Monday, November 8, 2010

How to Knit a Social Media Sweater

In the fishing town where I went to high school it was still considered normal to assign girls to home economics classes to learn how to cook, mend, clean and do handcrafts like knitting and embroidery, preparing them for their lives as Suzy Homemaker. At this time, the feminist movement was gaining momentum and, except for crocheting and knitting (crocheted clothes were trendy), I couldn’t have been less interested in developing domestic talents. 

As I moved out into the working world I regretted not taking the cooking classes and extended my wardrobe through sewing rather than crochet hooks. So I was mildly surprised to find myself caught up in the re-interest in knitting and crocheting that’s happened in this decade. A few friends have asked me to teach them and I was pondering what, besides pure stitch instruction I might pass on, when like the light bulb in my logo, I got a flash that learning social media for your small nonprofit and learning to knit are very similar enterprises.

Hang In There – It Gets Better

When learning either, be prepared to fail. Nobody gets it right their first few times out. Expect to get it wrong and your anxiety will likely go away. When you’re more successful than not, you can enjoy it more. And when it’s less successful, you can just nod and move on.

Analyze where you went wrong and if you can’t quite see the point where it happened or how it happened, ask someone for help. When you’re new to knitting, it’s hard to distinguish individual stitches – your mind hasn’t adjusted to seeing the patterns yet, so seeing where a stitch has been twisted or purled instead of knit, may require help from someone with more experience.

There are a lot of different things that go into making a successful knit project – the yarn you select (social media platform), the size of the needles (your presence), the pattern you choose (strategy), the tension you apply (tactics), how closely you pay attention (effort), how often you check your work (metrics). All of these have to be in balance for a successful project. And the way to get them in balance?

Practice, Practice, Practice

There’s no other way. You have to do it a bunch of times before you even start to get it right and even more times before it begins to resemble something useful. Give yourself time. Try a platform for at least six months, looking at your metrics, before thinking of giving it up. And don’t let yourself be distracted by the shiny new tools that come along during this time or ditch the pattern you’re working on for something you think is prettier. If you’re new to social media, the best thing you can do is pick a simple pattern to start out with; fewer twists and turns, adding or decreasing stitches, multiple yarns or stitch combinations will make it easier for you to begin to see with “new” eyes and keep you from viewing the construction and functionality of the project. You’re ambitious to get to Fair Isle knitting – that’s good, but get the basics down first or you’ll find yourself surrounded by tangled yarn and a project that looks more like Swiss cheese than a Swiss sweater.

Facebook has proven to be a great spot for nonprofits to train their social media muscles. Tons of how-tos exist on creating fan pages and posting and connecting and most places for sharing on the internet these days have a plug in or toolbar or phone app that makes it easy to update to FB on the fly. It’s a tested and proven platform, so why not start there? Another proven, smaller, platform is Twitter. It’s great for finding out things which you can then share with your FB friends, for initiating conversations that can be continued in FB. Several times I’ve heard it said, “Facebook is where you hang out with people you know; Twitter is where you hang out with people you want to know.” Get to know people on Twitter, invite them to your FB page.

Try to Enjoy the Process

I see a lot of people focused on the results of a knitting project or a social media campaign. In both cases, they want to get to the end before they’ve really started. They want to see a garment or a stack of sales receipts right away. In social media you can tell them by how their posts are always about them. In knitting you can  tell them by the poorly made scarf they rushed to finish and then couldn’t bring themselves to wear. Some things can only be learned through practice, but there are a lot of things you can learn from others and from taking enjoyment in the process of learning and exploring and sharing what you’ve learned.

There's No One Right Way to To It

There are as many ways to hold knitting needles as there are fingers. Learn the basics and then improvise to suit yourself, remembering that your efforts will probably yield mixed results until you start getting the hang of how you and social media work together.

Knitting, Social Media And Everything Else

Whatever the new skill you want to master – knitting, woodworking, cooking, social media, or playing the guitar – the process is the same:
  • Realize that at the start, you will probably suck and cut yourself some slack
  • Practice, Practice, Practice makes better, better, best
  • Get into the process of learning – if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it
  • Learn the basics, then make the process and tools your own

And - very importantly - the best work you’re likely to create will probably have less to do with you than with who you’re doing it for.

SM Tool of the Week:

Rockmelt (currently in invitation only beta) – a new browser built using Chromium (Google’s open source operating system), which provides more integrated social media tools and (bonus!) uses Chrome and Firefox Add-ins. See the video here and more info at their blog here.

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