My advice focuses on how to manage your digital identity, how to use social media, and how to advance your social capital. If you are a Silicon Valley digerati with your own web site, your own Seesmic, Twitter, Flickr , Friendfeed and Upcoming accounts, you can stop reading now; if you're a normal person, read on.
Let's pretend that, if you're like most people, you have been super-busy at work trying to show your value and keep your job. Let's assume your resume isn't current, you only see your real friends, and you don't do networking events because the payoff doesn't see great enough to make the lost family time and or driving cost worth it.
Let's also assume that for you Facebook is where unwanted college friends you're happy to never see again find you and hunt you down, and that Twitter just seems silly. And as for Seesmic, what is that, an earthquake?
That perspective is all good if you're busy being Mr. BigCo's drone, but if you're falling into free agent land -- you have to do better. Not only is social media critical to show how cool and up to the minute you are, it's a great way to be visible as you journey onward to the next big thing.
So, here are some tips on Susan's favorite social media tools to ease your journey:
1. Make Facebook your friend.Maybe up till now Facebook just seemed like something for the kids, or a good way to be stalked by people you wish hadn't found you, but Facebook is also a rich source of friends and connections that can lead you to opportunities, jobs, events. If you don't have a Facebook profile, make one now -- with pictures, please -- and then use the "Find Friends" feature to open up your email and send invites to everyone you know who has a Facebook account. If you've made sure to put in enough accurate detail about yourself that it's clear you're not a Bot, a high percentage of your contacts will accept.
Once you have 25+ Facebook friends, and are posting a news update about yourself in your newsfeed once a day, start checking out your friends' events. If you can find some professional networking events you want to go to, accept invites for them; if not, just leave comments on some of your friends pages. Soon as you've created 4-6 posts for the day, you're ready to move on to twitter.
2. Say tweetTwitter, a micro blogging platform that shares your updates with people around the world and lets you read the same from anyone -- friend or stranger -- that chooses to post without locking, or protecting, their account, is the newest way to interact with people in the digital world. Typically, people create accounts with their real names and locations, and links to their web sites and/or blogs, and then share thoughts, links, and ideas with all those who "follow" you. Much has been written about the best ways to twitter, but the two things to remember more are a) just get in there and do it, and b) you can find people who share you interests or location by heading to search.twitter.com and typing in keywords like "mommy blogger, " "Napa," "laid off," or whatever. It is considered perfectly good form to "follow" anyone you see who has an open account (i.e., not protected) and looks interesting; they, in turn, may choose to follow you. There are lots of little web apps that provide interesting ways to read and post to twitter, but there's no reason not to just go to twitter.com and try it before you go all fancy.
3) Your name web site or blogWe are truly at the moment when everyone on the planet should that the first thing that comes up when their name is Googled is their very own web site. Isn't that waay better than your old MySpace pictures, a post someone else made about you, or your music collection on last.fm?
If your answer to that is yes, where is your very own susanmernit.com?
Yep, you need something to go live with your name on it, so you have some control over what search engines pop up. If you're starting with nothing, the first step is to go purchase the domain someplace like GoDaddy.com, then figure out what you want to put there.
4) Word Press, Moveable Type, or Tumblr?This is a continuation of #3 and has to do with what sort of content management system, aka blogging software, you want to put at your URL (a tech person can help you do that). For people who don't want to update frequently, and who are more visually oriented, tumblr.com can be a great blogging platform and the thing to point your name to (see Zach's blog at http://zjarrett.tumblr.com for an example of how tumblr gives this young, aspiring chef a place to post pictures -- and, occasionally, rant about food).
For others, moveable type is a good choice because of the number of plug ins and formats it can support (see Susan Mernit.com). However, for most people, the CMS platform of the moment is Word Press (wordpress.com), which is flexible, easy to use, and has tons of plug-ins and features you can install if your ambitions swell after you recover from your layoff.
5) Update your linkedin profile and import your contactsMaybe you're into LinkedIn, maybe you're not. If you're out looking for work, or consulting, you should be. Into it, that is. Make sure to import all your contacts, but when you ask to link to people, remind them how you know them; if you just send a standard note and someone tells the system they don't know you, the spam guards are set on alert, not a good thing. LinkedIn is the ultimate rolodex; not only do you see when your colleagues and friends change jobs, you also get to see who they know that you might wish to talk to.
6) Flickr, it's quickrFor the full social media impact, you want to also have a public flickr account. Remember, this may not be the spot where you post those vacation pics with the drink in the pool and the falling down BFF, but it's definitely the spot where you want to post all those pictures of other local media butterflies who also go to meetups, barcamps, drinkups, brunches, conferences, and other events your professional world has to offer and forgo having conversation to take photos, just like you are about to do.
Why should you miss out on playing papparazai? Get a decent digital camera (Canon is fine), click away and then have a place to post your pix. Also, taking pictures at events gives you one more thing to talk about on your tumblr, twitter account, and blog.
7) Get an Upcoming.org account, and join Meetup.comOkay, if you're not in New York or San Francisco, you may find events on upcoming.org a little, uh, sparse, but if you're in a city where there's a good user concentration, upcoming is bliss. What I like is the friend feature, and what I do is make sure I can see what events my friends are attending. Not only do I learn about all sorts of fun things I'm not cool enough to hear of in the usual ways, I get to see who else is willing to admit they're considering a visit to the Folsom Street Fair or Coachella (in other words, you can say whether you're interested in the event, or definitely going). This is a great social tool if you're time has suddenly expanded, you feel the need to network and you have no fucking clue.
As for Meetup.com, the famous VC Fred Wilson liked it enough to give the team a pile of money and say it was the best thing since sliced bananas (well, not exactly, but in that vein). My own feeling is that meet up is the best there is right now, but that makes it pretty darn good.
Basically, what meet up does is give you the ability to form a group, like I just got laid off in Oakland.com, and recruit members and have meetings. However, and perhaps more importantly, it gives you a chance to search for groups you might want to join and events you might want to go to -- which is way easier, after all, that having to start something yourself just to go out. Meetup is particularly useful for professional groups and association, though there are tons of pagans, knitters, wine lovers, etc.
8) Go Seesmic, or 12seconds.tvIf podcasting is to blogging what audio is to text, seesmic and its little cousin 12seconds.tv are to micro blogging what video is to text -- in other words, they let you look straight at the camera in your Mac--or the little one you clip to your PC -- and record a short message right into your browser and uploaded into their service.
This is invaluable when you want to send a fellow unemployed person -- oops, I meant free agent -- a greeting, or when you have a burning need to put on dozens on hats to show everyone on the web how resourceful you are (or what a pervert).
The truth is while I just can't quite bring myself to use Seesmic, I see other people I know using it and it is just great. So there. Do as I say, not as I do.
9) Use these tools every day.Building a presence with social media is just like doing laundry -- it's repetitive, with a cycle of wipe, rinse, repeat. The trick is to modify your behavior so that you're connecting to people in your professional community via tools like Twitter, going out and meeting them at professional events, and then using social media to stalk them (oops, I really meant to write, to stay connected.)
Next up: How not to spend money now that your job is gone.