Is it work? Is it learning? Is it fun? And why oh why? An attempt at an inquiry.
“So, what do you actually DO on social media?” This question came up a few times in the last months, and in very different areas of my life – usually met with puzzlement at me either apparently using it “all the time” or “hardly at all” compared to the person that was asking. Which of the many platforms they meant when they asked about “social media” also seems to have played a role.
Put on the spot like that, I was not able to give a very satisfying answer, let alone a halfway well-reflected one. And quite frankly I wasn’t entirely sure about the ‘what’, ‘how’ and some of the ‘why’ of my usage as I hadn’t really thought about it. That got me curious, and then using the fairly unrestrained Christmas break trawling through my activity feeds, data, observing what I tend to do, and when I use it and attempting some honesty what I’m getting out of it. The below mostly refers to Twitter and to a much lesser extent to LinkedIn unless I mention something else. Action, observation, theory building – rinse and repeat. And likely fiercely biased.
Some of what I do when I do social media, how I do it and why:
Working out loud, sharing topics that are connected to my work. I write about leadership and occasionally about L&D, social learning etc. I share a lot of what I write, a lot of it as it emerges, over multiple channels. And I love getting feedback and input (and I get it and it is helpful) and read what others do and it sharpens my thinking.
Tapping into my network for information (e.g. tech, platforms, providers etc for e-learning projects) – this shortcuts painful learning curves and unnecessary detours (especially when tech is involved) and even more grey hair. I like to be au courant but without making this a full-time thing, so following and interacting with experts is key. I also try and enjoy helping others out with information where I can. Twitter chats are great to broaden the network in these fields and to have touch points of professional self-reflection each week.
I often do work where I am one of a kind or one of a few in an organization, and having a broader network saves my bacon and keeps me sane when I am doing something that hasn’t been done before (or not like this, or not here etc). This can be quite lonely so I take comfort in community.
Networking: Staying in touch with people I am unfortunately not able to see as much as I’d like. Some of this might have started as “professional networking” (ugly term) at some conference or another, and has morphed into participating in each other’s lives to a certain extent, sharing successes and failures, being silly together, sharing personal stuff, inspiring and supporting each other.
Like all human relationships, they build and grow interaction by interaction. And in this case, across all channels humans can communicate on (some of these are social media, some involve wearing name badges and some of them occasionally end up in a pub with a beverage or at Nando’s with a bunch of fabulous L&D folks). Definite use-case is to check in, to reconnect and see what these lovely humans are up to. I miss them. Often we talk about work and do some mutual “bacon-saving” but the conversations go broad and deep and sometimes somewhere different entirely.
And at some point some relationships seem to call for a physical Christmas card and then you realize you have no idea where they actually live. Still. The connections are real, this is not just in my head (god I hope it isn’t).
Staying up to speed on what the L&D community is talking about, and that includes other fields key to my practice (leadership, design thinking, UX, tech, entrepreneurship, innovation, education etc). This is to expand the bubble, to not get all my information from the usual suspects and to get it at speed, independent of publication cycles or mainstream conversation. I aim to be able to sense trends early, and that requires casting a wider net in what information and conversation so I can start connecting the dots.
This requires being open and not knowing what that bit of information is going to do with all the other bits about to come over the next weeks. Some of this falls into place, most of it doesn’t, and that is OK, I treat this almost as a form of meditation, practising non-attachment. It’s how this thing works – unless I am missing a point in which case please do enlighten me.
And just have a good banter that other friends from other parts of my life might not find half as funny. Like #LnDpubnames conversation on twitter a while ago which all in itself has made everything worth it with the sheer amount of pleasure this gave me (I should probably get a life at some point).
Staying up to speed what key influencers, practitioners and thinkers in fields relevant to my work are reading, doing, thinking about and writing. And get to (somewhat) “meet” them.
I can hang out in the backchannel of conferences I can’t attend but would have loved to (total cost for attending over the last 12 months would have been in the lower 5 digits had I physically tried to be at all of these).
I get notified the minute the article drops so I can read it, and when they publish some thoughts to the leadup of something I want to hear more about, it feels every bit as exciting as waiting for a film having seen the trailer (OK, I really do need to get a life or learn to inhale a box set instead of HBR articles or blog posts for commuting/evening sustenance). With some, this has led to personal connection that would otherwise probably never have materialized. You can dare to reach out – and you get a reply more often than not, experts are not just experts but also wonderfully helpful, encouraging and supportive individuals I found, and truly social.
Social media can level the playing field (for those who participate and who are reasonably social in it). You can be a member of a club that wouldn’t accept people like you as members – or you can at least be in on the conversation (as far as it plays out on social media). There are still leagues and you might not be in any or not in theirs, but also in many ways there aren’t and that is a good thing.
