Firestorm Forums

Have you ever been on an online forum, sharing words of wisdom with fellow business owners, vacation goers, cooks, surfers… or what ever the focus of the forum is… and suddenly you realize that the discussion has gotten out of control?

Sedona 2011 statue of painUsually what happens is some topic hits a nerve for at least one of the participants.  They see RED!  They can’t understand why the others do not understand the underlying issues (as they are convinced them to be) and feel compelled to write responses to push their idea on the others.

Next, others who may think of themselves as the voice of reason, or maybe they have a totally opposite point of view, get in front of their keyboards and click out a reply.  The first person then usually reiterates their viewpoint, only taking up more space to do so, and feel they have gotten their point across.

Not so.  Others chime in and on and on it goes.

I am not on a lot of forums, but I would say that everyone that I am on has at some point taken a momentary turn for the worse.  What is it about the forum format that pushes people into putting their ideas out onto an exposed forum and why does it get out of control?

First, I think that we feel that when we are on a forum, we are amongst like minded comrades.  If we are all interested in the topic and helping each other through participation in the forum, then we must all think alike, no?  NO.

Next, this is not a discussion where you can see the other person’s face, their body language, and hear the tone of their voice.  When we talk in person, we get immediate feedback from the other person as we are talking and as we are listening.  We know how to moderate our responses when we see that we are hurting someone else, if they are dead set against hearing our point of view, or if they are receptive to even one little point that we just made.

When we are chatting via keyboard and screen, it just gets thrown out there, we feel better that we have said our piece, and had a chance to be heard.  Many times we are just stunned that someone has joined the conversation and started picking on us.  What?  We were the voice of reason and suddenly someone has pulled us into the fray and torn us apart.

At this point people either recognize that the conversation is not going to be productive, or they get fired up and throw out another comment.  It is like watching an accident happen.

So what do we do short of divorcing ourselves from all forums?

Participate in forums that you feel give you support or that you can help others.  If you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a fire storm, recognize it for what it is… a discussion that is not going to have an agreed upon conclusion.  Don’t be offended if someone starts to pick on you… just back out.  That person has some issues that are not yours to deal with.  Or, if you see a discussion that is out of control and you have not put in your 2 cents… DON’T.  Just move on.  Getting yourself all worked up and in the middle of the fray will not make you feel better.  I can practically guarantee that no one comes out of these discussions feeling triumphant.

Solving big problems takes talking, listening, and compassion.  I am not so sure that this is all available when we are in the forum setting.  Take the setting for what it is worth.

PS – I realize that I am sitting at my keyboard, just spewing out information with no one to challenge what I am writing (at the time of the writing).  Yes, I see the irony.

Are We Really Connecting?

In the last few weeks I have been hearing from many different sources that we just are not connecting with each other anymore.  I can hear you saying, “What?  We have so many ways to connect.  Technology has given us ways to keep up with each other’s comings and goings.  How could we not be connected?”

The latest changes with Facebook really got me to consider how I am connecting with people.  I admit, I was serious thinking about giving up my account (and I am a faithful Facebook participant).  Somehow this change really felt like the world (of Facebook) was telling me how I am going to communicate with others.  I felt like my options were being taken away.  I know, right now that sounds silly, but for the first day or two I was in quite the quandry.

I started to actually doubt the benefit of Facebook when a friend of mine wrote me an email and apologized for not writing sooner.  She said that she had seen on Facebook that I had survived the hurricane so she did not feel she had to reach out.  I didn’t mind, but it did get me thinking.  A quick sentence on Facebook does tell your friends that you are OK and it does alleviate you from having to send mass emails to proclaim your status. Does this short update really connect you?  I enjoyed her email and the details of her life so much more than just a short update posted to the world of Facebook.

Then I started thinking about my ‘older’ friends who simply will not go on Facebook.  I enjoy their emails or phone calls so much.  I decided to stop ragging on them for not being ‘with the times’ and start appreciating that they take the time to write to me.

Then, my brother and his family talked about the aftermath of the hurricane, where they had no electricity for days.  They said that they were out on the street and saw neighbors that they had not seen for over 20 years.  Yikes!  Their supposition was that people all feel connected from in front of their computer screens.  They felt that people didn’t feel the need to come out and see their neighbors because they had that need of connection fulfilled through their computers.  I get some of that.

So, where is this going and how do I feel right now?  I have concluded that it is up to me to decide how I want to connect with people.  I am grateful that I can keep an eye on the events of my family and friends who live far away.  It is certainly better than 30 years ago when I lived in Germany and snail mail was pretty much the only affordable way to communicate.  But… I am not going to allow myself to think that new technology has totally replaced some of the older ways to connect.  I still like to pick up the phone and have a conversation with a friend.  I still send greeting cards that come in the mail.  I like to visit people.  I like to have email conversations.

I am thinking that in years to come, the younger folks will look back at an age where there was no internet.  They will wonder how we all survived without it (just as we find ourselves wondering how our parents survived without TV or their grandparents without electricity.)
Somewhere in that conversation they will say, “I think that things were actually better back then.”

Facebook Deja Vu – 2011

Last week I was sitting at a networking meeting when the topic of Facebook pages came up.  Much to my disbelief and to my dismay, the conversation quickly got out of control.  Some of the business owners thought that they knew exactly how to use Pages, others were confused, and still others were bad-mouthing the whole concept. Everyone of course felt that they were ‘right’ and it turned into mild chaos and nothing productive came out of it.

