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2009: the year of participation

January 6, 2009

Web 2.0, social media, social networking…whatever you want to call it is here. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you know a little about social media. And chances are, people in your office will ask you what to do. Here’s what i would tell them:

Unlike traditional media, social media demands participation.

Here’s what I mean: If an ad agency like ours did a television commercial for a client, and ran it on TV, we didn’t need to engross ourselves in the shows in order for it to be an effective ad. We didn’t need to subscribe to the magazine, and send letters to the editor, and really involve ourselves in the medium.

Instead, we engrossed ourselves in a caricature of the typical consumer of the content. In an ad agency that I once worked at, we had Target Market on the brief, but we also had “Bullseye Target Market”. That bullseye person was often described like this:

“Jane is a mother of two between the ages of 25 and 35. She’s 75% more likely to have a full time job, and she says she cares about what she puts on the family table, but time constraints often mean that convenience wins. Etc.”

It was a lot more detailed than that, but you get the point. It was a macro person that gave us an idea on how to best talk in their voice (we call it Talk Human at EMA).

Image representing Metacafe as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

But that formula doesn’t really work in social media. To put a spot for a client on YouTube, or Metacafe, one has to be a member of the community. To put a spot that will get forwarded, one has to be a participating member of the community on order to understand what the community wants. It isn’t possible to be an outsider looking in at a macro version of the community.

Social media is more involving. This blog asks you to comment. You don’t have to, but it still asks. Participation is the difference.

So what does that mean for 2009? As a new year’s resolution, join something. I don’t care what it is. It could be a social network like Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Bebo or Hi5.

Sign up for YouTube, or MetaCafe, or Veoh and submit a video, make friends, and see what other people are doing.

Sign up for a social bookmarking community like Digg, StumbleUpon, Mixx, or Delicious. You should do this anyway since you should make a New Year’s resolution to never send yourself a link via e-mail in 2009.

Update your LinkedIn profile. Or maybe your Plaxo profile.

Sign up for a Twitter account, and follow me.

Sign up for a meta social media tool like FriendFeed or MyBlogLog, and see just how many places there are out there for you to sign up.

Join a virtual world. Don’t join Second Life, join one from this unbelievably long list that shows you all the worlds by category. Virtual world’s for kids, teens, IT Professionals, artists, and people who are 40+! (Really?)

At our agency, we plan to make 2009 the year of participation. Sure, we can claim we’re too busy, and ignore social media. Another option is to claim that this all a silly fad that will go away, so we can go back to the times when we could do print ads and television commercials for our clients. Maybe they’ll even let us charge them 15% again!

Probably not.

So if this isn’t a fad, and if social media is a thing that’s here to stay, then wouldn’t it be better to be smarter about it?

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