted and the messages exchanged are lost, but as social media marketers we also understand that any conversation is usually enhanced with the number of voices partaking in it.

Take a few minutes and step back from your online communities. Ask yourself what topics you would like to learn more on, what things confuse you, and then seek out voices that are speaking to those issues. You will be better for it. Living in a bubble can be comforable, but they sure make it hard to grow.

Joanna Lord is a social marketing consultant and founder of YourJobStop, the job resources board. See her business profile, contact Joanna or leave a comment below.

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  • Excellent excellent advice Joanna! I struggle with this daily as well. It's far too easy to get sucked into your comfort zone and chat with your current connections, resulting in a huge echo chamber. I have searches going on my Tweetdeck, and it's becoming a challenge across my own personal topics of interest (online community management), as well as client work. So oftentimes, hashtags and topics become ignored. That's my own area of development.

  • Thanks for the kind words. I love your desciption– “a huge echo chamber.” I really think a number of social media enthusiasts fall into this without knowing, and I applaud your conscious effort to search out the new dialogs. Best of luck to you on it ;)

  • Joanna,
    Great post – really enjoyed it. I'm constantly re-examining the “comfort zone” in terms of finding the balance of connecting IRL and through my social networks. This is a nice primer on incorporating it into your life… I also find that it's fun to just every now and again follow a few random people that you find in a search or on FriendFeed – it's that “Forest Gump – you just never know what you're gonna get”….