7 ‘ups’: A rough guide to engaging social media in the public interest

Depictions of social media: Conversations Prism (left) and Social Media Starfish

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, in the of social media, we need to be as daring and adventurous as Sinbad. Like the legendary sailor of Baghdad, we have to take our chances and venture into unknown seas. Instead of maps or GPS or other tools, we must rely on our ingenuity, intuition and imagination.

During his seven voyages in the Indian Ocean, Sinbad had fantastic adventures going to magical places, surviving assorted monsters, and encountering a host of supernatural phenomena. Armed simply with his guts, wits and wanderlust, he sailed to places where no man had gone before, and certainly none had returned alive from!

Preparing for my Beijing session last week on using social media to communicate in the public interest, I did a good deal of web browsing and online reading. I came across many attempts to map or visually depict the social media (including two shown above). I also found some interesting lists and guidelines – my favourite so far is 10 Things Your Grandmother can Teach You about Social Media.

This inspired me to come up with my own rough guide to get you started and keep you going. As a salute to Sinbad’s seven voyages, I call it the 7-‘ups’.

Turn up. As Woody Allen famously remarked, eighty per cent of success is just…showing up. You won’t get anywhere by simply observing or critiquing from the sidelines. You have to wade in and set sail — for better or worse.

• Once we join the planetary conversation, we need to do some catch up. Find your feet – and niche – in the online world. The Internet turned 40 in 2009, and its graphical interface – the World Wide Web – is now 20. So much has happened in that time – and a lot has also been superseded. You need to know what’s on, and what’s not.

What's your winning combination?

• After catching up, we also need to keep up — at least with the mega trends. Large companies like Google – as well as hundreds of individual geeks – keep releasing new applications frequently, many for free use. Popular websites (such as Wired, Mashable and their local equivalents) help us navigate through these depths and currents.

• Next one is harder. We have to give up our baggage of old habits and attitudes picked up over the years. For many Digital Immigrants, leaving the comfort zone of paper was scary enough. How can we let go of complete control over our communication products and processes? But that’s just what the social media demand. It’s not a choice, but an imperative.

• It’s also helpful – though not quite essential – if we are less glum, prim, exacting and academic in how we relate to others in social media. In short, ease up, mate! There are some basic norms for online behaviour, but crusty intellectuals or matronly bureaucrats don’t gain much traction. Keep things short, focused and simple. And hey, it’s okay to be funny, cheeky and irreverent…

• Conversations in this realm can last for weeks, months or longer. Some topics and discussions tend to have ‘long tails’. When we start something online, we have to be clear when to engage whom and how. Equally important is knowing when to shut up. (A bore is a bore, offline or online!).

• And if all this is making you feel dizzy…just cheer up: there are no real experts in this field. No one is an authority. Everything is ‘in beta’. We are all learning by doing. Neither is there a definitive road map to the social media world. In fact, in this partly Undiscovered Country, there is plenty of scope to explore, innovate and be original.

Are you a land-lubber who doesn’t trust any seas? Let me then offer you another metaphor. Think of this as hitchhiking or back-packing online. Take your chances. Be adventurous. Discover a whole new world!

We have some advantages over Sinbad. The virtual world poses no real danger to our lives. But beware: social media can be very time-consuming and even addictive.

You have been warned.

Here, for some edu-tainment, is an interesting video on social media that I found on…YouTube:

A more compact version of the 7-Ups appears in MediaHelpingMedia

When it comes to climate change, we are all Maldivians!

It was Woody Allen who said ‘Ninety per cent of life is just showing up’. Well, part of the remaining 10 per cent must involve waving our hands and speaking out in this increasingly attention-challenged world.

My organisation, TVE Asia Pacific, lacks both a travel budget and a promotional budget. So I need to be both resourceful and persevering when showcasing our work in the vast Asia Pacific region and beyond. I attempt this by turning myself into a one-man cheering squad for our work in the public interest. (If this makes me something of a self-promoter, so be it!).

I was very grateful when our friends in Greenaccord accommodated my last minute request to screen our latest short film Small Islands – Big Impact at their 7th international media forum in Viterbo, Italy, today. This is what I recently made in the Maldives, one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to sea level rise.

I presented this at the end of the fourth day, soon after the gathering of 130 journalists and scientists from 55 countries had listened to 10 Climate Witnesses who travelled from far corners of the world to share their stories of ground level changes induced by climate change.

Here is what I said introducing the film:

Small and low lying island states are on the frontline of impact from climate change. That is why we made this film, so that we can highlight the plight of the Maldives in various climate related discussions around the world.

It is based on an exclusive interview that President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives gave me in August 2009. In this wide-ranging interview, he shared his concerns and visions for his island nation.

President Nasheed is an articulate, passionate climate witness on behalf of his endangered island nation of 325,000 people. The technocratic and amiable President is one of the youngest heads of state in the world today. Interestingly, he worked as a freelance journalist when he was in exile for several years, and remains very accessible to the international media.

As a journalist and broadcaster, I’ve been covering this story for over 20 years, from the late 1980s. I have seen how the vulnerability of small island states – like the Maldives – has risen up in the international discussions on climate. Sustained reporting by journalists has played a significant role in this process.

We have unfinished business. As President Nasheed says so emphatically, we are in this together. We need to work on coping and survival strategies.

When it comes to climate change, we are all Maldivians.

This is the second time a TVEAP film has been showcased at a Greenaccord event. In October 2006, the post-tsunami Asian environmental series The Greenbelt Reports was previewed at the 4th Greenaccord Forum.