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On Ramp to Social Media.
By Julie Keyser-Squires, APR
Thursday, 26th July 2007
 
Social Media arrived in force to the hospitality industry this year -

Understanding what it is and how you and your organization can participate and benefit is critical to your future success. 

What is it?

Social Media is online peer-to-peer communication like forums, blogs and wikis.  These are significant to your business because anyone can use these online conversation areas to make comments about you and your company. 

Sherry Heyl, CEO of Social Media agency What a Concept!, says that Amazon.com and its feature of  "If you like this book you'll like these others," was the bridge from Web 1.0 (broadcast oriented) to Web 2.0, which houses Social Media and allows any person with a computer to talk about you or your company.

For an in-depth understanding of what is happening in Web 2.0 at a conceptual 50,000 foot level, read New Rules for the New Economy by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine.  A colleague read it 17 times and then started his own company.

On a more practical level, examples of Social Media networks in the hospitality industry are tripadvisor travel reviews. Bill Marriott's blog, Hilton's be hospitable show, Sheraton's Share a Story; flyspy and wegolo airfare searches and sites like Placeblogger.  Top Social Media sites outside of our industry include Facebook, YouTube, the del.icio.us social bookmarking site and flickr photo sharing. 

Tools and Vocabulary You Will Need.

When you travel to a foreign country, you need to know the language.   Social Media may seem like a distant land, so here is some basic vocabulary to help you adjust.

Blogs: 

Also called weblogs, blogs are the on ramp to Social Media.  Blogs are also the on ramp to the mainstream business media, says Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, the world's largest independent public relations firm.  A reported 79% of editors get news stories from blogs. 

If you are ready to start participating in Social Media – and the sooner the better – begin to read and post on blogs that interest you.  Remember, though:  a blog is a permanent business record, and you want to get a general sense of the tone of the community before you start posting.  My business blog is First Light.  

RSS feeds:  

Sherry Heyl, again, says that RSS feeds are the math equation you must understand before you can participate in Social Media.  RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a way to publish frequently updated online content.  RSS feeds can save you two to three hours a day by delivering to you just the information you want to be aware of. 

Subscribe to feeds on websites or blogs via free RSS readers like Bloglines or Google's blog search.  You can also use Technorati, an engine for searching blogs on the Web, to find content in which you are interested.  If your corporate website has a press room, consider making it RSS friendly.   

Tags and Tag Clouds.  

Tags – or relevant key words - are how discovery works in Social Media.  You find information and people important to you by finding their tags, which reflect what their content is about.  Tag clouds are a way to track trends.  Please visit del.icio.us/tag/ for a visual example. 

You will see that each word is visually weighted where the size of the font reflects the number of people tagging the word.  Now that you know what they look like, you will see tag clouds on many websites, which will give you insight at a glance into the communities that surround those sites. 

Have fun clicking on any word in a tag cloud that interests you and drilling down into the comments.  This is another great way to find blogs and people relevant to you.  

Sweaty Palms:  Jump In Anyway

To get started in Social Media:

Build some learning time into your schedule.  Take four hours one day a week to learn how to set up an RSS feed, use Technorati, and start monitoring blog communities of interest.  TIP:  Pick a hobby or fun topic at first to make the learning curve enjoyable.  

Type in your company website at socialmeter.com for a before and after snapshot of your Social Media standing.  This is one way to measure progress.   

Start monitoring blogs with a goal of starting your own personal or corporate blog.  Type keywords into Technorati or start a Bloglines account to help you bookmark blogs relevant to you. 

After you have a feel for the community surrounding the blog, make a post.  You are now participating in Social Media.  TIP:  You may already be involved in the trend.  Are you in a driving club, a bowling league, or a mom's program that communicates online?  If so, you are already in Social Media.

Spend time with someone you care about.  Amber Rhea, a founder of the Georgia Podcast Network, says that Social Media is fifty percent online and fifty percent face-to-face meetings.  I agree; that's why they call is social.   And after clicking your way through the above road map for the first time, you may be ready to have dinner with someone you care about.  

A colleague counsels that if you are ‘pushing the envelope and trying the next hard thing - something that makes your palms sweaty - you are expanding your business.'  Good advice.  With that in mind, if starting to play in the Social Media environment, perhaps with a business or personal blog, makes your palms sweaty, that could be your signal to jump in.  If you need help or have questions, feel free to contact me at Julie@softscribeinc.com.  Good luck and have fun.

Julie Keyser-Squires, APR and vice president of Softscribe Inc., is passionate about connecting people and ideas.  Please contact her at Julie@softscribeinc.com, or make a post on her new business blog, "First Light: thoughts on the networked economy." 

www.softscribeinc.com
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