A Social Media Ecology of the Web

A Social Media Ecology of the Web


Over the past couple of years I have been quietly carrying out a number of social media experiments across Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, WordPress, Quora, StackExchange, Flickr, YouTube and Crowd sourcing sites like ConceptFeedback.  Partly to get myself truly au fait with Social Media in all its glory. It has taken time but not too much time… and I can certainly see value (and a rising Klout score – currently 45 (:)

I am gradually working out an ecology of my webplaces and how I can use them effectively

I have found the internet is a great place to:

  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Collect/Curate
  • Learn/Community
Lets look at each of these:

Communication

Of course the web is a great place to communicate… in a sense everything we do on there is about communication. However we can use the tools we have in many different ways.

Facebook: Lisa Tweedie
So far I have found four different ways I use Facebook:

  • Friends Posts: Valuable for keeping up with small closely connected groups – friends, ex-colleagues. I have a policy that I only friend people whose “face” I have physically seen… i.e. for me it truly is “FACEbook”. Seems to have worked so far. I have about 300 friends… a good ecological number apparently! If I get someone who I have not met asking to be my friend I politely suggest they may wish to subscribe to my public posts.
  • Public Posts: Useful for wider dispersal of ideas to subscribers e.g. blog posts
  • Facebook Pages: Good for Campaigns/Companies/disparate groups that aren’t going to want too much conversation e.g. Birmingham Sun
  • Facebook Groups: Useful  for getting a movement going… e.g. Malmesbury Cycling Campaign or my most sucessful Make Malmesbury Better

To be honest I am still slightly unclear when a Facebook Group or Page is more appropriate… still exploring that one. I find it is important to keep the groups closed  to develop good unspammy communities.. it takes a little more moderation but it is worth it.

One thing I am clear about is that Facebook is not an ideal place to rely on as a “store” for links and posts. Much better to do that on your own blog pages or somewhere like pinterest where the focus is specifically on curating. On facebook it is almost impossible to refind stuff later… so don’t use it for that. This has been a hard habit to break for me … but I am gradually getting there.

Another Facebook truth is that posts with attached visuals get shared and commented on much more – this is true across the web but particularly for facebook. I have a feeling this was the UX strategy behind Facebook’s forced shift to the more visual “timeline”.

Twitter: @lisatw
When I think of Twitter … I try to think of it as my personal radio station. This is where I broadcast. So keep it personal, keep it interesting and try not to spam! I have used it in several ways:
  • Basic PR, complaining and networking: Posting blog posts, communicating with friends, complaining to companies (amazing how quick they get back)
  • Campaigns/Evangelizing – great for promoting things you love – e.g. #Balsamiq. Helping with the Chile Earthquake campaign.
One thing to think about carefully when using Twitter for campaign work is whether to use your own twitter name or whether you should start a new one. This because an issue for me when I did the Chile Earthquake campaign. Basically for the two days after the earthquake I retweeted many calls for help from all over the twitterverse. I also collected these up on a blog page. However this effectively meant that for a period of about ten days I effectively spammed all my followers and some understandably walked. I think if I was doing this again I would set up a new twitter account for the campaign and selectively tweet on my main twitter account. Still means i have a good reputation in the twitterverse for my knowledge of “earthquakes” (:
Linkedin: Lisa Tweedie
  • Networked Page: I try and build my network regularly. Keep an eye on who has looked at my page. For a short while I paid for one of their subscriptions. However I didn’t seem to get much value out of it. Must be gold dust to recruiters though.
  • Public Page: I publicize this page everywhere. It is my public cv. Clients now see to prefer this to my more formal cv. I guess the disadvantage is that it is not customised to the audience. So sometimes I send on a formal cv afterwards.
  • Groups: Linkedin Groups have a terrible User Experience. However the point is that the “punters” are there. You need to go where your audience is. I have build a very successful group on Linkedin focused around UX remote work. I keep it private and very moderated. Get responses to almost every question I post. It feels like my personal counselling service on some days!
  • Company Page Every company should have a page on Linkedin!
 I think it is easy to underestimate Linkedin as a social network but all the big players are on there… sign up to some groups and get involved (avoid the spammy ones).
WordPress: lisatweedie.com
  • Blog – whenever you can… this should be your store of everything you do on the web. And yes I need to take my own advice on this one. Keep the blog focused (see next item on how to use pages to do this).
  • Pages – Create carefully curated pages… these can be “about pages”, “Portfolio pages” or they could be random post/landing pages about things that are slightly tangential to the main focus of the blog.
I now look no further than WordPress.com for all my website needs. Why not WordPress.org you ask? I don’t want to mess with hosting. However now for $99 per year WordPress.com will allow me to associate a domain with my wordpress.com site and meddle with the css or buy in themes. It is not total freedom but it gives me enough to play with.
You can make sites like this one with a combination of pages and blog. And it all comes with a beautiful CMS behind so that your clients can make their own changes whenever they want.
It is pure genius. And because it is open source it has a good community of people who are changing and improving it everyday. Added to that Automattic who own wordpress are a completely distributed company. What’s not to like? (:

