I’m a skeptic. When people tell me that something is free I generally don’t believe them. There is always some cost and while I may not be taking my wallet out of my pocket there is always some payment that has to be made.
Because of this mindset, the idea that social media is free isn’t something that I bought into right away. The idea that our school could use social media to communicate, market and share information with our vast constituencies was incredible. To my joy, as I looked at some of the major sites and service I would be using I found that they were indeed, for the most part, completely without cost.
- Twitter – All you need is an email address.
- Facebook – Again, all that’s needed is an email address.
- YouTube – Requires a Google account an you are good to go.
- Flickr – You need to set up a Yahoo account and your set with the basics. Flickr does however offer a Pro account for $24.95 per year (http://www.flickr.com/help/limits/#65).
- WordPress – You can be up and running in minutes at WordPress.com as well.
So you may be asking yourself if all this is free… what’s my point? Support!
With all of these services you will need to rethink your support model.
For schools and organizations that are used to the model where you pay for something and then get a phone number to call or an email address to contact someone, these are absent from most social media sites and services. You will need to have in-house support, count on the “community” of support that is available or contract with a consultant who specializes in this are.
Recently I have had to look for support for a few issues and share them below:
1. I needed to get a Twitter account to automatically post a tweet when there was a new blog post on our site.
This problem required me to find and then figure out a service that would do it for me. I had to do a few things because while Twitter doesn’t support this natively it does allow other sites to have “connections” to it. First, I went out of Google and tried to find services that would allow me to do this. I then reached out to people that I knew and asked them. I even posted to Twitter itself to see if there was someone who could help. In the end my questions was answered by Peter Baron (edSocialMedia blogger) who pointed me in the direction of TwitterFeed.
Twitterfeed was a fairly simpler and free service that would allow me to connect my blog to my Twitter account through it’s RSS feed. When ever the feed was updated a tweet would be sent out. This was what I needed, but even here, when I had trouble, I needed to post a question to their support forum and wait for someone to respond as there was no direct line for support.
2. I needed to post a custom HTML widget on our school Facebook Alumni page for annual giving program.
While there was some direction on the Facebook site on how to do this, I needed a little more help. I am the type of person that needs to see how it’s done in order to do it myself (call me a visual learner). So, it was back off to Twitter and Google. Eventually to YouTube here I found my answer in the form of a video based tutorial.
It required me to use Static FBML (Facebook Markup Langauge) to create the box needed to display the content and then move that content to the main page. I would need to watch the video again to better explain ow to do it… but the point is that the video is there for anyone to watch, you just need to be able to find it.
3. Lastly, with the success of our school’s Irish Studies Program blog I created and the growth of other blogs within the school we have had to move our WordPress install to a new server and switch to WordPressMU (multi-user).
While we had been hosting our WordPress blogs internally as individual blogs the move to WordPressMU was going to be more complicated. As with the other examples I was back to Twitter and Google, not to mention the support forums at the WordPress.org site. I had found a number of good posts in the forums and some other blog articles written, but in each case there were small differences in what we need to do that was different from what we found online.
It was Twitter and the use of hashtags (#wp / #wpmu / #wordpress) that helped. I was able to connect with someone (@andrea_r) who was a WordPressMU consultant and blogger who lover to share her knowledge. She follows the hashtags I was using in my posts and was helping point me in the right direction. This was great, but…. I needed to get the project done and couldn’t wait for her to get back to me when she had time to answer my tweets (she was answering so many other peoples questions too).
So I reached into my wallet, pulled out my credit card, added some money to a PayPal account and submitted a request for a formal support call to @andrea_r via her web site and had my problems solved within an hour. It was the best money I had ever spent and I was happy to do so.
Now you may be asking yourself still… what my point? Well social media IS free and if you are comfortable searching the web, forums, blogs (like edSocialMedia) and Twitter for help you are good to go. But, if you are like me and as in my third example needed an answer quick you may have to reach into your pocket and pull out that card because other than that you all you need is time, but that’s a topic for another post.