Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Challenge of Social Media Naiveté

Previously, we've discussed basic Social Media terminology, so we can all mean the same thing when we talk *about* Social Media. Today I'm going to try and do the same for how we *use* Social Media.

With the rising use of computer and mobile technology, it seems almost a given that anyone using Social Media is computer literate. One needs to have access to a computer or mobile device to text, to engage in email or on Social Media networking sites.

Computer literacy is variably defined within different contexts and by different groups but, for the purpose of today's discussion, we'll call it "familiarity and comfort level with the use of computer hardware and software."

There are many levels of computer literacy. A person may use a computer, but not know any of the names of the tools they are using. A person may understand "click that big blue 'E' picture on the screen," but not "fire up your browser on the desktop."

Typically, the more a person uses hardware and software, the more comfortable they are with it. I know many seniors that are as comfortable on a computer as I am. I also know people who are not seniors who, no matter how many times email (or Social media, or whatever) is explained to them, they really don't get it.

We all know people who, when you tell them what a thing is called, i.e., "This is called a profile," will respond with "Well no one ever told me that." Of course - you just told them, and so now they know, but what they really mean is, "No one ever told me that *before today* and I cannot learn something the first time I am introduced to the concept. I will need to be reminded before I internalize this and may never really do so, because I think of it as alien and too complicated for me to learn."

One of the worst assumptions we, as Social Media professionals, make is that a person online must somehow be computer literate. This may be true, but it is not a given. Also dangerous is the assumption that a person who uses one online technology is capable of understanding other technologies.

Which leads me to what I call the "Naiveté" factor.

I had a conversation this week with someone who uses online technology quite a bit. This person is in every way Computer Literate but, when faced with a new system that is not something they have previously used, does not make any connection between the way one system and another works. This person is Literate, intelligent, and also "Naive" about Social Media.

This conversation led me to a second conversation, this time about Twitter. It took me (and I dare say most Social Media-minded folks) about 30 seconds to figure Twitter out. Home, Profile, Retweeting, using the @ and # symbols - all seemed really straightforward to me. But, then, I have been on BBSs, Chats and the like for ages, and so it all was all of a muchness to me.

Two people this week commented that the initial Twitter page befuddled them - they had no idea what they were looking at.

I'm also not the only person to notice that many people do not automatically identify sponsored information versus unsponsored links - Google counts on that for income. I asked one of the people why they did not go to "Help" for help, and was told they did - they clicked a sponsored link that not only did not offer any help, it was worse than nothing.

No one likes to feel dumb and the smarter a person is the more annoyed they are about feeling dumb. Help screens that don't help make people feel worse, not better.

So, I spent a few moments creating this 1-page Introduction to the Twitter Home Page (click to get the full size):

This is a view of my Twitter Home Page, with explanation of some of the basic functions of Twitter. It may seem "obvious" to you that @ before a name means that that person will see your tweet, but to someone who is Social Media Naive, this is not at *all* obvious.

When I say "Naive" I do not mean they are a simpleton. I mean that previous use of other systems does not guarantee that they will apply similar skills to new systems. Each system, each technology, each platform is something new, and therefore, confusing.

On LinkedIn - nearly every day - someone asks "How do I change my email address here?" There is an easily visible "Account & Settings" button in the same place as most systems - upper right hand corner. If a user clicks that link, there is, among the many other Account settings, a link header that reads, "Change Email Address." It's that simple. And yet, nearly every day, someone is confused enough that they don't ever think to look on their Account to see if that is there. This is Social Media Naiveté. These people might be programmers, engineers, CEOs, artists, whatever. Intelligence and Computer Literacy have nothing to do with the issue.

Here are three questions to ask yourself or a client to help you decide if Social Media Naiveté is an issue:

1) When I get onto a new Social Media Network, Gaming Site or other Online Community, I customize my profile, then click around to see what the settings do and what applications are available? Y/N

2) When I get onto a new website, I expect the functionality to be simple, obvious and explained somewhere easy for me to find. Y/N

3) When I get confused or don't know what to do on a website I:

A) Go to the site's Help section
B) Ask someone
C) Try to figure it out and give up if I can't after a few minutes.
D) Don't bother.

If the answers look like this: No, Yes, C or D, then you or your client may be Social Media Naive. It doesn't mean that you/they don't want to be involved, or can't be involved. It means that you can't suggest Twitter, then walk away assuming they know what you mean. Social Media Naive people will need a little more training, a little tutorial in the "obvious," before you can work with them to develop a strategy.

If you are a SMN person, don't worry! Keep your eyes here and we'll walk through the various platforms from the *very* beginning. Yes, there are a hundred "How to Twitter" tutorials. I'll help you figure out "What is Twitter?" then let you move on to that next step. Feel free to save that picture above - that'll walk you through the "what the heck are you looking at?" part of the conversation. I'll do the same for the "Profile" page soon as well.

If you have questions regarding Twitter or any other Social Media - if you are confused by *anything,* ask in the comments field and I'll do my best to get you an answer in plain, simple words, without any jargon or delusion. Promise.
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