Stuart Henshall says that you should Use the Tools First: Then Talk to Me:
I just walked out of one session where the presenter made a joke about Facebook. I checked; I’m fairly sure he’s not on it. That’s a big problem that exists here. You cannot talk about the impact of wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, tagging, even search unless you actually use them.
I agreed with this as soon as I read it and then wondered why. You don’t ask a doctor to have first suffered a disease before discussing how to treat it. Many academics in business school have never started a company, yet they can talk about the fundamentals of business.
Why is the Web, and especially social media, so different?
I think that one fundamental difference about social media is that they have a strong influence on the user, very much in a McLuhanesque medium/message/massage way. Those who come to web media for the first time are like adults learning a new language. You cannot start with the same advanced mental models and metaphors that you have in your primary language. Furthermore, if you do get to an advanced level in your new language, you may not have noticed it but the language, with its idioms, metaphors and culture, has had a strong influence on how you think in that language.
Social media change the way you communicate. Write a blog for a year or more and your writing (and thinking) will change. Use Twitter for some time and you will get an immersed sense of being connected to many people and understanding them on a different level. Even the ubiquitous Facebook changes how you may think of being apart from friends. Social media can change the way you think.
When you adopt a web social medium you are also starting on the bottom, or at the single node level. You have to make connections with what will become your network, either by connecting to existing relationships or doing something that helps to create new relationships, like writing a post. Starting over again, in each medium, can be daunting, especially for someone in a position of authority who is concerned about image or influence.
Yes, you need to use the tools first. You have to understand what it’s like to be a node in a social network. There is almost nothing like it in the industrial workplace or school system to prepare you for this. Therefore you won’t know what you’re talking about until you learn the new language of online networks. The only way to learn a new language is through practice. Social media are new languages.
PS: I took Stuart’s advice and downloaded the social web browser, Flock, from which I wrote this post.