I have one. I have several sandboxes, in fact. This blog is one of them.
I also have a lot of theories but they are just that, theories. Thus, I need my sandboxes to test them out. It is important that we online professionals create spaces for ourselves where we can put our theories into action in order to test and learn from them.
Let me give you a concrete example: LinkedIn.
My theory: People will search LinkedIn for the talent they need using two primary criteria, 1) expertise and 2) location. Thus, their search queries within LinkedIn will roughly be structured as Topic + Expert and, possibly, they will add a geographic qualifier to that query so the search keywords turn into City and/or State + Topic + Expert. The other similar but more sophisticated scenario is that they will use the advanced search function, use Topic + Expert in the keywords field and use the zip code radius feature to find the experts near them.
Once they find you by searching LinkedIn, they will examine your profile to determine whether your credentials meet their needs and they will see if you have any mutual connections. If you do, they’ll use those connections as references and/or for an introduction.
A Defensive Digression: Let me digress for a moment to defend myself preemptively from the scorn that may be hurled my way for using the word “expert.”
Many online marketing people whose opinions I deeply respect ridicule anyone who calls themselves an “expert.” The reasoning is roughly that field of online communication is so vast and so rapidly changing that no one should call themselves an expert with a straight face.
It is an entirely legitimate point that I understand, agree with, and respect but disregard nonetheless for entirely practical reasons as you no doubt have surmised from above: People use the word expert to find the talent they seek. It is ridiculous, therefore, to refuse to use the term, particularly in a field where understanding search is a fundamental competence, purely on the basis of modesty.
In short, if you want to generate leads from search, get over it (he said, smiling).
My Experiment: I optimized my LinkedIn account primarily for the phrase “Internet Marketing Expert” but also for “Social Media Marketing Expert” and others that I imagined that a person who needed someone like me might use in their searches.
Then I sat back, kicked my feet up on the desk, and waited.
My Validation: Eventually, I got a request for a meeting from someone who had done just that, searched for a social media marketing expert in the Twin Cities, found me, examined my profile, discovered we had a mutual connection, inquired with that person about me, asked for an introduction, and then we arranged a meeting with his client to discuss marketing on the social Web.
I’d just secured a new business meeting without really having to do much at all after having done the initial work of optimizing my account based on my theory of how my targeted audience would use LinkedIn.
Nothing has yet come of it and perhaps never will but I at least had an opportunity open up for me that wouldn’t have otherwise and I made a connection that may not have ever happened were it not for my efforts.
What Is A Sandbox?
A sandbox, I think, is any place you feel comfortable enough to use as a proving ground.
My sandboxes include this blog, any online account I open (and I have a zillion of them for that very purpose).
I have hosting accounts that I use to play with new technologies. I have installed Drupal on one so I can play around with it and figure out what it’s about and what it can and cannot do, what its strengths and weaknesses are.
In fact, in the online environment, all the world’s a sandbox, if you’ll allow me to butcher Shakespeare. As communications professionals, it is our obligation to, whenever feasible, validate our theories as much as possible before putting them into practice.
What are your sandboxes and how do you use them? I’d love to hear your experiences.