I’ve been working with a number of organisations and individuals recently on developing their social media presence. It’s rather uniquely fulfilling for one very simple reason. Training is often rather one sided, the traditional model being that i know something and i’m teaching it to you, but social media brings a different dynamic.
Social tools are enabling technologies. They are a channel of production and distribution that has very low barriers to entry and which amplify a single voice. Mastering the technology is simple, although working out what to say can be challenging. In essence though, you are enabling people to shine. Helping individuals and organisations to find their social voice, to establish their online community, to start broadcasting and interacting, is a dynamic and fulfilling experience.
The notion of social capital is not new, although it seems to be gaining momentum and it’s certainly the subject of more conversations than ever before. Even though i’d have to admit to not knowing exactly what it means…
Essentially, there is a space that people are colonising: the online space, the networked space. People who have staked a claim in the virtual world are already starting to feel the benefits, there are already commercial advantages. It might not just be ‘what you know’ and ‘who you know’, but increasingly ‘how you are engaged with them’. Increasingly, ‘how high is your social capital?’.
I’m presenting at a number of conferences, both in the UK and US this year, all of which have effectively come about through social media. There is no doubt that for me, personally, building my social capital has expanded my network at an exponential rate. It’s also increased my learning: forcing me to master new technology, forcing me to adopt a more formal approach to time management and opening me up to a vast range of expertise and knowledge, experience and friendships.
It might be slightly simplistic to say it, but i think we can usefully look at four categories of engagement, or levels of social capital. There are people who are highly engaged, with high capital. There are people who are becoming engaged, paddling around the edges. There are people who intend to become engaged, but may be holding back for a variety of reasons, and then there are the disengaged who have no intention of coming aboard.
People who are highly engaged can be viewed as the ‘Pioneers’. They are typically the type of people who, when they buy a new gadget, just turn it on and try it, without reading the manual. Whilst not many people are really sure what to do in the social spaces, this highly engaged crowd don’t particularly care. They are not sitting on the edge of the pool wondering if the water is cold, they are paddling around in the middle shouting at everyone else to jump on in. Some of them are competitively swimming lengths, whilst others, like me, are sat on an inflatable whales, drinking margaritas and hoping that the sun stays out.
The second and third categories are the most interesting in many ways. They both have in common that they are sat at the edges, looking in, albeit from different sides of the pool. Call these the ‘Grazers’ and the ‘Sleepers’. Grazers are happy to consume, grazing around the fields, but not really creating. Sleepers are not yet engaged, although they may dream about it. Or they may carry on sleeping.
People in these spaces typically share concerns. They are unsure what to say, unsure of protocol, unsure of why to say anything or unable to maintain momentum. There are, in fact, a hundred reasons why people are not fully engaged, but they tend to be less likely to shape spaces, more likely to inhabit them. This is, of course, a generalisation, but i find it’s useful as a starting point. Grazers and Sleepers are people who are slightly engaged, or thinking about it. Some may transition to be Pioneers, but it will be a minority.
Many of the people who we work with, indeed, the majority of the population, will fall into these categories.
The final category are the ‘Agnostics’. It would be wrong to think of them as behind the curve. They are simply not interested in the curve. For them, social media may be viewed as valid, but not relevant, or it may be viewed as nonsense. Some Agnostics may convert in time, others have taken a conscious decision to stay away, some simply don’t understand why they might want to engage.
Any population will contain mixes of all these people. We need to be aware of where the population sits, within an individual business or learning community, as well as more widely. It would be a mistake to create learning solutions that just cater for the Pioneers. It would be a mistake to just focus on the Grazers and Sleepers, and it would certainly be a mistake to ignore the Agnostics. Our aim is never to try to move everyone into a Pioneering role, but it is our responsibility, as people creating learning or interested in learning technology, to help people transition from one place to another.
We are at the start of a journey into more joined up learning experiences. Increasing use of social spaces and mobile technology is already apparent and will just increase as the utility improves and technology streamlines the systems. Whilst my aim is not to pigeonhole people, there can be value in taking different approaches for different people, trying to ensure that the approach matches their needs.
In a networked knowledge economy, people who are totally disengaged may be disadvantaged. Whilst this may be inevitable, we need to ensure that we don’t make it happen through negligence. Working with people to understand their concerns, working to understand how the technology can facilitate them engaging with their own communities, these are the ways to ensure that the benefits are spread widely and that we can all collaborate to learn something new.