The other day, when I wrote five steps to understanding social media, I was joking. Well, almost. There really is much to be learned from the Age of Conversation authors.
HOWEVER, for those looking to engage with and understand social media, a great way to get started is to follow these five steps:

  1. Learn to love the hypertext. To engage in a conversation you first need to listen. In the blogosphere, the equivalent is reading. To find out where and what you should be reading (ie to locate the subject that stirs you to write, shout or rant about), you need to follow links. You can start with an aggregator/search engine like Technorati or Digg. Then, once you find a subject that picques your interest, follow it through … surf the links in the posts, visit the other blogs listed in the writer’s blogroll and click through to the sites of commentors. By doing this you will begin to make one sided connections between you and the bloggers that you are interested in.
  2. Become a card carrying member. Many of the social media tools, from Facebook to blogs, have their own terminologies and techniques. Unfortunately, the only way to understand them is to play with them. This means, starting your own blog, joining Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, Pownce, Twitter and so on. As you begin to experience the way that these sites work and as you start to become more interested in the topics and conversations going on in your newly forming community, you will soon begin to rationalise the number and type of sites that you use … and, of course, you will start to go where your friends go.
  3. Write, write, write. Setting up a blog is easy. You can do it for free with sites like Blogger or WordPress, or you can subscribe to a paid service like I do. All these options allow you to publish a blog privately — that means that you can write but do so only for yourself … that way, if "primetime" scares you, you can hone your skills on the QT. The most important thing is to just START … even if your first few posts are about starting out — remember in six months you will be a pro and in a year you will be a veteran … so the posts you write early on will become invaluable aids for other new bloggers trying to find their feet.
  4. Go public. When you feel comfortable, start commenting on other blogs. Make sure that your comments add value to the conversation that has been started (ie there is no point just writing "great post … check out my blog"). The best way to build a readership is to engage in debate. Put forward your views, write responses and link back to the posts that get your mind racing. Remember, social media is … well, social.
  5. Meetup. After you have gone public, you need to reach out and actually MEET some of the people who you read and who read you. This means stepping out from behind the computer screen and attending a meetup, a coffee morning — or organising one for yourself. If you are like my friend David Brazeal who lives far from everyone, then use the technology to bridge the distance — Skype is free and works even with dial-up.
  6. Surprise us all. Yes, that’s right. It doesn’t have to be a BIG surprise … but remember to keep your posts interesting. This means re-training your eyes and ears to pick out the gold from the events of your daily and professional lives. Provide your readers with a point of view, a service … something they can’t get somewhere else — your point of view.

I am sure you can find plenty of other advice out there … but for now, STOP reading. It’s time to get your blog on! Go write.