Or . . . how a techie novice came to embrace social media.
Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve learned until you come across someone who is yet to embark on that particular learning curve.
I came to realise this recently when I started to talk about Twitter at a conference, only to be met with a lot of blank looks. Almost by accident I have become a citizen of the Twitterverse, and it is only when I encounter non-tweeters that I realise how much I’ve learned about social media over the past few months.
First some background about my relationship with ‘technology’ – I’m not an early adopter. I’ve long believed that there are two main types of people when it comes to attitudes to technology:
- “What does it do?” types – these are the people who are turned on by technology in and of itself. They like experimenting with new gadgets and technology. They like the functionality, and play with it to discover applicability.
- “What does it do for ME?” types – these people aren’t necessarily anti-technology, but they’re more cautious. They don’t particularly like playing with gadgetry. But when they find an application that fits with their day-to-day lives, they’ll embrace it with both arms._
- (Yes OK there is a third type, those who are inherently suspicious of technology in all its forms and wish it would go away. If you are in this category you won’t be reading this post anyway because that would mean switching on a computer.)
I fit into the second category: I’m not all that confident with gadgetry and have never felt particularly web-savvy (although I’m starting to realise I probably know more than I think I do – osmosis is a powerful learning tool).
As a Type #2 person, I had adopted a bit of a ‘wait and see’ attitude to Social Media. I joined Facebook and LinkedIn in 2007, and this was in response to specific needs that presented themselves at the time. It was not long after I moved back to Australia from overseas, and these sites were a handy way of keeping in touch with friends from the UK and make new business contacts respectively. And I’ve been a reasonably regular user of each since. But I think Facebook is more of a tool for sharing with people you know rather than for meeting new people, and LinkedIn is quite focused in its remit and tends to be a more formal networking space.
By comparison, Twitter is far more powerful and versatile as a communication and networking tool. I opened a Twitter account out of curiosity in late 2009 but it sat more or less dormant until the middle of this year, which was when I embraced the Twitterverse.
So what were the catalysts for this change, at least in my circumstances?
- Change of work situation: in the middle of this year I left full time work and started working from home. This gave me a desire to connect with people so I didn’t feel isolated; it also gave me time & space to get to grips with how Twitter works and how it could work for me (not that leaving your job is necessary to get your head around Twitter!)
- Programs like TweetDeck and Echofon: I never really figured out how to incorporate the Twitter website into the texture of my daily life, and have only just recently taken the plunge to buy a smartphone (as a Type #2 person, I’ve been getting by on my partner’s hand-me-down phones for the past decade). I found that TweetDeck was easily customisable, incorporated Facebook and LinkedIn into a kind of one-stop-shop, and could happily run in the background on my desktop. Meanwhile Echofon was a handy application for using on my iPod touchto follow live Twitter feeds in front of the telly. Being able to do this gave me a feel for how the medium worked. (An aside: I only have an iPod Touch because Dad was given one as a freebie. It took me ages to figure out what the point of it was, but it is now is my near-constant companion – typical Type #2 behaviour!)
- Finding stimulating people to follow: I’d heard all the hype about Twitter being all about celebrity banalities and people broadcasting what they had for breakfast. I didn’t think it was necessarily a place where grown-ups congregated to discuss things of significance. But I knew a few fellow science communicators had been tweeting for a while, plus I’d become aware of a couple of museum professionals with an interest in social media. So following these people seemed like a good place to start. Then, by following the #qanda hashtag during ABC TV’s Q&A and also the #auspol discussion during the lead-up to the Australian Federal Election, I also found more interesting people to follow. Plus there is a lively Twitter community in Adelaide and it wasn’t long before I found them and / or they found me.
- Getting over ‘stagefright’: I’m a fairly extroverted person, but I feared an off-the-cuff statement being preserved for all eternity in the virtual sphere. What if I couldn’t think of anything profound to say in 140 characters or less? What if I say something that comes across as stupid and it comes back to haunt me? I must say I’m still *relatively* careful about what I say in a tweet. But I now see that in the general scheme of things, my tweets are but grains of sand on a virtual beach – most people will only be half paying attention (at best) to anything I say unless I really go to town. Small sins are readily forgiven.
- Encountering a real community in the virtual sphere: through Twitter, I have participated in lively debates and discussions, shared links and valuable information, expanded my business networks, live-tweeted from conferences, kept up with breaking news and found out about forthcoming events happening in the Real World. (e.g. TEDxAdelaide had a strong Twitter presence before, during and after the day itself). I’ve even been to the movies and a picnic organised by #socadl. (Adelaideans in social media.) In short, I’ve made friends, broadened my professional network and come to know people I never would have encountered if I hadn’t taken the plunge into Twitter.
So my advice to the reluctant would be: give it a go! Terminology like handles and hashtags might seem a bit alien at first, but a bit of trial and error goes a long way. And it’s a great opportunity to feel part of a community of ongoing conversation.
Follow me into the Twitterverse!