Bryan Povlinski is a recent IU graduate and currently works as an Online Marketing Specialist at ecommerce fulfillment provider Fifth Gear. He is part of the Orr Fellowship program in Indianapolis, and you can find his blog about online tools at www.bryanpovlinski.com
Let’s say you’re in your weekly team meeting planning your next big initiative. The team decides that you need a Facebook page specifically for this new campaign. Since you’re pretty savvy with social media you decide to take on this part of the project and build the page yourself. You walk out of the meeting excited to get started, and eager to make a major contribution to the campaign. You get down to business and start adding your company information and all the basic components of a Facebook Page. You have some great ideas about how you want it to look, with custom design, interactive apps, etc. Then you realize that this might be a little bit more work than you first thought. Facebook has it’s own markup language (FBML) that you would use just like you would use HTML to build a web page – but inside of Facebook. The logical next step would be to search Google for some resources on FBML so you can try to get the hang of it yourself. Chances are with something so new you’re going to get stuck at some point. Then you have a couple options:
A. Keep plugging away trying to figure it out yourself
B. Find someone in the office to help you
C. Inform your team that you aren’t able to complete the project
That may not be a 100% comprehensive list (you could find a friend who could help you out, outsource the project to a site like Elance or oDesk, pay a freelancer, etc), but let’s talk about a new option that’s made possible through social media. Wouldn’t it be great to pose your question to a network of experts that are actively looking to help out and share their expertise? With tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Aardvark you can expect quick, high quality responses to questions you ask. Your experience may vary and you won’t always get the perfect answer, but the cost (free) and the time it takes to submit a question makes it well worth a shot. There are many services that offer question and answers, but the three that I’ve found most useful are:
Out of all the services I’ve used I’ve had the best experience with LinkedIn Answers. This is where you can get the most detailed with your questions because it’s likely going to be seen only by people with the specific expertise you need. LinkedIn makes it very easy to subscribe, by RSS feed, to categories of questions. So if you’re an SEO expert, you can subscribe to that particular feed and browse through the incoming questions about SEO. If you think about it, that’s a great way for experts or consultants to get new business – help others who are looking for advice on their subject for free. Recently I had a technical issue that I needed help with, and I turned to LinkedIn. I needed to convert an XML feed to a CSV file and was hoping to find a free tool that would do that without any development work. Within an hour I had 2 responses, and eventually had 6 responses. I even followed up with one of the guys that provided an answer so that I could clarify the solution he gave me. My problem was solved, and I didn’t have to worry about trying to download questionable software programs that came up when I searched “XML to CSV” on Google. Some even think that LinkedIn can revolutionize networking, and I tend to agree because it can connect you with people you likely would have never met.
In my experience it’s difficult to get as detailed on Twitter as you might be able to on LinkedIn with your questions. Anyone looking to help you has only 140 characters for a response (unless you decide to exchange email addresses) and that’s rarely enough for a detailed response. Twitter has great search capabilities, and desktop programs like Tweetdeck and Seesmic have made it easy to monitor tweets on a particular topic. So if you’re a WordPress developer you better have a saved Twitter search on the term “WordPress” because your competitors will beat you to opportunities if you don’t. People like Chris Brogan swear by using Twitter for answers, and with over 100,000 followers it’s no wonder that he gets a flood of answers immediately when he asks a question. In my experience, Twitter is best for things like recommendations. What’s the best Android app for music? What’s a good book to read on entrepreneurial finance? Those can be answered in 140 characters, and they’re easy for people in your network and people searching on a keyword to answer quickly. For a great play-by-play analysis of using Twitter for answers check out Don Schindler’s post.
I didn’t mention Facebook in here, but it can definitely be a great source of help as well – if you connect with business colleagues. On the other networks there are people you don’t know actively searching for questions that they can help with. In my experience that isn’t the case with Facebook. I’m a recent college graduate and the majority of my friends on Facebook are my friends from college and high school. If I need help with something at work, I have only a handful of friends that work in marketing/technology so it’s not necessarily the best place for me to ask questions. If you have a lot of friends in the same industry on Facebook it might be a completely different experience for you so it’s definitely worth trying out.