Be careful not to let your worlds collide

George Costanza

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently about how they used to enjoy my Twitter feed more before I became the spokesman for a politician. It was an eye-opening discussion in a couple of ways.

For a bit of background, my personal Twitter feed is @aribadler, but I also am the primary operator of the Twitter account for my employer, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger. That feed is @SpeakerBolger.

I thought I was doing a good job of keeping the two worlds separate, at least as much as you possibly can when it comes to social media. I have no delusions that what I post to both accounts can and will be used against me personally or in my role as the Speaker’s press secretary. So, I’ve been careful with what I’m posting to @aribadler, to make sure I’m not saying or doing anything that can be twisted on me. Of course, the political ideologues will always find a way to use every utterance out of context, but I’m basing my decisions on what reasonable people would think, not those blinded by political rage.

What I had not really considered was whether what I’m doing at work could impact my personal account. I haven’t done much more political ranting on @aribadler than I had in the past, but I’m sure some stuff has shown up there. I have put links to various news stories that I’ve been in on my Twitter feed and on my Facebook page. They weren’t there so much as a way to spread the message contained within, but rather as a way to show my friends and followers what I’ve been up to as a press secretary.

That’s why the conversation from the other night was so enlightening. I’ve been careful not to let comments from my personal world invade into my professional world, and yet I haven’t been as vigilant in the other direction. As this person said, she’s always enjoyed reading my Twitter stream because it was about a lot of things — some interesting to her and some not, some funny and some not. But, she said, it’s not going to be as enjoyable to follow me if I let too much political messaging seep in.

I’ve scrolled through my feed and haven’t seen too much more political stuff there than I had previously, but it does exist. So, I’m going to put up a better barrier — one that keeps my worlds from colliding not just on the work side, but on the personal side, too. I’m sure George Costanza from Seinfeld would agree that’s really for the best.

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24: It only works on TV

This post was written between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

For those familiar with the popular TV show “24,” my opening line will make sense. For the rest of you, it probably just raises the question of WTF I’m doing awake and writing a blog post this long before sunrise. The truth is I’ve been up since 4 a.m. anyway thanks to blizzard warnings issued via my National Weather Service radio and an inability to get back to sleep once my brain’s On switch has been flipped.

I figured I  might as well use this time to finally write the post that’s been rolling around in that over-active and over-taxed brain. The post is about how 24 hours in a day just aren’t enough. How it’s difficult to keep up with a very busy day job, a night job, blogging gigs, consulting gigs, freelance writing gigs, self-improvement, professional associations, community projects, local networking events, continuing education, reading blogs, following news alerts, staying informed on local, state, national and international news, not to mention housework, home maintenance, car maintenance, being a great dad, being a loving husband, exercising and enjoying reading a book or magazine for pure enjoyment. Oh, and I suppose eating, sleeping and personal hygiene need to be on that list, too.

I’ve kept up with most of everything on the list above. When things have slipped, it’s been in what I believe to be the correct order. My wife and kids come before housework, for example. And my day job that is the thing truly paying the bills takes precedent over projects for professional associations or freelance writing. I’ve sometimes passed up eating and sleeping, but I’m proud to say I’ve not let personal hygiene slip!

I’m a big user of social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. I used to use LinkedIn a lot more than I do now. I still use it for maintaining a network and, let’s face it, it’s primarily  a rolling resume for most of us now. But I don’t post status updates there as much as I used to or answer questions like I did from time to time. And while I’m published once per week at the Digital Pivot blog, I haven’t published an original post here for quite a while. I just don’t have the time and something has to give.

I’ve prided myself on being able to get by on 6 hours of sleep per night with a few doses of caffeine thrown in. But lately I’ve realized that I’m not as young as I used to be and recovering from all-day and all-night binges of work and being a family man can’t be recovered from as easily anymore, no matter how many Red Bulls I have at my disposal.

So, within that context, it was interesting to read a blog post from Arik Hanson asking “Where the heck did David Mullen go?” It’s a great post asking about a guy whom we used to see all the time on social media outlets and who was regarded as a leader in that realm. The post and the comments that followed are worth taking the time to read — after all, even I found the time to at least skim most of it. I won’t repeat here what the pro and con arguments are regarding coming and going from social media as your life circumstances dictate. But I will point out that David is not the only one who has come and gone from social media and not come off the worse for wear. If you’ll recall, Shannon Paul disappeared for quite some time, but has now come back with a flourish and holds a great job heading up social media at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, not to mention her Very Official Blog. The break she took from riding the crazy train of social media doesn’t seem to have hurt her career.

