Apparently, you can earn a degree in social media now. This is absurd. Whenever people talk about the mystery of social media, I remember the concise (and wise) words of Internet friend (and real neighbor) Kelly Goodman of Travellious: “Get on Twitter. Say something funny. You’re done.” Kelly was right, though you can swap out funny and use interesting or new or thought provoking, that works.
A whole industry now exists around social media — what is it, how do you use it, how do you “measure” the results. People will charge you a lot of money to teach you how to use things that they didn’t make, they will bamboozle you with numbers that are essentially meaningless (“We got 1.5 billion Twitter impressions!” “Uh, so what?”), they will pitch you on strategies that tell you the best time to post to Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and some fourth thing that doesn’t exist yet but will displace all of these at some point (except Facebook, which might be the cockroach of social media and will survive nuclear war.)
I call bullshit on about 97% of this stuff. My experience has taught me that social media — like any media — works best in the hands of people who have an affinity for it. You can teach a friend or neighbor or customer, even, how to use social media in an hour or two. It takes a week to a month to get it, depending on how technical your student is and how comfortable they are with sharing. Sure, there’s some data, and some of it is valid, but most of what makes social media work is, for lack of a better phrase, human authenticity. Dude. Keep it real.
Social media, at its most basic (and, I think, its best) is word of mouth. It’s “Hey, I just found this super interesting thing, you should check it out.” It’s “OMG, I kind of want to show you my ridiculous hat, it will make you laugh.” It’s “You are invited to my party, please come, bring your friends!” And it’s “I could use some help. Can you pitch in? Or maybe you know someone who can?” (At it’s worst, it’s spammy sales, one way broadcasting, and “Pay attention to me, dammit!” Unfollow.)
I Love Social Media. In bold. In initial caps. It was thrilling for me, when I traveled in Tanzania, to be able to post video shot out the window of the bus and then chat with my readers about what I was seeing. When I stopped over in Buenas Aires on my way to Ushuaia, I had a date waiting for me, a connection made through social media. I learned to make mochi by hand in Honolulu via a social media connection. I once got on a plane to Antwerp and spent the weekend with a woman I’d “met” via social media. Social media is an amazing tool for connecting dots and making things happen.
It is terrifically annoying when people use social media in ways that are inherently not social. It’s the friend who tries to sell you something when you meet for coffee, it’s the coworker who never snaps in focus to say, “Oops. Blah blah blah, me me me. Sorry. What’s up with YOU?” after reporting on their epic weekend. It’s the difference between using a tool and being a tool. It’s not broadcast media, it’s social. It’s a two way street. Or a roundabout, maybe, in which there are avenues that could lead to … who knows where? Somewhere amazing, if you follow the right signs. (The wrong ones take you to a used car lot. Be careful.)
Passports with Purpose (PwP) just closed its fifth annual fundraiser. Through some insane dot connecting, about 600 socially wired people were able to raise over one hundred thousand dollars to fund a well building project in Haiti. PwP thrives through a combination of “Come to my party” and “This thing is interesting, let me tell you about it” and “Hey, a little help over here, please?” Yes, there’s a technology infrastructure, but the social media piece of it, you don’t need to pay a consultant hundreds of dollars to teach you this stuff. (In fact, if you’d like to do that, I tell you what. Why don’t you hire me for two hours and give the rest of your budget to Water.org.) Get on Twitter. Say something funny. We’re done here.
With some Salinger-esque exceptions, humans are social. Passports with Purpose taps into that by looking for the intersection between people who are travelers, people who are social, and people who feel compelled to make the world a little bit better than it was when we got here. We talk to people that hang out in those overlapping circles and say, “Hey, check this out, I think you’ll like it.”
It’s not rocket science. It’s just social. And it works.
- Here’s a list of bloggers who committed to support Passports with Purpose in 2012.
- We get help reaching our financial goals from a handful of sponsors: Expedia, TripIt, tbex, HomeAway. TravellersPoint, HostelBookers, and Go with Oh
- The money we raised this year — $110,047.62 — will go to fund the construction of five clean water wells in Haiti. Photo via Water.org.