Collaboration

My company does remote UX work. Collaboration is the key to doing this.
Skype
Skype has allowed me to develop my remote consultancy. I meet all of my clients on Skype. I have run whole projects via Skype without meeting or even video linking with the client. I actual ran an entire 6 week project with a client who only Instant messaged me (I think he was embarassed about his poor spoken english!). Most of the time we are sharing our desktops and sharing tools like Balsamiq or web pages or other reference material. The immediacy of the interaction means sometimes I feel those meetings are more effective than a face to face meeting would be. We are both in our comfortable tech workspaces with all our tools to hand.
I use the Instant messaging function in Skype to keep notes (so that they are already organised on a per client basis and we have a mutual record). It is also a great tool for providing sentient information about your colleagues. Watching them sign in and out allows for informal side chat and water cooler moments!
Google Docs & Calender
I am beginning to use these more and more as a way to organise my collaborative work. I have started turning my design documents into a “design rationale” document which sequentially shows the growth and changes in a design. So we just post thing chronologically and then a full history of the design decisions is recorded. This means that people coming to the party later on can gen up on the full history of the project. This is a brave way to do design work (opening yourself up to criticism) but I think it is a great way to share the true design process (rather than the fabricated design specification route).
Odesk for me has been my way of bringing new clients to the table. I think I am finally moving onto the next level. However to start it has been fantastic. I will always be grateful for the introductions it has brought me. There are some great startups on Odesk.
Put up a Portfolio, set your rate, stick to it and apply for lots and lots of things. Don’t  be afraid to turn down rubbish projects but guard your reputation carefully. Get clients to post great reviews and watch those contract invites roll in! For me the switch came once I had started getting a few five star contracts … from that point on I was no longer applying for contracts … they were chasing me. That is when the good things start to happen.
Trello: Trello.com
I find Trello useful for organising groups of people to do things. It is like a fancy to do list with bell and whistles. Lots of great sharing features/voting etc. Lovely user experience.
Kickstarter: Kickstarter.com
What an amazing idea… create your project … sell it and see who wants to help build a dream. I can’t wait to put up my first dream… a remote working shared space in my home town here in Malmesbury.

Collection/Curation

This is an area I have only recently started thinking about. Why am i giving all my data to facebook. Surely I should be holding on to it and making it work for me? Blog first should be our motto. However there are also other community rich places for storing stuff.
I have gradually realised what this is for. Pinterest is the store cupboard of the web. Why is it better than a bookmarks page or google reader? Because it is VISUAL. So much easy to refind stuff with a visual cue. I think this one is going to grow and grow. What is more companies should be getting in there although there may be some legal issues which are worth considering.
Flickr
This is a store cupboard for uncurated images. A dump for all your photos – see how Thomas Hawk uses it for a great role model. Flickr also has an amazing community from whom everyone interested in photography can learn.
Dropbox
I create a dropbox with every client. Again it is useful to have everything stored in one place (although you should also copy key documents across to your hard drives – in case the client walks off with all the work!).
Again I find watching my clients posting documents into the drop box folders provides great sentient information about what they are up to.
Git
Is the place to share and store code. You can learn to do it in this free tutorial. Fantastic community surrounding it.