We all have talents that can be put to good use on social media as well as in other areas of our lives. The problem arises when we think that one of those talents is creating more hours in a day. It can’t be done. As Scotty, the venerable engineer on Star Trek, used to say, “Ya canna’ change the laws of physics.”

No matter how much we think we are capable of doing, we are restricted to 24 hours per day in which to do it. On TV, the concept behind “24” works. Each episode was based on what occurred during a single hour in a single day. But the day was stretched out over an entire season of television and each hour seemed to be self-contained without the pressures of what didn’t get done last hour and the to-do list looming in the hour ahead.

But in real life, it’s not like that. At some point, something has to give. I suppose it’s our way of playing the director of our lives and yelling, “Cut!” So I’ve made some decisions to scale back. I’ll take baby steps at first — not posting to this blog as often was one of them. I’ve also pulled back from Digital Pivot, reducing my commitment to two posts per month instead of once per week. I’d say self-improvement time has been scaled back, but perhaps making some changes to my commitment level is a form of self-improvement, so I’ll let that one slide.

I’m not sure what else to give up yet. If you have some suggestions based on things that have worked or not worked for you, I’d be interested in hearing them. Just remember to give me some time to ease into them. After all, this concept of saying “no” is kind of new to me.

Buckle up PR pros

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about social media and public relations in 2011:

Buckle up PR pros: 2011 promises an intense ride on the social media roller coaster

The avenues for dispensing information will multiply, so communicators of all stripes will need to understand and manage numbers as well as words.
By Ari B. Adler | Posted: January 3, 2011
In 2011 the hunger for information will grow in intensity, and how it’s consumed will grow in complexity. PR pros will have to deepen their understanding of social media beyond the “shiny new toy” it was in 2010. 

“PR professionals will be expected to consume information faster than ever before. It’s just the speed of doing business now,” says Arik Hanson, principal of ACH Communications in Minneapolis. “It means you have to work smarter, not harder.”

Hanson suggested that using effective online tools, such as RSS and news feed readers, will be crucial to keeping up with the information flow.

Though social media will continue to play an important role in all the information sharing, at least one PR pro thinks we are already seeing some numbers plateau.

“I’ve noticed that trend in organizations, mine included,” says Angela Minicuci, communications coordinator for the Michigan Association of Counties in Lansing. “Fans and followers are becoming harder to find, and online social spaces are developing more niches.”

Minicuci says that just browsing the home page of tech news site such as Mashable shows a focus on buzzwords like “optimize,” “personalize” and “integrate.”

“The bandwagon has been jumped on, and now everyone is scrambling to find a seat and hold on,” Minicuci says. “It’s not enough for companies to just be in the social networking space; they have to utilize it and utilize it well.”

For corporations, that means a focus on video, says Mary Henige, social media and digital communications director for General Motors in Detroit. “Corporate video storytelling will expand, since this medium helps to humanize companies and brands,” Henige says.

Are ‘gurus’ goners?

Could 2011 finally be the beginning of the end for social media “gurus,” as more professionals start to understand its power and become familiar with its use? Henige noted that with more marketers engaging on the Web, the concepts of simply monitoring social media versus becoming an expert user will blur even further into one necessary practice.

It’s that blurring that will require PR professionals to “get smarter about the numbers” if they want to stand out, Hanson says.

Predictions for 2011
• Just being in a social space isn’t going to be enough for companies anymore. They will have to learn to use the space well. 

• Corporate video storytelling will expand as a way to humanize companies and brands.

• To stand out, PR pros must learn to translate data from places like Google Analytics, not just talk about it.

• New and traditional methods will become more important as the public becomes less enamored of the shininess of social media.

“Sure, at heart most of us are wordsmiths; we don’t like math,” he says, “but those who embrace the numbers and know how to translate them into real, actionable ideas for business will continue to win and excel.”

Hanson says it’s about translating the hard data from places like Google Analytics, not just talking about it.

“You can’t simply report the data anymore; you need to be able to dig into it, understand it and translate it for the client or organization,” he says.

