I'm not a Major Player on any social network, or even kind of a big deal, but I'll tell you what. By having fun online, and making very little effort indeed, I've built up three nifty groups of social media comrades. This morning, I have 1,565 Facebook friends, 751 Twitter followers, and I've been encircled by 423 people on the new, but quickly growing, Google+. Here's what I do.
I treat the online world like an array of parties.
There are things I like to do when I go to a real-world party. First of all, I dress up. I think about what outfits I could wear for the occasion, and put on what will make me look and feel good: something that will make an impression when I walk in. When I go online, that's my profile picture. It seems to me that a fairly close-up facial picture is the best idea, since the icons on profiles and comments can turn out to be really small, especially on Twitter. That way, people can see what I look like and recognize that we've met before, if we have. If we haven't met in the real world, the picture is an introduction just as much as my entrance into a party full of unmet future friends would be. Profile information is included in my party outfit. I want people to be able to tell whether they'd like to get to know me or not, and letting them know what I do and what I like is part of that, especially if I can say it with some style.
I also like to think about what I have to say when I'm going to a party. It's good to tell people things about myself, but it's even more fun to be prepared with questions to ask them, and to pay attention and respond to the things that people tell me. Each social media site gives me different ways to interact.
On Twitter, it's all about being quick and witty. I have my public account, and anyone can read it. To avoid being boring, I like to bring some variety. I can make remarks about anything, from comments on what I'm doing to silly, repeating jokes (as anyone who has suffered through my #CAPSTUESDAY madness can tell you). Since I don't enjoy hearing about the fact that someone just drank a cup of coffee, or that they hate their job, I try to avoid broadcasting what I consider to be dull or complaining remarks (with exceptions, I'm sure). Instead, I'll mention funny things that happen, or bring up good books I've read, or ask questions, or post links or pictures. It's fine to talk about work, to a point, but interesting people have other topics to discuss, too. Also, I feel it's okay to be quiet and listen if I don't have anything to say. I pay attention to what my friends are saying and comment on that, and I'll retweet interesting things that come through from the people I'm following. I hardly ever ask for retweets, because I feel like that's the same as going up to the front of the room at a party, grabbing the microphone, and asking everyone in the room for a favor or some money. That's only to be used for the most important situations! However, I think that it's okay to make an announcement once in a while. Say, if a story of mine is coming out, or I've blogged. A quick, breezy little statement, and then I'm off the stage to mingle again.
Facebook is different, since the relationships have to be mutual. This is a party full of people who all, for one reason or another, wouldn't mind spending some time with me. By definition, they already know I exist before I arrive and start to talk. In my case, over several years of showing up there, it's become rather a large party, but because of the way Facebook works, I get steered toward a smaller room within the venue to interact with people who have shown the most interest in interacting with me. It's not really set up well for getting to know more people in the crowd. One nice thing about it, though, is that I'm given a section of wall where I can put up whatever decorations I like, and people can choose to look at them if they want, and leave me notes there. I post a lot of pictures in Facebook, and weird, wacky comments that amuse me. People joke around with me in their comments. It's a good time. I can post announcements there with the reasonable expectation that my friends will see them.
Google+ is still working itself out, so I'm not sure what kind of a party it is, but I love it. Like Twitter, people can follow anyone they like; it doesn't have to be mutual. Unlike Twitter, people can post things to specified groups only. So I can post a public thing for everyone to see, and post something else that only my friends and acquaintances can look at, and more personal stuff for just friends, all the way to sharing something with only one person. At the same time, there's no character limit for my posts, so I can go into depth with ideas if I want to, or keep it short. It has features I haven't even tried yet, like video-chat hangouts. I think the beauty of G+ is that you can make it into any kind of party you want it to be, large or small. Google seems to be way more responsive to user preferences than Facebook has ever been, too. I feel like it's easier to meet new people here than on Facebook, and it will likely become even more so as search directories get established. (In case my propaganda is too subtle (heh), I will say outright that I recommend joining G+!)
My most important guiding principle is to BE POLITE. To be NICE, whenever possible, but polite at minimum. As it is with real-world parties, so it is online: Nobody likes rude behavior at a party. Like the self-centered, desperate person who's only there to sell something, always turning the conversation back to work, work, work, and what you can do for him. Or the trash-talker, getting attention by saying bad things about people, spinning stories to the negative, and starting fights. Or the monomaniac, there to discuss ONE TOPIC ONLY, regardless of what anyone else is saying. It's rude face-to-face, and it's rude on a computer screen. People can talk about ideas without being rude and nasty. It happens all the time. I've seen it.
Social media, at its best, should not be work. It should be about enjoying people, making friends, and paying attention to what our friends are trying to do. It should be about having fun and being generous. Show up with a bottle of wine and some snacks to share, and magic will happen.