A Wallflower Joins the Social Party

A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be writing this post, have my own blog, use Twitter regularly, and have not one, but two Facebook pages, I’d have collapsed in laughter. But, 12 months is a very long time when it comes to social media.

I am, by nature and habit, an introvert. On Myers-Briggs, I’m so far into the “I” corner it’s hard to tell me from the corner. My first job was in radio, where you can hide behind a microphone, never having to face your audience. It’s no accident that my career now is internal communications, the ghostwriter of all those memos and news updates.

Online, I used to be what was known as a lurker. No matter how much I loved “The X-Files” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and reading fan reactions to those shows on forums like Television Without Pity, I never once joined the conversation. No fanboy theory or argument over canon was ever compelling enough to make me jump in with my own opinion, sign my name, and publish it online. The potential loss of privacy seemed too great to risk. Everyone knows this electronic stuff lives forever. “The Truth Is Out There,” and, years down the line, I didn’t want to be confronted by something from my past I might regret.

What I didn’t recognize back then was that by not joining in, I was missing out on being part of a community.

This was brought home to me when I became an independent consultant. After a while, you miss the collegiality of the business world and the opportunity to brainstorm ideas.

That’s when I decided to start a blog.

I wasn’t hoping to make a dime or get a book contract. I just wanted a place where I could noodle on three decades of experiences in the business, listen to what others had to say about writing and corporate communications, and chat about books. Very quietly. Over here in the corner.

I signed up for an online blogging class to jump-start the endeavor and get advice on platforms and promotion. That swiftly led to another class on social media. To my horror, both classes required that we comment on blogs. Every week. Using our real names. A prerequisite for the social media class was a Twitter account.

Oh, the horror. The horror.

I realized I was either going to have to drop the classes or take my introverted self by the hand and leap. And, so I leaped, and it’s been a powerful learning experience.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Blog

I wanted to share some of the resources I’ve discovered since I started blogging because they’ve done more than simply build professional skills, they’ve expanded my outlook (far beyond that corner).

What I found out here in the blogosphere was a welcoming, generous community willing to take the time to guide me around things like best practices, online etiquette and the share-and-share-alike approach to community support.

This crowd is particularly gentle with newbies where other media communities often are cliquish. I hope the social media community never loses that attitude. We all start somewhere. You may be the savviest Facebook user and not really “get” Google+. You may have had great success using social channels for external audiences, but grow frustrated by trying to launch social tools internally – with all the requirements for buy-in, Legal and HR approval, policies, and full-scale training. Every time a channel is introduced or updated, we all become beginners again. How we’re treated as beginners matters – it is integral to the quality, cohesiveness and enjoyment of the community.

There was a point, about five months in, when I felt like the content well had run dry. The more I studied my blog stats, though, the more I was astounded. Not by the number of page views – my blog has a fairly niche audience – but by the regular visits from people who hailed from Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, and India.

The United States, England, Canada, I’d kind of expected. But, readers whose first language might not be English? Immediately, I realized my writing had to become more global, and it opened up my editorial calendar to new possibilities. As I began including posts about things like Asian literature, I became the student, and it felt thrilling to flip the paradigm of blog owners-being-subject-matter-experts on its head.

As I connected with readers on Twitter, our interactions grew into warm online acquaintances. When an independent professional writer in northern England asked me if I’d proofread her website before it launched – and gave me access to its development area (talk about trust!) – I didn’t think, “My goodness, that’s cheek!” I spent an hour reviewing the site, figuring, “When my website launches, I can ask for a return favor.”

This year, I’m focused on learning and using measurement tools, such as Google Analytics, and I’m determined to get comfortable with and active on the Facebook and Google+ pages I created for the blog. If I run into a roadblock, I’ve learned all I have to do is ask for help.

When you have a “Trust No One” approach to being online, it can be unsettling initially to let go of your privacy, de-lurk and contribute on social media. But, I’ve been overwhelmed by the genuine-ness of the interaction out there. When I had questions, people answered them and pointed me toward additional resources.

If one of your goals is starting a blog in 2012, I hope you’ll find these pros and organizations as helpful as I have:

MediaBistro, Gotham Writers’ Workshop and UCLA Extension offer a wide array of online and live classes, from the technical aspects of blogging (and social media) to writing, editing and promoting your blog.

BlogWorld serves the fantastically diverse blogging community with annual conferences and detailed practical workshops across every niche imaginable, including cause blogging, monetization, content creation, traffic and distribution, platforms and apps, health, fitness, travel, marketing, mobile, mommy, and more.

Darren Rowse and Chis Garrett’s Problogger book was an essential guide at the beginning and still is. You’ll find astute advice on setting up a blog; creating strategy, content and community; promotion; monetization; and easy-to-follow technical solutions. Valuable for anyone – individual, team or corporate bloggers – who wants to develop an engaged, interactive community around specific topics. Ongoing learning can be found on Rowse’s Problogger community, where he regularly advises on content, tech and legal stuff, and community-building.

The Social Media Club, IABC, PRSA, and Ragan have been invaluable professional organizations, offering resources, free webinars, workshops, conferences, networking events, and advice for bloggers and social media practitioners at every level.

The microblogging platform Twitter is both resource and essential promotion tool for bloggers. It’s an incalculably rich network of support, information and encouragement for bloggers new and seasoned. Likewise, the Groups section of LinkedIn connects you to a network of professionals worldwide. It’s especially helpful for sharing your blog or blogs within an industry network or seeking advice on starting or improving a corporate blog.

The spreadsheets section of Google Docs provides plenty of options for bloggers. If you’re serious about blogging, it helps to have a strategy for both editorial and social sharing.

Best of luck and happy blogging!