Social media isn’t about personal relationships

I never thought I’d reach the point where explaining the effectiveness of Twitter would become such a big part of my conversations with people on social media. But it never fails that someone on a message board or in a conversation will recite the “I don’t care what people ate for dinner” anti-Twitter meme and I feel the need to put on my strategist hat and educate them. (When really, they just feel like complaining)

Social media tools are stream of consciousness amplifiers. They do more than this, of course. But their role bringing to the surface things that were most certain lost a generation ago to the public record make them easy targets for the uninitiated. For some, it’s just the watercooler on a much larger scale.

The biggest misconception about the social is that it’s about personal relationships. This accounts for much of the outsider Twitter rage. I began to revolt when news stations started assigning “reporters” to use Twitter as a focus group (Brad J. Ward smartly began using that as a way to help the tool to the uninitiated, not me.)

Most of the rancor comes from cubicle farmers. They feel left out, because they feel a declining sense of relevance about what they do. Plus, a lot of them don’t have the time in their days to engage audiences and the ones that do, find the whole process a bit too daunting. I imagine it must be like playing the same sport and getting good at it for twenty years, then picking up a new one and feeling like an amateur. It’s the sort of humbling that a professional who’s near the top of their career can find extremely uncomfortable to deal with.

Everyone doesn’t need to use Twitter. Media buzz convinces people they need to do things everyone else is doing, because it must have some relevance to all of us. But it doesn’t. Social tools like Twitter and Facebook are about connections and trust. If the majority of your circle communicate over the phone, with you at work or in other direct ways, tweeting them is a lot of work.

Heck, for some people even texting is a hassle. Then there are the people whose lives are so consumed with other stuff, they wonder how any of us have time for this stuff at all. But that’s for another blog post.

For many of the Twitter denizens, these tools get used in three key ways:

1. You use it to extend your network
2. Connecting to people who you already know (and ones you meet later.)
3. People who get introduced to you from other people.

Not everyone has a job that really warrants this sort of constant interaction. Is that a bad thing? No. The same insights, information and education gets transferred via word of mouth channels just as quickly as it does on the social web. The reason social web tools are amplifiers, is they’re taking what already exists in the status quo and helps people put messages — gossip, news or whatever else people talk about — on a fast-track that might fade into an abyss of nothingness or might be picked up and carried many times around the globe.

For some, that’s frustrating. They see the web as a place with huge pools of people, among whom, some must be just like them. When they can’t readily connect with those likeminded folks, it feels like a character flaw, so they immediately resent the technology that made it possible. They see the conversations other people have, with the inanities of favorite television shows, sports, music, relationships and so forth and immediately begin to think “surely nothing productive is going on here. What’s the point of this waste of time anyway?” While their shortsightedness is understood, I wonder how many social media experts (heh) are willing to actively say “you don’t need this. Go fly a kite or play with your kids. This isn’t relevant to your everyday life.”

Our insights are impacted by those we interact with. This is common sense, but the further people get from folks who don’t understand the social web and what their frustrations, concerns and problems are; the less acute the awareness of their problems tend to be. Staying connected to the people who have “no use” for the social web can only help those of us who do.

By sharpening our lessons through the questions of the accidental Luddites, we can improve the tools we use now and make the ones on the horizon even better.