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Here's to the generous side of social media

While it's fashionable in some quarters to bash social media and its shallowness, it's surprising how generous many savvy users can be.

Screenshot of Twitter conversation shows how generous power users of Twitter can be.

It's become fashionable in some quarters to bash various aspects of social media. Whether it's the Facebook IPO, or mostly apocryphal stories about criminals using residents' status updates to rob empty homes, or complaints about users wasting time on different platforms. Most skeptics happen to be non-users (or light users) of social media, but I'm not using this post to push back against them.

Instead, I want to highlight an attribute of social media that is vastly overlooked by skeptics and most observers. That attribute: Generosity.

NOT JUST NARCISSISTS: Social media rightly has the reputation of being filled with narcissists tweeting and Facebooking their meals and shoe choices. One of my favorite jokes about social media: "I am so upset to learn China has banned Twitter. How will 1.2 billion Chinese know what I had for breakfast?"

It's easy to bash those kind of posts as well as the trending topics list, which invariably features items such as "#10ThingsIMustDoBeforeIDie or "#50ThingsILove" or the fake celebrity deaths. But judging all of social media by just those posts is liking judging the quality of all magazines by the wacky Weekly World News and its Bat Boy covers. Yes, there's lots of stuff worth turning up your nose at, but there are also jewels like the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Time, etc, etc, etc.

BE A GREAT POINTER: But what goes unnoticed is that there's a spirit of generosity and goodwill that also permeates the world of social media, especially among power users. The best users of social media don't point at themselves all day long. Instead, they point to useful, helpful, exclusive materials being posted by others, including, on occasion, their rivals.

Just as there's more transparency in social media and faster acknowledgment of mistakes and issuing of corrections, social media also encourages you to be a generous connoisseur of others' work. Most savvy users of social media are folks who shine a light on others on a regular basis.

Here's proof of this from a Twitter conversation that happened between two senior digital journos last night.

Liz Heron (@LHeron), director of social media and engagement of the Wall Street Journal, asked a question on Twitter and Jimmy Orr (@JimmyOrr), managing editor, digital, of Los Angeles Times, said some kind words about me in his reply (and so did Liz in her reply to his reply). You can see how that looked on Twitter in the graphic above.

If you tune into the most successful Twitter folks, you'll find their posts sprinkled with praise of others and interesting work in other media. My own guidelines include the idea that only one in every five to seven posts should be about you - for the rest, you should be you curating, pointing, being generous.

WAYS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE GENEROSITY: The flip side of the generosity is that we should all be doing a better job of tracking, acknowledging and reciprocating the nice things people say about us. One way to do so is to write a thank-you blog post for one of the biggest tech sites in the world, but I know that's not feasible for everyone.

Some simple ways you can acknowledge: hit "favorite" on specific Twitter posts you are mentioned in; hit "like" on specific Facebook posts; create Storify collections of positive things; do screen captures of the posts (Skitch is my favorite Mac tool for this) and store them online (say on a Picasa online album); post nice things about those who say nice things about you; share and retweet the work of those folks (if you have other ideas, please post in the comments below).

Two final thoughts on this item: First, I know it's odd to tell you that you shouldn't point at yourself and then write a post that basically highlights me, but I am hoping the greater point about the kind of posts that Heron and Orr (follow them, please, on Twitter) do comes across clearly.

Second, and more important, here's an image that captures what the immediate result was of these nice comments. My email inbox (yes, I still use Pine and Alpine, email systems that look like they're from the 1980s), filled up with notifications dozens of new followers:

Screenshot of some of my dozens of new followers thanks to the generous tweets by others.

NOTE TO READERS: Please post your thoughts in the comments below or e-mail me or tweet me at@sree or #sreetips on Twitter. If you've been reading my posts here, you know that one of the things I am trying to do is learn what works and what doesn't on social media. It's such a fast-evolving, confusing world that I believe we can all learn together. Thanks for reading.