Hanson, Minicuci and Henige agree that PR will have to continue to evolve as social media evolves, with Henige adding that the profession will see more influence from out-of-work journalists entering the field.

“Journalists will continue to vie for public relations positions as traditional reporting jobs and newspapers continue to shrink,” Henige says.

In addition, Minicuci says, PR folks will be dealing with a public that wants more.

“I don’t see the general public accepting social media as the be-all end-all solution to public relations, but rather I see social sites having to better define themselves in markets in order to stay relevant,” she says.

“Social networking will prove to be a very useful tool,” she says, “as the growing pains are worked out and practitioners find ways to integrate both new and traditional methods into their efforts.”

2010 on my blog – a review by WordPress

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2010. In 2010, there were 58 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 159 posts. There were 75 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 31mb.

The busiest day of the year was March 9th with 536 views. The most popular post that day was The Monday morning quarterbacks of Ignite Lansing just don’t get it.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, ow.ly, linkedin.com, and hootsuite.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for forrest gump, cattle brands, customer service, cattle brand, and hawaii rainbow.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

The Monday morning quarterbacks of Ignite Lansing just don’t get it March 2010
29 comments

2

Stupid is as stupid does July 2009
49 comments

3

Hey Boss, stop encouraging me to work elsewhere August 2010
26 comments

4

Farewell Michigan Central Depot, we knew you not April 2009
1 comment

5

Personal customer service is dead…or is it? June 2009
2 comments

Blogging isn’t social media

Every time I turn around there seems to be another study being conducted about who is responsible for social media at a company or organization. Is it the role of public relations, media relations, marketing, advertising, customer service — or a combination of all the above? What I’ve found most interesting about these studies is that many seem to still be lumping “blogger relations” in with “social media.”

I’ve long held the belief that bloggers are not journalists. There is something to be said for a professional journalist who has been properly trained to research a story and write a compelling article that people actually want to read. At the same time, however, I don’t believe bloggers should be relegated to the social media realm either. When I think of social media outlets, I think of 140-character tweets, two-sentence Facebook status updates and comments, a photo with a cutline on Flickr or maybe even a short video with comments by viewers on YouTube.

Social media is more about the continuing small-talk conversation being carried on between you and the world. Blogging is different. It can be weighty stuff or it can be about fashion trends. It can challenge your thinking or it can be something sarcastic and entertaining. But it is not social media.

Perhaps the problem is society’s insatiable need to classify things — especially new things people don’t fully understand. Now, certainly, blogging isn’t new, but for many people it is uncharted territory, as is social media. And since both are done via the Internet it makes sense to folks to drop them into the same bucket. That’s a mistake. Blogger relations is a new component of a very old discipline: media relations. As I said, I don’t believe bloggers are journalists, but they are a segment of writers that need to be dealt with professionally.

That’s why I’d argue that blogger relations is a function of whomever is handling media relations in your organization. Bloggers need information, either on background or on the record. They need assistance gathering photos, videos, soundbites, facts and figures. In short, they need information to complete the publication they are working on. But it is not enough for the media relations department to simply send them a press release and a link to some photos. For years, media relations professionals have spent time honing their craft by learning about news outlets and what makes individual reporters tick. It’s time we started doing that with bloggers, too. It is going to add a lot to our workload, but passing the buck and letting marketers or customer service departments deal with blogging because it is “social media” is not productive. It may even come back to bite you in a blog post that is anything but social.

What do you think? Do you believe blogging belongs in the social media bucket, the news media bucket or all by itself in a shiny new bucket?

(Photo courtesy of Chris Jones’ Flickr stream.)

Touche! Let’s go have a beer

What this world needs is more people willing to disagree, have a debate and then simply agree to disagree with no hard feelings.

The Internet has made the world smaller and yet generational and social divides are expanding. Mainstream news has turned into a fear fest. And politics as usual is unusually nasty and divisive. It’s rare to find people anymore who are willing to have an honest, intelligent debate over an issue. It’s not a fight, it’s a debate. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the exercise of broadening your horizons and hearing what other people have to say. It’s about learning what other people’s perspectives bring to an issue.

I can be stubborn and opinionated, of that there is no doubt. But I like to think that I can debate with someone on an issue without it becoming a personal matter.

