Hi! I’m Heidi Cool and I’m a marketer who builds Web sites at HeidiCool.com Web Design and Strategy in Cleveland, Ohio, USA (founded in February 2009).
Before we called it social media
I started dabbling in what we now call social media in 1990 when I joined the Cleveland Freenet, where I discovered Usenet Newsgroups. There I began following groups on topics ranging from the X-Files and Volkswagens to marketing and advertising. Soon after that Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web, and I started tinkering with HTML to see what made it tick, and what I could do with it.
In those early days Usenet was a critical resource for me. Sites like NCSA’s “A Beginner’s Guide to HTML” told me the basics, but groups like alt.html (now inundated with spam) gave me a way to compare notes and ask questions of others who were also getting to know the Web. Usenet newsgroups gave us the technology to share ideas with other Internet users around the world, much as we do with services like Facebook and Twitter today.
As I learned more about the Web for personal use, we were also exploring it at West Group, where I worked as a product marketer for a line of law books and other legal research materials. There I created an Intranet site for our division and developed content to promote our products on our Web site. This experience led me to my next job, Assistant Director of Communications for Development Programs at Case Western Reserve University, where one of my functions was to oversee the Alumni Web site.
From marketer to Webmaster
Overtime I was spending less time on traditional communications projects, and more time building Web sites for university events and development. Within a few years I was transferred to the marketing department to work first as a Web designer, then as Webmaster. As Webmaster I maintained the university home page, built and developed top level sites, and advised Web maintainers across campus on Web development issues ranging from HTML to content development and marketing. This latter role meant answering questions on everything from uploading files to whether or not department X should have a Facebook page.
In order to answer such questions, I had to keep up with the latest developments on the Web, and I needed a way to easily distribute this knowledge with our campus community. Case had created a campus blog system on the Movable Type platform, so in 2005, a colleague and I created the Web Development Blog. There I began sharing best practices, tips and other things related to Web development.
Early exploration of social media
At that point in time, the two social media services I was using were Facebook and Flickr. Initially Facebook was used mostly by students to communicate with each other, so I only checked it periodically. As an avid photographer, Flickr was more important to me. It gave me an easier way to archive my pictures and it gave me a way to easily share campus photos with anyone on campus who might need them for their projects. Flickr is also social. By adding other users as contacts, I could keep track of images they shared and vice versa. This was useful at work, in that I could make contacts with colleagues, but it also extended beyond that.
In the coming years, as I became more dependent on Flickr, I kept blogging. As I checked my blog stats I saw that my audience was growing to include people outside both Case and academia. I also saw that some of this traffic was coming from new places. Some of these were social media services. For example one day I noticed that I was getting more traffic from a site called StumbleUpon. I followed the link back to the site and discovered it was a cool place to share sites with friends and others interested in similar topics. Since it was also driving traffic to my site, I also realized it had marketing potential, so I joined that, and other services, to learn more about them.
Social Media Explosion
As I was getting to know these services, more and more were being created. By 2007 there were already thousands of social media services available. In late July of 2007, my friend Tiffany (whom I’d met on Flickr) sent me an invitation to join Pownce, a new social media service that had been launched for private beta-testing in June. Pownce had been getting a great deal of media attention as a competitor to Twitter (launched the previous year) so I was happy to get the invite to test out the service. Initially I was as lost as anyone using a social media service for the first time. I didn’t know what I should write about, or if people would think my posts were trivial. But I soon discovered a very welcoming community and came to know others who were also interested in topics like Web design, photography, philosophy, food, etc. Within no time I made Pownce a part of my daily routine, checking it during lunch and in the evenings after work. Here I could share ideas and best practices related to Web development, ask advice from my peers in the industry or just share a favorite music video. This is also where I first met Wayne Smallman, the founder of this blog.
Pownce alas is now defunct, but it played a key role in my adoption of social media. While before I had only used social media for a few specific functions, I was now using it for everything from marketing to professional development. Pownce led me to join more services such as Twitter and to make more active uses of services like LinkedIn that I was already using. Now 2 years later, I’m a member of more social media services than I can count, and I regularly advise clients on ways to incorporate social media into their Web development and marketing projects. I also use it to market my own business and to stay current with the latest developments in the field.
Heidi Cool online
If you’d like to follow me in the various social media spaces, I have a list of services I use most often (and why) on my social media profiles page. I look forward to meeting you—outthere in the social media sphere—and here on Social Media Marketing Technology.