When I talk to people about social media, I often begin by making the point that social media is fundamentally about being social. The reaction to this polarises between people who think I am being facetious because that’s just obvious, and those who just don’t get what I mean until I explain it.
Part of the point I am making is that the number of people who will actually “get” social media, and use it successfully in their professional / public lives is probably limited. Being able to use the technical tools is something that most people can learn without too much difficulty, but then finding the right tone of voice, and knowing what to say and when to say it, can often be beyond many. And this process is further complicated if you are part of an organisation that is trying to use social media to improve the way they do things, as that requires blending the individual’s personality (often those of several individuals) with that of the corporate entity.
While advising people at social media surgeries and in other settings, I have had people say to me things like “I need to learn to use social media, but it’s a struggle because I’m not a social person”. I have to be honest with people like that. I can show them the tools and how they operate, but, unless they learn to express themselves and their personality, their effectiveness in using them will always be limited.
And then there are the “offline” people. The people who won’t give you their mobile phone number because they don’t want to be contactable all the time. And the people whose email address you have to guess to track them down. These are people who, while they might not be total technophobes, are not alive to the possibilities offered even by the “new” technologies of mobile phones and email to enhance the way they work and keep them in touch with their professional networks. I have had people like this ask me to advise them on using social media, and I have wondered whether they are ready to make such a leap from their current way of working to the 21st Century networked world.
Many such people also fall into the category of those who think they have to put their personalities on the coat hook as they enter the office door. I fundamentally believe that the modern world means that the most successful people are those who forget the dividing line between work and the personal and bring their personality to work with them. Many people who find themselves being asked to use social media at work (and these are the people who are asked to do it, not those who volunteer) struggle because they’ve left their personality chained up on the bike-rack outside, and bringing it into the office seems wrong to them. Perhaps we should give such people warning that one day soon they’ll be required to rummage around in the backs of drawers at home to find that personality they thought they had lost and polish it up to take it to work.