If I want to (and I do), by following them I can have the top 50 thinkers in my field essentially curate part of my news feed for me. And I get the immense privilege of catching a glimpse of their professional-practice-in-the-making, I essentially get to look over their shoulder what they are reading and who they interact with (as far as it makes their way onto twitter). It’s an apprenticeship of sorts, and one that would not be possible without this technology and one that wouldn’t scale the way this does.
As somebody who does personal development for a living and always wants to know what something had to do with the person who made it, and how that person became who they are by doing what they do. I get a massive kick out of that, and it gives me hope for the person and practitioner Christine Locher that is ever-evolving and there are days where I need that role modelling of people who had a few more practice laps in. This is also what is distinctly different from just waiting for the next HBR article to drop. This takes professional and reflective practice to an entirely different level.
This is what I always dreamed of since I was a student in the 90s (oops I said it) and I heard about the possibilities of the internet as possibly levelling the playing field for the first time as I worked part time in the staff of Hubert Burda, catching visions and ideas in the process and learning to connect them to a bigger picture and to spot trends. Some of this has actually come true which still somewhat baffles me.
Own growth edge: Playing around with specific output formats and getting countless practice laps in.
My previous career was in online and radio journalism. A part of me enjoys tinkering around with new channels, formats, what beauty looks like there, and how I can use them to make a difference (or just have fun). One of my goals for 2017 was to get more comfortable making short videos, so I started playing on Instagram and did one every day over several months. It helped. A lot.
It also made it clear that the topic I mostly talk about (values) is not going to run dry over time. A slight fear I had – unfounded, it turned out, it is deepening and expanding, and people seem to enjoy engaging with it, and the more I think, feel and talk about it, the more it changes and transforms my own life, and from the feedback I get, also the ones of others. For some reason I needed to hear myself talk about it and reflect on this in relation to how my actual day was day after day after day (and then to reflect back on how this evolved over time, timelines are great for that) to realize that. #workingoutloud
So, most definitely learning, comfort zone stretching and brilliant practice to ad-lib for a minute while making sense. Learning the ins and outs of a completely new platform to me. And getting used to the sound of my voice recorded in a different language with yet another accent (my radio days were 15+ years ago). Realizing my face is actually a lot more asymmetrical than I was aware of, I honestly had no idea, and that my teeth are surprisingly white given the amount of coffee I consume. And that it really doesn’t matter. And showing up on camera day after day even when you are really not feeling up to it sometimes. The beauty of the discipline of a daily practice. That in itself has value and helps with growth.
Accountability to GSD (get s*** done):
Making things public and enrolling others is a good way of holding yourself accountable. That’s not new. On social media you can take that to a whole other level (there is no way I’ll get out of the book situation without an actual book – that was intentional, I knew I was going to need that so I made it like that). There are lots of groups out there, a lot of them focus especially around accountability and helping each other. For entrepreneurs, the community of the IoD and the group “Coffee with Dan/Espresso with Dan” are two I can particularly recommend. Both feed very different aspects of business and sides of my personality, the combination is unbeatable.
And a few confessions:
I miss my past as an journalist. There is a part of me that just really enjoys hanging out in these spaces and to play with the virtual furniture. I love the speed and the slight information overload. Looking at tweetdeck in multiple columns gives me the same sweet, heady adrenaline rush I used to get in front of the raw agency newsfeed screen back in the day. This might be near-empty calories for the most part but oh how amazing this feels in the moment…
Also, I like cats and I tweet pictures of my manicures (but only the good ones).
And I like “likes”, “<3” and stuff like that. And pictures of food (well, the food really).
I am human. (Which apparently in internetland mainly consists of being able to identify pictures with shop fronts or street signs in them. I’d like to think my personal standards for what being “human” means are a bit higher but there you go. The internet also has its downsides. We brought this onto ourselves. Values, anyone?)
In the initial draft of this, as I tried to draw meaning and identify patterns from writing this down and then reading it back to myself, I tried to segment this into “work”, “learning” and “personal” to have a bit of structure. I clearly wasn’t able to do it that way, it stopped making sense really quickly. Which is probably exactly the summary I was looking for all along. Lots of learning, lots of reflection in and on practice. It is all of that all of the time, just the mix varies a bit. Or it varies what I went in for compared to what I then came out with, depending on who and what I encounter while being “in there”. All of which makes it truly social, I suppose, and that was the whole point of it.
What is your experience with personal learning, growth and communities of practice on social media? What do you recommend and how does it make your life better?