Whatever happened to civility in debating the points of an issue? Perhaps it’s the explosive growth of the Internet and social media, where we have a microphone available for us to shout at the world 24/7. Folks involved in social media talk about the importance of a conversation, and yet they often won’t have one online. They’ll post a comment on Twitter or Facebook, or even write a blog post, but then won’t accept a challenge to an open debate about what they said. That’s not being conversational, that’s screaming from your soapbox and then walking away without bothering to listen to what your audience might have to say about your comments.

One of my favorite people is Nathan Triplett. We have opposing political views, from both a fiscal and social sense, as far as I can tell. We are in different age groups. We don’t really have that much in common and we don’t hang out. Why does he deserve “favorite” status then? Because we have some great debates. We debate on Facebook. We debate on Twitter. And, hopefully, we’ll soon be debating on a political talk show that I’m a frequent guest commentator on. Nathan gets it. He has his opinions and believes in them strongly enough to stand up for them. But he also is willing to hear what you have to say. He will try to change your opinion, which is a fine goal for debating. But if he can’t, he just agrees to disagree with you. I hope he sees me in the same light, because I would gladly trade beers and barbs with him anytime.

In my community, there’s already a breakfast club, a happy hour club, a tweet-up group and many other organizations. But a lot of those gatherings revolve around small talk. They rarely get into personal opinions or rough-and-tumble debates where we may change someone’s mind or, perhaps, find our own enlightenment on an issue.

Maybe it’s time to change that. Maybe it’s time to start the Lansing Debate Club. Our motto can be, “Touche! Let’s go have a beer.”

That’s going to leave a mark

UPDATE — I’m not sure when it actually happened, but as of Monday, Sept. 13, the video has been removed by the Michigan GOP. I can’t say for certain that my blog posts, the media coverage and many people joining me in deriding this ad had an effect, but I’d like to think so. Thanks to all who commented or sent notes of support.
~aba
—————

I’ve had active blog posts before, the kind that get people talking and commenting on the page, via Twitter or in person. To date the largest single day of visits came when my post about President Obama’s handling of the Henry Gates situation was featured on CNN.com for a while. And I’ve had many posts that had more visitors than the one I wrote on Tuesday about a Michigan Republican Party YouTube video that I felt sullied the Lansing community. But the “Pure Crap” post has easily claimed the title for drawing the most attention from mainstream media.

After word started spreading about the video and my post railing against it, I was contacted by several reporters while others simply wrote about the situation without talking to me. Tim Nester read the post on his TalkLansing.net show. I was featured in radio segments on City Pulse On Air and Ebling and You. The City Pulse wrote an article, as did Gongwer News Service. And this morning I was mentioned in a political column in The Detroit News.

Certainly, my post wasn’t that extraordinary. What really got the media interested is that I was writing about disagreeing with a Republican video and I’m a former Republican spokesperson, having been the press secretary for a Michigan Senate majority leader. That’s what makes the whole thing newsworthy. And, hopefully, that’s going to leave a mark on the communications strategies for the state Republican and state Democratic parties. Both have been slinging the mud for so long now that people have come to expect it. But that doesn’t make it right and I needed to say it — regardless of my supposed political loyalty. As I mentioned in several of my interviews, many political operatives I speak with say “negative works,” while the average voters on the street I speak to often complain about the negative messaging.

I’ve also been involved in politics long enough to know I’m probably going to be asked by more than one person what I’ve been smoking. But I felt it was important to speak out and leave my mark. I hope that, even if my efforts don’t change the tactics of political operatives in this state, that I might inspire a few more people to stand up and say something when it needs to be said.

So I’m challenging everyone reading this blog to stand up, speak out and leave their mark. Even if it doesn’t change things immediately, it will make you feel better knowing that you tried. And, just maybe, if enough of us inspire others, we might actually see the power of positive change in Michigan. Who is with me?

Blogging finally pays the rent for someone

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about a blogger who won a free year of rent in exchange for blogging about her experience:

Published: 7/29/2010

How a video contest boosted new condos, gave a blogger a home
By Ari B. Adler

‘I Love Detroit’ competition draws global interest in the city’s comeback efforts

The number of bloggers in the world has grown dramatically over the past few years, but there aren’t too many who can say it helps them pay the rent. Brandi Keeler of Detroit can, though, at least for a year.

