Sunday, May 15, 2011

Social Media….Is it a Time Suck?

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Second Life, Blogging…I spend a great deal of my time on the “net” or on my phone keeping up with what’s going on and letting others know what I’m doing or thinking about.

I spoke with a lot of people this week at NGS and at meals, hotels and airports in “real life,” and in the social media world. Many of them were people that I speak with often on one of the social media outlets. Some I had met in person many times before and had added them to my Facebook page as a friend (I friended them…speaking in the vanacular)  at RootsTech last February or NGS last year. Some were friends I know from my blog, they are one of my “followers.” Others I met for the first time and now will become friends with on Facebook or will exchange e-mails back and forth. I also was keeping up on what was going on in the rest of the world via Twitter. Friends that could not be with us at NGS were living vicariously through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and genealogy radio programs.

I find myself wondering what I did before cell phones and computers. I have become a communication junkie. It was not a big leap from knowledge junkie.

I have always been someone who likes to learn. Now I can have a non-stop flow of information at my fingertips. I can attend a webinar at anytime of the day or night. I can read blogs about new technology. I can download an e-book and get my fix. I have also found a wealth of human connections.

Genealogy can be a very quite occupation of solitude. Don’t get me wrong I like my aloneness. In fact most people who know me are surprised to find out, “I don’t like people much.” Unless their dead of course. But those who know me well know that I can only take so much “togetherness.”
But, I am a social butterfly when out in public and on the social media sites. Facebook and my blog have allowed me to “meet” so many people who share my interests. I even have a quilting friend (Hi Rebecca) in Australia. We have never met in person but we “talk” almost every day. I know about her boys, her husband and his recent trip, her quilting and we encourage each other to keep up our running program. Someday I will make the supreme sacrifice and travel to Australia; I hope to meet her in person and I know we will already be fast friends with a connection already firmly established.

That is the power of social media. No, not everyone you meet online will become your BFF but you can make some amazing connections. This week I met one of them.

I have a follower on my Blog named Liz she is also a friend on Facebook. Until Friday she and I had never met in person. But on Friday we hugged and laughed and bonded and acted like long lost best pals. Liz is someone I know I will be sharing a hotel room with someday and we will be hanging out together at conferences; a new friend from another part of the world that I would never have found without the internet and social media.

I have also found blogs, Facebook and Twitter to be wonderful tools to use for my business. I can advertise my services and my blog through Facebook and Twitter. I can blog about what I’m doing in my research and what’s happened at a lecture I just taught. I can communicate with other genealogists about the trials and tribulations of this business and we can pass along hints and tips to make our experience better. I can run into another genealogist at the airport as we are leaving a conference and find out about a new institute to be held next year and then blog about it that evening letting the word be spread around the world. Yes, around the world. I have readers in many different countries. I find that boggling. (The word should probably be changed to Bloggling…can I coin a phrase?)

So is Social Media a time suck? Well, yes. But it is time well spent. I look at it this way. If I were doing business in the days before social media, before computers and smart phones, I would have spent hours a week planning advertising and marketing. I would have made endless phone calls planning out connections; who to room with, who needs a lift from or to the airport, who wants to meet for lunch, and discussing how to make our meetings work better etc.  To coordinate what shift I am to take at the Association for Professional Genealogists booth, or which speaker I was to announce and what I was supposed to say would have been a lot of phone calls as well as mailings. Things that used to take a week to organize now can be done in a day. We can “go to meeting” or share a conference call on Skype and accomplish so much more. I think this makes us better. So while social media can be used for games and other “time wasters” like so many other things it is what you make it.