Building a social media presence around a specific area of expertise is your best way to connect with a network and audience that cares about your work, and gets real value from your online contributions. To do that, you need to begin by defining your turf: the area of expertise in which you will offer content and expertise. Ideally, that’s a space that isn’t currently well-served by dozens of other bloggers and tweeters.
If you’re passionate about a topic that already generates a huge amount of online content, try finding a distinctive angle on that topic. Maybe you’re not going to write the definitive sewing blog, but you can write the definitive blog about sewing with vintage patterns and equipment. Maybe you’re not going to be the top Ruby on Rails tweeter, but you can be the top tweeter on Ruby on Rails for beginners. Your site might not be the web’s foremost destination for South American travel, but it could be the web’s foremost destination for choosing mobile apps for South American destinations.
Once you’ve got a hunch about how to define your turf, do some searches on Google News and Google Blogsearch to see how much is written in your space. Ideally you’ll find a topic for which there are lots of news stories, blog posts and tweets, but no one-stop shop. Your job will be to round up all the news in your turf from all these different sources, add your own distinctive spin, and present it in a single spot.
I recently walked a bunch of Emily Carr’s MAA students through the tools and steps I recommend for creating a simple social media presence that showcases your expertise, and for feeding that presence with a lightweight social media monitoring system that makes it easy to find content to blog or tweet about.
I won’t write about each step in great detail because every tool I recommend is widely documented. Use Google to find specific resources to help you get up and running with any tool that is unfamiliar (for example, by searching on wordpress.com “custom domain” “how to”).
Here’s an overview of the 5 steps:
- Get a blog. Set up a blog with a custom URL (i.e. http://yourfirstnameyourlastname.com or http://yourtopic.com). I recommend setting this up on WordPress.com because you can get up and running for almost free (you’ll pay $20/yr to register your custom URL through WordPress.com, which is a little more than you might pay to register your URL elsewhere but saves you the trouble of configuring your domain settings to point to your WordPress blog.) If your blog takes off or you want to customize and extend it in ways you can’t do on WordPress.com, it’s very easy to export your entire blog and move it to another hosting service where you can run your own WordPress blog.
- Start monitoring. Set up Google Reader as your social media monitoring dashboard. You’ll use this Google Reader account to subscribe to a wide range of sources in your field or area of (current or planned) expertise so that you always have something to write about. You can begin by subscribing to the RSS feeds of any blogs you read regularly; if you haven’t been reading a lot of blogs, find a handful to follow (seeing which blogs people tweet a lot is a good way to find some) and read the regularly for a few weeks so you can think about what kind of content to put on your own blog.
- Search for news. Set up searches to bring you blog posts and news in your field. I recommend creating advanced searches that really pinpoint the kind of content you want to read; it really helps to learn the ins and outs of Google’s advanced search operators. Err on the side of pulling in too much rather than too little. My post on RSS for nonprofits may help you think about what kinds of searches you should monitor. In general I recommend setting up searches on Google News, Google blog search, Twitter search and delicious. For example my Google reader account includes multiple searches on strings like “information overload” OR “inbox overload” or (“social media” AND overwhelmed)”.
- Follow smart tweeters. Follow people who tweet in your field and follow them. Listorious is a good way to find entire lists of people you want to follow, whether your field is B2B marketing or psychology or classical music. Follow even one list in your field and you’ll get the latest from a range of people instantly (but still have the ability to get rid of all of them just as quick). NB that if you really like the Twitter feeds of people you follow through a list, you may want to follow them individually so that you can exchange DMs. (My Twitter glossary is here if you need help decoding this step.)
- Track Twitter news. Sign up for CoTweet, HootSuite or another tool that lets you track and schedule tweets. (Disclosure: I’m working on a project with Invoke, HootSuite’s sister company). Use this client app to keep an eye on the news from the people and lists youa re following. If you’re new to Twitter, check the news on Twitter for 5-10 minutes at least twice a day for at least a couple of weeks, to get a feel for the conversation and for the kinds of tweets you might like to write yourself.
This set up will take a little bit of time to set up — figure on spending 1-2 hours on the set up for each of your three main tools (WordPress, Google Reader and HootSuite). But once you have this set up in place you’ll be able to maintain a very respectable social media presence in just 3 hours per week.
Really. My next post will tell you how.