Keeler, an advertising and design major at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, won the Garden Court Condominiums’ “I Love Detroit” video contest. That means she will be living rent-free in a downtown condo in exchange for her blog posts chronicling her participation in the city’s culture, dining and sporting events.

Identity Marketing & Public Relations in Bingham Farms, Mich., was the agency that worked with Garden Court on the 30-day contest, which was developed to raise awareness for the recently renovated condominiums. Using traditional media, new media and events to create buzz for the contest, Identity also was getting people talking about the condos and the city of Detroit.

“The contest clearly struck a nerve with people who have a passion for the city of Detroit. There are some incredible advocates for the city, and this was an ideal platform for them,” said Andrea Trapani, senior account executive and Identity’s architect behind the concept. “We knew the contest would be something different, but it definitely exceeded our expectations in regard to the quantity and overall creative quality of the videos submitted.”

The contest launched in late May with an appearance on FOX 2 Detroit by David Farbman of Garden Court. By the end of the contest in late June, more than 60 two-minute videos had been submitted from around the world, with 53 making the final cut. More than 300 people also joined the special Ning community that Identity had established for the contest. A panel of local personalities and bloggers judged the videos.

“Since this was unlike anything the client has done before, we did not set any specific expectations regarding how many videos would be submitted,” Trapani said. “We knew that by leveraging social media channels, as well as the traditional media, that the overall brand exposure would be broad and meaningful.”

According to Identity, the contest resulted in more than 48,000 page views and more than 23,000 views for the videos that were submitted. The promotion resulted in 15 online stories posted by traditional media and bloggers within 20 days, and there were more than 300 tweets sent using the hashtag #ilovedetroit. Perhaps most important to Identity’s client, however, is that the contest resulted in generating more inquiries from people interested in buying the condominiums.

“The overall positive responses shared from contestants on the site was inspiring,” Trapani said.  “They supported and complimented each other’s videos. New connections were made, and many have continued past the end of the contest. On multiple occasions, we heard, ‘It doesn’t matter if I win; I’m so happy to have the chance to connect with others and share my story.’”

Trapani said she considers the contest and the promotional idea to be a success and, with lessons learned in hand, the potential for similar campaigns is high. That raises the question, however, of how many of these can succeed before they are too common to draw the attention that Garden Court did.

Brandon Chesnutt, social media director at Identity, says there will always be a market for them.

“Just hearing the phrase, ‘enter for a chance to win,’ creates a unique level of excitement,” he said. “What organizations really need to start thinking about is what happens after the contest. How do they continue to engage the audience without an incentive in place? There should be a plan to keep the buzz going until their next call for entries.”

A zoo’s perspective on the social media jungle

Here is part two of my look at Potter Park Zoo’s social media efforts, cross-posted from Digital Pivot:

I recently wrote an article for Ragan.com about the use of social media by zoos, focusing primarily on the success being enjoyed by Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Mich.

For that story, I interviewed Jake Pechtel, Potter Park’s “Swiss army knife” of online activity. As I was reviewing my notes and pulling the basics of my Ragan story out of them, I also found pearls of wisdom and insight that I thought everyone could learn from as well.

Here are some thoughts from Pechtel not just about doing social media for an organization, but doing it in a way that he believes leads to success:

  • “I don’t think I market to people on social media, I’m just having a dialogue. That’s one of the key pieces of the code I follow when making any content.”
  • “I’ve really been pushing that they (a social media operative) are your largest audience spokesperson. They are the person with the biggest voice and capable of great or terrible things. You have to make sure they are responsible to your brand at all times.”
  • “Don’t just throw your fans out to your social media sites; don’t forget about your core Web site. Too many places have decided to drive everyone to their Facebook page. Facebook is really popular right now, but it could go away. Then what?”
  • “People like to throw this job at interns, but it’s not an intern’s job. It’s a big unknown, and it’s really easy to mess up, in that you won’t get people to engage. If anybody is taking it seriously, it’s at least half of somebody’s job. In reality, it could be a full-time position. This person is responsible for creating a lot of creative content. That doesn’t always happen between 9 and 5.”
  • “It is possible for big companies to have one person have a major impact on their business.”
  • “I still feel like there’s no true guru of social media, although there are a lot of self-proclaimed ones. People have called me a guru, but I’m just fumbling my way through it like everyone else. The content of social media changes every day — it’s about what people want to talk about at that moment, and that can change dramatically from week to week. “

Two more notes that caught my attention were about the zoo’s blog and how to handle trouble on a Facebook wall.

