In the past few months, I've reconnected with friends from kindergarten through college and beyond. I've discovered thought-provoking online articles and videos I probably wouldn't have found on my own. I've also read meaningless updates from friends, such as "I'm getting in the hot tub," or "just received a special gift from a special friend." And I've done it all through Facebook--the social networking phenomenon where Top Five lists reign, long-lost friends are reunited, and, inevitably, countless hours are consumed.
Don't misunderstand. I love Facebook, Twitter (you can follow my tweets), LinkedIn, and other social networking tools. And it's cool that you can post updates, pictures, and even videos to your social media networks from your mobile phone or smart phone.
Still, this whole social networking thing can get unruly if you're not careful. Here, then, are three tips for managing your social networking, and getting the most from social media tools--especially when you're on the go.
1. Twitter When You Travel
You're on a plane, and you're hungry. For whatever reason, the flight attendants have overlooked your meal, and now you're frustrated. What do you do? You tweet about it. Someone from the airline sees your tweet and sends a message to the pilot. The pilot tells a flight attendant that the passenger in seat 3B (or whatever) hasn't been served and is tweeting about it. And within a few minutes, your meal arrives.
Believe it or not, this scenario actually occurred aboard a Virgin America flight, according to Porter Gale, the airline's vice president of marketing. Gale relayed the incident at a recent Twitter conference in San Francisco. (Virgin America's entire fleet is equipped with Wi-Fi networking, which is how the passenger was able to tweet about the missing meal.)
While this is a highly unusual example, it shows how using social media on the go can have its benefits.
Here's another example: Paul Smith, who calls himself the Twitchhiker, attempted to travel from England to New Zealand in 30 days. What's unusual is that Smith asked for (and accepted) travel assistance for the entire journey strictly through Twitter, according to The New York Times. Smith made the trip in 23 days and raised over $7000 for a charitable cause.
Other travelers often use Twitter and other social networking tools to get real-time recommendations for restaurants or other businesses. So give it a try. You've got nothing to lose.
2. Don't Overshare
Does your home's answering machine or voice mail greeting tell callers that your family is currently on vacation? Not likely, because you don't want to inform potential crooks that the joint's wide open, come on in. So why would you post Facebook or other social networking updates, letting the world know you and your family are spending the week at Disney World?
From a home security standpoint, this is probably not a wise move, as Israel Hyman, a video podcaster, believes. Hyman traveled to the Midwest with his family and tweeted about the trip as it happened, as reported in Mashable. When he returned home, Hyman discovered his house has been burglarized. The police haven't linked Hyman's tweeting to the crime. Nonetheless, his plight raises the potential risk we face when we casually inform strangers we're away from home for an extended period.
To be safe, consider holding off on posting social networking updates until at least some member of your family is home.
3. Post Once, Update Many
Ping.fm makes it easy to simultaneously post to Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, FriendFeed, AOL Instant Messenger, blogging services such as TypePad and WordPress, and other social media sites. Currently, Ping.fm (which is free) will update about 40 social networks. Though Facebook is listed among them, I've not had success setting up Ping.fm to work with my Facebook account. (The instructions were complicated and confusing, which threw me into an endless loop and caused me to eventually bail on the whole thing.)
You can update your social media sites via e-mail or text message from your mobile phone. Ping.fm also works with the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. The service will automatically shorten URLs in your posts, and you can set up posting groups rather than blast an update to all your followers. Facebook glitch aside, this is a must-have tool for social media fans in general and iPhone users in particular.