Where do you begin when you show people who you are?
In a previous post I mentioned briefly how people construct a sense of you - your Internet presence - on things as little as 140 characters in a twitter tweet. This can be extended to a 90-second podcast, a 500-word blog post, or your entire usenet history.
Because I am at heart a writer (and despite protests to the contrary, DO look fat in all my event podcasts or channel 9 videos :) ) I will be looking at community presence mostly from the textual point of view. This enables me to talk about texting, forums, blogs, newsgroups, question/answer forums like QnA, email, IM and a bunch of other social media apps that signal presence by text (twitter, facebook, etc). The medium I am comfortable with, and comfortable advising folks about.
But I mention the formats I am less comfortable with because pushing boundaries like that can be personally or professionally useful. I have a community agenda at Microsoft - that is, I work on community applications, evangelize using community tactics to improve your business, and try to hook other community-centric people up with each other inside the company in my spare time. It's a bit dorky to espouse all that community and then say OH NO, I WON'T BE ON A PODCAST BECAUSE I LOOK FAT ON VIDEO. I mean, take one for the team girl.
The other thing that is close to my heart is women in technology. If you checked out the Behind the Code episode with Rebecca Norlander you heard an awesome discussion of careers at Microsoft done by an executive level person with poise and humor. Rebecca's straight shooting style is one I want to emulate, one I aspire to, and even she said something to the effect of: I'm not really comfortable doing these video things, but I do it because I want people to see that women work here on technical projects.
For me, Betsy, it's important that other women see me despite my glorious lack of thin-ness, in love with community technology applications, generally a newbie but always digging into the technology of the group I am working with, because it is the truth of what is possible. Even if my hair is a mess, and I'm hapless at certain points, I'm on video presenting from my best place - what I love to do , what I care about, how I want to change the world, how I hope you can help me in that.
Conversely, even in the medium I love best (writing), I can be presenting from A Bad Place. There's been enough Internet lore about "reply all" and email subpoenas and such that I think even if you have never written from A Bad Place, you at least know someone who has and their digital words have come back to haunt them. Mastery of the medium is only the first step. Translating from your best knowledge and intentions into a useful post or text message or business video is the necessary alchemy. You have to be translating from A Good Place, or the ensuing transaction with your customer could go poorly.
Though I tout my Gotdotnet emails with customers, I am sure (because some of them were written past midnight) that a few were not the smoothest customer-service-sounding epistles a customer could desire. I'm pretty sure at least one person wanted to talk to my customer service manager at one point because I couldn't fix something fast enough, only to be told there isn't one - you are talking to the main person running the resurrection efforts of the Web site.
Final advice: I think enough jokes have been made about "friends don't let friends blog drunk" that I can stop with one sentence.
Get into a zone, careful contributions
Just as people can be parents, siblings, bosses, underlings, and cooks all in the same body, and persona switch to handle their lives, you may want to consciously set out align each social media type with one aspect of your helpful business self. Maybe your Tweet Self is more about showing people news stories that will help their business, whereas your Blog self has more time to reflect and synthesize information to talk about business trends, and your Spaces or Facebook self allows more photography and information graphics to explain what you mean. All of these selves have a goal to serve people - to help your customers understand Silverlight, or Xbox gaming or where to find the best Chinese food in San Francisco perhaps.
I mention personal roles because I think people do manage to talk differently to their children than to another adult, and have different expectations of their dog or cat in communication than they do their significant other. If there are words you'd never say at work to a coworker, or to your child, and you are consistent in adapting your voice to their needs, then it's possible for you to tune your approach on social media as well. Maybe you schedule your chats with your spouse or your kids at certain times of day, so you know you are doing it when you are not tired or cranky. Social media timing can follow that non-cranky circadian rhythm.
Did I mention not tweeting while drunk? Right. Be careful on the tweets as well.
The argument for less than careful contributions - or at least short ones
Ok, you say, but I've gotten tweets from people saying "Dang this is the best hamburger I ever had at Lunchbox laboratory" and they were sent from a phone and frankly isn't the rest of twitter like that? You know, useless points-in-space trumpeting literally from a place?
Well, aside from Lunchbox Laboratory making killer burgers people should know about, the tweets from space actually give you a sense of dialog and interaction with the person tweeting that you don't get from an article or report or even blog commenting. When I scroll through my friends' tweets I get the feeling of a party of many conversations and because they are not remote in time, a sense of being connected even though they don't know I am reading them. While we don't need to know everything you ate for dinner, there are often little ephiphanies folks want to share that only fit in 140 characters and for that moment in time. It creates a sense of closeness ironically even as the medium is short-winded and you are checking twitter because you aren't talking to that person right now.
Even if you aren't interested in using twitter for your business you should check it out to see how it's being used by people and what mistakes/good moves they are making there. The concise stream of data is mimicked on other apps - Facebook and the What's New feeds from Windows Live come to mind - but that knack of writing short and punchy that will help you frame for yourself what you want to get done out there.
I just learned recently that Shel Israel, the fellow who wrote Naked Conversations with Robert Scoble, is now doing a new book called Twitterville. His idea is that the very random/intimate/daily/ordinary conversations - small tweets - are what pave the way for more complex and deeper business conversations as well. The book isn't done yet but it looks like one to watch on this front. Comments on his blog about this forthcoming book are gearing up (I learned about the book from my twitter feeds) as folks have chimed in to say how immensely relevant this research will be for business.
Live it vivid!