Pechtel said they treat that blog as another type of social media, which “really helps tie our site to the rest of social media.”

“We do Q & A pretty successfully with our blog,” Pechtel said. “I researched it and big zoos and organizations had great posts, but no comments. So I had to wonder if we should even do a blog.”

He noted they received 12 comments on their first post and have had comments on almost every post since.

“The idea is to have a glimpse of the zoo from every angle. I write, the veterinarian writes, zookeepers write, docents write. It’s a really cool way for people to get a unique view of the entire operation of the zoo. ”

Regarding the Facebook wall, Pechtel said he monitors it continually, not just during the workday, to see if there is anything inappropriate being posted. But what about the stuff that isn’t obscene or a spam link, but a legitimate concern by folks who are not fans of zoos? Pechtel said leaves those on the wall but tries to respond to the questions or concerns.

“If you truly believe in your product, you should be able to defend it,” he said. “We never argue; we educate. We’re doing what we can with the staff and budget we have. If people complain about how we could be doing something better, I’ll often agree and talk about how we rely on our community and invite them to come out and volunteer and help us do it better.

“We don’t go on safari anymore to capture animals for the wonderment of the white man. These are animals born in captivity to be raised in captivity. Most of the time, we have engaged community members who are responding before I even get to it.”

I hope this glimpse into the workings not just of the Potter Park Zoo’s social media activities but into the mind of the guy running it all proves helpful to you. As always, your comments are welcome, and if you have any questions for him, I’m sure he’d be happy to help. As always, I’m available for simple assistance or more complex consulting here.
Oh, and don’t forget to shut your computer off from time to time and go visit your local zoo!   smiley

Having an audience is nice; having a community is worth talking about

A friend of mine recently joined Twitter and what makes that newsworthy is how adamant Laura has been about not jumping on the bandwagon. She tweeted this morning:

Has enjoyed all the comments about hell freezing over because I joined Twitter. Still need someone to help me use it properly 🙂

I’ve offered to help her learn the ins and outs of Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and other tools that can help her manage the new information firehose she just pointed at her life. But what I really need to get across to her is that we’re all just making this up as we go along anyway, so as long as she engages, that’s all the “proper” she needs to know.

This past weekend, I was listening to a For Immediate Release podcast that featured Benjamin Ellis, a “social technologist and serial entrepreneur.”

Ellis’ presentation at the Dell B2B Social Media Huddle had a lot of great content. But one of the things that got me thinking was when Ellis pointed out that “audience” and “community” are not the same thing.

Here’s where my thoughts led me: When it comes to social media, so many people are talking about gaining followers and fans and getting people to “like” their brands or organizations. But what are they really gaining from those efforts?

If people see the information you post and learn from it, that’s helpful. If people share that information with others, then more people are seeing it, which is even more helpful. Nevertheless, both are examples of having an audience of followers and not a community. The people receiving the information are passively absorbing what is being talked about and not necessarily taking action because of it.

If you have a community of followers, however, you’ll soon see those people engaging with you because of your information. Perhaps it’s as simple as not just sharing information, but commenting on it as part of that share. Perhaps it’s being compelled to take some action because of the information they now have. Or maybe it’s someone posting a comment to agree or disagree with your position or offering constructive criticism on a product or an idea.

The difference between an audience and a community is the level of engagement. Social media and social networking are about being social, using a new medium and networking. But the true power in all three of those activities is the ability to engage.

The power of social media comes from the ability to affect change due to simple and fast communication. But the only way to affect that change is to engage to the point at which people are driven to act in some way. It doesn’t have to be some life-changing epiphany. It can be simple feedback, a discussion that helps you open your mind to something new, or even inspiring people to try a restaurant in town that they’ve never visited but could use some new business.

I’ve taught at the university level for more than 10 years now. I can tell you firsthand that having an audience of students doesn’t mean they are learning anything from me. Having an audience of engaged students, however, means there’s a good chance they are learning – and so am I.

So the next time you think about how many followers you have or how many people like your product or brand on Facebook, also think about the last time you actually engaged with one, one dozen or 100 of them.

Having an audience is nice, but having a community is something worth talking about.

(Photo courtesy of Shirlaine’s photostream on Flickr.)