Social Media – It’s Social, Isn’t It?

I’ve come across a couple of interesting issues recently in talking to people who come to Social Media Surgeries, and who are seeking advice on Social Media in other ways. I’m posting them here, because I am wondering if this is the challenge of the early adopter needing to understand the mindsets of people who have not got to the stage of adoption yet.

Bradford Social Media Surgery

Issue number 1: Fear of being followed Maybe it’s the terminology that Twitter uses. I think we’ve all grown up with a fear of being followed. It conjurs up images of stalkers lurking behind lamp posts. When I’ve been helping people get to grips with Twitter a number of them have told me that they feel very uncomfortable with the notion that strangers might be “following” them. Often, when I ask them what they are likely to say on Twitter that they wouldn’t want strangers to see, they struggle to think of anything. Perhaps this is because the question makes them think about what “following” actually means in the Twitter sense, as opposed to in other contexts, and this makes them realise it is not that threatening after all. But, there are also some people who really struggle to grasp the concept of a communication medium that is about talking to strangers. They are comfortable with Facebook and instant messaging programmes, because they are about talking to friends, you can control who sees what you say, and, by-and-large, they are mechanisms for continuing conversations online with people you meet regularly face-to-face. Twitter is different, yes, we can use it to talk to friends and colleagues, but, if that’s all we do with it, we are wasting a powerful tool; it is the talking to strangers element which makes Twitter different to the rest.

I often say, that it is relatively easy to show most people how to master the technical aspects of social media, but it is much harder to give them things to say, and harder still to make them into the sort of person who wants to share all the time. This has made me re-evaluate my thoughts about the future of social media. I had been thinking that Twitter was on an never-ending growth curve, and that, eventually, everyone but the most anti-social curmudgoens would be sharing details of their everyday lives. But, perhaps this is why organisations have marketing people and the rest just talk to people they know(?) Maybe there an awful lot more people than I had thought about who are made to squirm at the thought of strangers knowing what they are up to. And, perhaps Twitter and other tools are simple short cuts to extrovertism for those who never knew they were extroverts, me included. The other aspect of this is that I don’t think Social Media is a good mechanism for those people traditionally thought of as extroverts, i.e. those with broadcast personalities, who are constantly talking and never listening. These kinds of people are really annoying on Twitter and other platforms.

Just as a coda to this topic. I used to work with someone who was a real sceptic about Twitter but decided to give it a go. He signed up, but soon hit problems. Every time he got an email notification of a new follower, he would run around the office exclaiming “I’ve got a new stalker. Who IS this who’s following me; what do they want from me?”. This seemed to cause him great stress, not to mention the stress felt by his colleagues who had to suffer his reaction. I think it was about 10 days before he decided he couldn’t take any more and deleted his Twitter account.

Doncaster Social Media Surgery

Issue number 2: Do we need permission? The rise of social media has ushered in the age of the amateur. We can all get out there on the internet and try stuff out till we get it right or decide it is never going to work for us and give up. Some people are building lucrative careers on the back of stuff they never knew they could do till they tried it via social media. To many, this is the realisation of the JFDI principle (look it up if you don’t know, I’m not going to spell it out here), and the dictum that “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”. But, some people are just not comfortable with this. They NEED to ask for permission before doing stuff, and they are lost if there is no one to ask. The idea that you can just set something up online and not need a committee to sign it off for you is an alien concept to some. Someone said to me the other day,”so how long does it take Twitter to approve a new hashtag?”. When I explained that hashtags, like so much else in social media, are a user-generated thing and there is no one to give approval to them, I think it came as a bit of a shock.

So, these are two issues I have come across recently which made me stop and think. I had never really thought about them before, because I am the sort of person who likes wading into new stuff and seeing what possibilities it opens up. But then, I am an early adopter, most people are not. How do we bridge that difference in approach?

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