It was a running joke when I was at Union Square Ventures that my job was to download as much rogue software to my laptop as possible. I'm a user... first and foremost. When we saw deals, my first question was, "When can I start using it?
Over the last few years, I've been in a fantastic position, both as a blogger, a VC analyst, a connector in nextNY and a product manager, to try and really get my hands dirty with so much social media... very much like getting the opportunity to live in another country and get immersed in the language. You can take Spanish classes all you want, but spend six months in Spain and you'll be more than just fluent... you may even start to think a few thoughts in Spanish.
So when Greg Verdino wrote about how social marketers need to get their hands dirty to understand this stuff, he couldn't be more on point:
"My point isn't that I know more than they do. Maybe I do, maybe I
don't. My point is that everyone in this business owes it to
themselves (not to mention their clients) to experience social media
firsthand. It is only by rolling up your sleeves and getting involved
with these channels as a consumer (even as a power user) that you can
truly understand how to leverage them (and tap the active communities
that use them) for marketing. You can't be a passionate user of everything
(who has time for that?) but I firmly believe that you do need to at
least try any new form of media that you plan to recommend to your
clients. The list of services I've tried is as long as my arm -- I
haven't loved every one of them but at least I can look my clients in
the eyes and give them my personal perspectives on them all."
What's most difficult to do is to converse with people who haven't gotten their hands dirty and attempt to debate the right course of action when marketing or building products for these spaces.
This is especially true in design, where many people are more focused on making something look fantastic versus being functional--a typical approach by someone who doesn't actually use an application.
I know I can never speak for every user... and every user is different... but I can see, from the inside, what people are doing in this spaces and within these applications. I talk to them and ask them why. Why are you in this social network versus another? How often do you go to it?
It's a little bit like "management by walking around". It's very undervalued, but its important to get out of your office and walk around on the factory floor once in a while to truly get a feel for how things are going on the line.
I think marketing & PR firms, VC firms, anyone who has any kind of business interest whatsover in social media needs to mandate that the decision makers on your staff, right on up to the top, all "walk the floor". Maybe Fridays should be "social media days" where the whole office plays in MySpace, Second Life, blogs, plays World of Warcraft, Twitters, etc... Like Google's 20% time. Take some Flickr photos, poke some people in Facebook... (virtual pokes only, please)... Hell, go nuts and create a few speaking stand-up comedy avatars. (Shameless Oddcast pitch) The point is, "getting it" isn't a function of being smart, or having experience with other forms of media...