Social media. No two words have had a greater impact on the way we use the Internet to consume information and interact with other people. But what is it and how can it benefit trading card collectors?
Simply defined, social media is any online channel, portal or website that allows people with similar interests to communicate. Using that somewhat narrow definition, the following outlets would fall into that category: blogs, message boards and forums, social radio, photo hosting services (Flickr, Photobucket, Picassa), video sharing sites (Vimeo, Ustream, YouTube), Twitter, and Facebook.
So how can a collector best use these outlets for building, enhancing, educating themselves, and showing off their collections? Let's take a look at the above one by one for some ideas.
Message Boards and Forums
This method of communicating has been around longer than any other form of social media. In fact, message boards were social portals long before social media became such a buzz phrase and important marketing tool. The key difference today is the sheer number of sports card, entertainment card and collectible forums available to collectors.
Some of the longest-running boards of their kind are Net54, which caters to vintage collectors and Trading Card Central. Other popular forums include Card Collectors World, Freedom Cardboard, Card Talk and Blowout Cards, to name a few.
Message boards are an ideal way of meeting other card collectors for trading. Most sites have built-in rating systems so you can find reliable people to swap with. Forums are also a great place to discuss the latest products, ask questions, and share your latest box breaks and hobby pick-ups.
Registering is easy and most forums allow you to post your eBay id as part of your profile so other collectors can easily find cards you might have for sale.
There are certain guidelines and etiquette that must be followed when using forums. Don't use profanity, make fun of other collectors or use threads to spam your auctions and things you have for sale. Each individual card-collecting forum has their own set of rules and regulations. Collectors are encouraged to read and learn them to get the most out of their message board experience.
The "blogsphere," as it is informally referred to, is a collection of websites written by individual card collectors that cater to an audience with similar interests. Some of the oldest of these blogs include The Baseball Card Blog and Stale Gum. These sites made their debut several years ago and paved the way for the explosion of the medium's popularity.
A specially created website to catalogue the many trading card blogs, Sports Card Blog Roll is an excellent resource to find which of these might be of interest to your particular collecting needs. There are currently over 340 blogs dedicated to trading cards.
The ability to engage the author and other readers via the comments section of any individual post allows for a two-way dialogue to exchange thoughts and opinions on the various topics being written about. Blogs can be a great place to get a better understanding of issues that impact trading card collectors or simply a way of reminiscing about favorite cards.
Most people are familiar with Facebook and many collectors use it in both their personal and professional lives. Most trading card manufactures, and some savvy dealers, have developed pages that offer a constant stream of information like contests, product previews, behind-the-scenes peeks at product development, current specials, product information and more.
While some industry users of Facebook lack the level of engagement necessary to make their Facebook presence really beneficial for card collectors, the information they offer via this social media channel can be very valuable in determining what products to buy, finding out if your favorite player is in a given set or checklist, etc.
Simply put, Twitter combines the news feed capabilities of Facebook with a micro-blogging functionality allowing collectors to engage, not only with each other, but industry personnel as well. The ability for a card collector to interact in this one-on-one manner has proven to be a useful tool for all parties involved. Providing trading card collectors with the ability to quickly voice their opinion on just-released product information, sharing hits from their breaks and getting fast answers to common or even obscure trading card and sports collectibles questions has proven to be a valuable tool for many collectors.
These sites also give a way to digitally archive your collection, quickly show off box breaks or share cards available for trade. While the engagement level isn't as sophisticated as other social media channels, the ability to share a simple URL with lots of collectors makes photo hosting sites such a tremendous tool.
YouTube is easily the most recognizable site for video hosting and a simple search of terms like 'box break,' 'sports cards' or any specific product name will return, literally, hundreds of results. They show everything from group case breaks to individual hobby box breaks to people opening blasters from Walmart of a just-released product in their cars.
The ability to leave comments provides a means for dialogue on the product in general or the specifics of the box contents. Many card trades are coordinated from first being seen on YouTube, as many breakers are more than happy to trade their unwanted cards with other collectors.
In addition to prerecorded and then uploaded video, Ustream provides a platform that allows the user to broadcast live. In addition to the video, a chat room is launched when the broadcast starts, allowing collectors to interact with the host and other collectors watching as well.
While most new computers come with a built-in camera for photos and video, those serious about broadcasting will want to invest in a better webcam or camera. There are plenty of inexpensive options that will make your videos and broadcasts stronger.
Yes, you read that correctly, radio. Traditionally, radio has been used strictly as a broadcast medium. However, advances in programming technology and the Internet have created a platform where collectors now have their own radio show to listen to and engage with.
Currently, two websites, BlogTalkRadio and TalkZone offer this ability. However, only BlogTalkRadio hosts the hobby's only live, nationally broadcast, sport card and collectibles radio show. The show has a live call-in switchboard and a chat room where collectors can ask the hosts questions or discuss and debate the topics in real-time. The program is Cardboard Connection Radio and has utilized this new social radio technology for almost two years.
Similar to videos, the microphone built into your computer might not be enough to pull off a high-quality audio broadcast. However, there are plenty of standalone computer microphones that will make a broadcast sound better.
To a collector, social media can be a blessing or a burden. It simply depends on what you plan on using it for. Remember to engage with people in a polite and courteous manner and manage your time using these tools as you would any other online activity. Additionally, there are resources available that allow collectors to bring together many of these channels into a single interface. Two of the most popular are TweetDeck and HootSuite. They allow collectors to easily find, follow and read the information that is most important to them as a collector and respond or engage accordingly.
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