I’m pleased to offer this entertaining guest post from {grow} community member John White, a marketing communications writer for technology companies. I think you’re going to love this romp from John’s offbeat and creative mind!

This week, I phoned my neighbor and favorite instructional designer, Gail Dana, to tell her about yet another social media presentation (YASMP) I’d seen advertised.

“Gail, do you get social media?” I asked her, italicizing the verb.

“Sort of,” she replied, “but I think it’s worthless. Or at least, I hope it is.”

“I know what you mean. A lot of us don’t know quite what to do with it. Anyway, wanna go listen to another young person try to explain it to us?”

Gail was up for that, so we drove across town to attend Melodie Tao‘s presentation here in San Diego, “Social Media Design Techniques to Engage your Customer.”

Melodie gave a breathlessly energetic performance describing Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even Foursquare, outlining design ideas for your presence in social media.  She described using social tools to enhance traveling, studying, spending time with friends, and accomplishing work tasks. I figured I must have done a lot of the same things at her age, but without recourse to social media. In fact, I traveled the world for four years and made only two phone calls home in all that time (one was a wrong number because my parents had moved).

It got me thinking about my blogs and my newsletter and my LinkedIn profile and the time I spend wrapped around the Twitter axle when suddenly I had … 

My Social Media Epiphany

I figured out why my social media efforts include so much head-scratching after all this time:  I’m in Category 4!

While Melodie paused for a hurried gulp of water during her speech, I managed to wrap my brain around the factors that go into social media winning and losing. Four categories occurred to me in the space of about 2.5 seconds, and whenever I can think that fast, I’m usually right.

Category 1: The Natural Networkers. We all know people like this, people with a seemingly boundless circle of friends. Attracting and retaining this circle is second nature to them. They don’t even call it “interaction;” it’s just what happens when they’re awake. They’re drawn to polls, giveaways, contests, coupons, comments and retweeting in their offline life, so doing it in a browser or on a phone provides an extra channel of exhilaration.

Social media is an online extension of their innate ability to connect to and build relationships with other people.

Category 2: The Geeks. Not strictly geeks, but left-brain, analytical personalities who see the patterns in keywords, practice SEO copywriting to apply them and understand the science behind building an audience and moving it from one point of engagement to the next. The tools of social media resonate with and challenge them. They figure out how to make money using these tools to build and distribute the right content.

Social media is an online extension of their innate ability to figure out how the lawn mower works, then turn it into a mini-bike, then a go-cart, then a fishing boat. (And get us to pay a nickel to ride along.)

Category 3: The Hemingways. These people are the ultimate raconteurs. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing online; if we stumble onto something they’ve written, we drop everything and read it. They write crisply, then infuse their writing with the story of their own interesting life, they make us stop and think and actually click on the link to the story they refer to. They write the posts that make the young girls cry… They don’t need SEO techniques; people retweet and forward their stuff because it’s just such damned valuable content.

Social media is an online extension of their innate ability to tell a story that resonates with us, the kind nobody interrupts with, “Yeah, well that’s just like the time I…”

Adrift in the Long Tail …

Now, if you’re fortunate enough to live in more than one of the preceding categories, you knock the cover off the ball. Long may you run. But let’s not forget the rest of us in …

Category 4: Social Media Purgatory. We start a blog, stick with it, and do as much as we can to promote it, considering we’re not in the other three categories. We have a Facebook and LinkedIn profile, we tweet from time to time, we have between a few dozen and a few hundred followers, and we’re adrift in the long tail. We read the advice and attend the webinars of people in the other three categories. We see how people turn tweets into interaction, and interaction into relationships, and some relationships into a career, but it’s a long way off for us, and besides, we have our day job.

Social media is an online extension of our innate ability to lean out on the carousel and reach for the brass ring. We don’t quite grab it, but we congratulate ourselves for staying on the painted pony and trying hard.

Of course, it’s entirely up to us to spend the rest of this life (and maybe a couple more) in social-media purgatory. But social media and its tools will nudge some of us out of Category 4 and into one of the other categories, in the same way that the Harry Potter series inspired hardened non-readers to get through 3400 pages, or that Microsoft PowerPoint has instilled in timid people the nerve to present in front of an audience.

So, on the way home from Melodie’s presentation I bounced my newly found taxonomy off of Gail. In doing so, I recalled a line uttered by the hapless Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, scratching his head at the difficulty that rich people find in connecting to one another:

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”

Pick whichever set of categories makes the most sense to you, and stop being a social media loser.

John White of venTAJA Marketing posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. He also publishes a newsletter with more tips on working with your writers.

Illustration: Photobucket
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