Community/Learning

These two go hand in hand. On the web you learn from others and it is an incredibly rich and powerful environment for self directed learning. Some asked a friend of mine recently how he learnt user experience via the web. He laughed and replied that he couldn’t answer there were just too many ways to do it!
You Tube/Vimeo
I put this under learning because at the moment I am only using these passively to absorb information from others. Once I start exploring screen casting myself then things may change! However at the moment I make a point of watching a new video everyday and storing the good ones on pinterest. I am learning so fast … it is scary!
Quora is a space that allows you to ask “anything”! For some reason there are lots of user experience people on there. There are also lots and lots of startups. So it is a good place to make connections. I post questions there whenever I want to know something… it is especially good for those broad, random queries you have. It is also a good way to connect with others who are interested in the same things as you. It has a terrible User Experience!
Stack Exchange: Lisa/uxstackexchange
This is the king of all Q&A sites. I am particularly involved with UX Stack Exchange. However there are communities built around hundreds of different topics. They require that you post more focused questions. However they are an excellent place to learn a great deal about many things.
I ask questions on UX Stack Exchange to do with issues I have with my clients. And I answer lots of questions. I love how it has Balsamiq built in so i can add visual explanations for my answers. Top tip I am pretty sure that answers with visual explanations attract more votes!
Learning by doing
There are lots of good tutorial sites out there but my favourite are the ones that get you creating immediately.
Concept Feedback: LisaTweedie
Concept Feedback was the place I started out in terms of understanding how interacting on the web could help me develop my own skills. Because Michael Andre repeatedly nagged me on there I downloaded Balsamiq and learnt how to use it. What a gift! Aaron Casey giving his literally thousands of excellent reviews taught me more about graphic design than I could have learnt by reading about it. Emma has taught me about type face and what it means to be a truly great design. It is a great community which I hope will continue to flourish in its community led phase.
Kiva
What a place to learn… here are thousands of entrepreneurs doing it for themselves. And you can be part of it. Don’t think about it invest a little and see what fun it is (you can take your money out any time you want).
Mumsnet
Lastly I have to say that Mumsnet has been a great place for me. To find solace and to learn from other Mummy bloggers. If you are selling to parents in the UK – you should be on there! Not in spammy way but communicating with people and building contacts in a word of mouth fashion. From learning from this community (often as a lurker rather than an active open participant) I have developed my own role as a technology evangelist borrowing lots of tricks from those mommy bloggers!

What have I tried and rejected

I hate crowd sourced competition based graphic design sites… like 99 designs and crowdspring. They encourage poor design and result in people being abused.
So far I haven’t found a collaborative wire framing environment I am happy with. Skype/desktop Balsamiq/google docs and drop box work fine for me at the moment.
I haven’t yet found a forum maker that I like and I have tried a fair few. My favourite ever forum is the one one on Perceptual Edge

What I still need to explore

I am still a novice Ebay and Etsy user. Although I think they both have potential for my ecology!
The whole issue of broadcasting video/podcasts is a big area I need to explore.

Conclusion

This is my own personal Social Media Ecology.
Each of us need to develop and understand their own ecology to fit their own life and professional needs. It needs to grow as these change and we learn more skills. To do this we need to not be afraid of experimenting. Moderating a page or a group takes very little time and energy. Find something you are interested in a give it a go. Some things will fly and others will fail. That is how we all learn and its exciting!
I would love to hear about your social media ecology – Do share. What have you been up to on the Web?

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