The deja vu comes into play for me in that it seems that we were having these exact types of conversation 2 years ago.  Back then I really understood why everyone was confused. Facebook was relatively new and business owners were trying to sort it out.  2 years in ‘technology time’ is eons!  Things have changed, true, but the basic concept of using Facebook and social media for your business is pretty much the same.

Here are a few basic concepts to consider when looking at building a Facebook Page for your business:

  • What am I trying to accomplish by having this Page?

I hope that you are looking for exposure, at a minimum.  You can also use the page to run contests and announce specials, but at a basic level, you will get in front of people more often.

  • Do I have time to keep the Page fresh and updated?

In order to get visibility you need be posting updates and responding to replies and comments.  Do you have the time to do this yourself, or can you hire someone else to take on this responsibility for you?

  • How am I going to get people to ‘Like’ my Page?

There are ways to do this.  Do you know what they are or are you ready to hire someone who specializes in this?

  • Do I have the kind of business that would benefit from advertising my Page on Facebook?

Once again, do you know how all of this works?  Are you willing to hire someone to guide you and advise you on the way to get the most for your money?

In case you are wondering, I am not a Facebook expert.  I would not be the one that can take care of your Facebook Page for you.  I do feel though that if you are serious about using Facebook to build up your customer base and improve your visibility, then finding someone who does Facebook for a living is in order.

If you just want to have some exposure and have some connections, then working Facebook on your own works just fine.  You may even get really good at it and you may even like it a lot.  For those of you who want to focus on what it is you are great at and love to do, find a great person to take care of Facebook for you.

Social Media – It’s just a tool

I love social media.  Yup, I admit it.  Why?  Because I see social media as a way to get to know more people, for us to be more transparent about what we are about, and to feel connected to people.  For me, it is all about the people. People connecting It isn’t about selling more stuff on your social media site, it is about having people get to know your business and having them get to know who they are doing business with.  I see social media as a way to bring back the personal touch to the business of doing business.

I see social media as a tool to help us add that personal touch to our business.  Remember thought, like all tools, if you don’t know how to use it you can get hurt or you might end up just putting it on the shelf in the closet, gathering dust. Before you dive into social media, I strongly recommend that you spend time working on a plan to utilize the tool.

A key question that will help you to build your plan is:
What are you trying to accomplish with this particular social media tool?
Believe it or not, you will all not have the same purpose for your social media campaign.

Here are some examples:

  • I want to establish myself as an expert
  • I have a lot of events and I want a way to get the word out.
  • I have a volunteer group and I want each member to be able to contribute to the information.
  • I want to keep my brand in front of people
  • I want a way to share my blog postings.
  • I want to direct people to my website.
  • I want to build a contact list.
  • I want to build interaction with my clients.

As you can see, there is so much that you can do with social media.  The key to having a simplified life is to make sure that you know which objective you want to focus on.  Do what works for your business.  Trying to do what you see everyone else doing just leads to confusion and many times you end up frozen in your tracks.

Remember, social media is just a tool.  It is there to help us.  We don’t have to use every feature just because it is there.  Kind of like that new sewing machine with all of the fancy stitches… if you only need to sew in straight lines, then find ways to use the other stitches when you have time and the urge for creativity.

LinkedIn Answers

One of the little know features of LinkedIn is called “Answers”.  

The purpose of Answers is to:

  • Help you to find answers to real problems.

There are thousands (milllions?) of people out there on LInkedIn who have a wealth of knowledge.  Ask a question, and you will get someone who is willing to give you advice on how to move forward.  Be it a technical question, a business question, or a ‘life’ question, someone will be there to help you.

  • Give you an opportunity to help others.

One of the components of social media is to help people.  Answers gives you the chance to give out free advice to others.  You can search for questions within your category of expertise and respond to any when you feel you can add value.

  • Establish expertise.

When people are looking at your profile on LinkedIn, how do they know that you know what you are talking about?  One of the ways is to look at the questions that you have answered.  This will give them a feel for your level of knowledge.

How do you ask a question?

From your Home page on LinkedIn, across the top, click on “More”.  From the drop down menu click on “answers”.  The Home page for Answers will appear.  Note the tabs that now appear for this page.

You can ask a question from the Home page, or you can click on the “Ask a Question” tab. You will be given the opportunity to categorize your question.

It is pretty simple to ask a question.  You will then receive email notifications when someone gives you an answer, so you don’t have to be constantly checking LinkedIn.

Source of Information

Now that you have found the Answers feature, take some time to look around.  Many people have asked questions that are already answered.  You can search around and get some useful information.  You will also see who is answering questions and who knows what they are talking about.  You may then want to connect with those people or follow them.

Provide an Answer

You will also see that it is fairly easy to put in your own 2 cents (answer other people’s questions).  You can search for issues that are in your area of expertise and then provide help to others.  Remember that everyone can see your answers, so make sure you put your best foot forward when commenting.

Give it a try

Now that you know about the Answers feature of LinkedIn, why not spend a little time exploring and discovering more about it?  Some  ‘experts’ say that it is LinkedIn’s most powerful, yet little known feature.