Thursday, May 14, 2009

Social Media as a Woman’s World

BlogHer, the women’s blog network, found that 42 million women in the United States (roughly 53% of the 79 million adult women in the United States who use the Internet) participate in social media at least weekly. That doesn’t surprise me, because the more I become familiar with how social media works, the more I am reminded of conversations I’ve had with women and about women.

And I don’t say that critically—on the contrary. It’s just a matter of evolving or adapting to a different mindset.

Let me explain—as a male my focus online has generally been goal-oriented—to get things done.

My main website is like most, a corporate brochure of who I am and what I can offer to clients, along with a way to see what I’ve written and perhaps purchase a book or eBook.

Then when I got on Facebook, and eventually Twitter, I was disinterested at first by what I perceived to be mindless drivel, minutae and chit chat; if this sounds like something an honest male might say about having to listen to a lot of stuff about “a woman’s day” I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

So as I continued to track the social media juggernaut and saw how it enabled many to thrive online, I began to realize what I was missing. Where I had attempted to use my social networks and status updates in a traditional way—by simply promoting myself and asking people to buy or go to my site(s), I began to study the trend and noted that this was not the point.

Every social media commentary I have read, including the very excellent book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff , the J.A. Jones Blog, and the Mack Collier Blog - @mackcollier have led me to the realization that social media constitutes an evolutionary shift in consciousness in the online business world.

All of these books, and many more, stress the fact that if you are goal oriented in social media or heavy handed in your self-promotion, you are self defeating. On the other hand, if you listen to the ideas and concerns of others, contribute to a community of ideas, and generally participate without looking only for self gratification, you will see significant rewards in all areas of your endeavors, particularly in self fulfillment, over time.

In other words, social media is not a one night stand—it’s a long term relationship.

Mack Collier, for example, makes it a point to inform his followers on Twitter and his blog that he will simply ignore pitches of any kind from those with whom he hasn’t communicated already; those who pitch him “on the first date” don’t qualify for his attention.

If this sounds an awful lot like the current trend in dating and relationships as “friends first”, preferred by so many women, it is.

As a supposed computer expert I was surprised when I first confronted this reality in discussions with a great friend who happens to be female. At the time I had discovered Ning, and was writing an eBook which I intended to self publish.

I was concentrating hard on the nuts and bolts of Ning—how to upload content, construct the interface, and generally “get things done” when she told me the secret of Ning, or any social network.

“Make sure you welcome all of the new members,” she said, “and acknowledge their birthdays. You need active moderators on the discussion forums to ensure that every post is given a sincere response.”

Wow, I thought to myself, I’ve been teaching her what I thought was technology, but she showed me what I had always prided myself on knowing – why this software is important.

In my tech writing about Microsoft products I had always tried to accentuate its practicality and how it was used, and if possible its human application (communicate visually with PowerPoint, for example).

But in trying to “master” this new phenomenon of Social Media, I had completely missed the point. Either I had dismissed it as chit chat and drivel; or I had tried to force it into a role that it was not meant to fulfill.

While I try to resist wholesale generalizations, what I needed to do was listen to what social media was telling me, the same way I sometimes need to learn to listen, and not try to fix or control, women I know.

As a guy, I still tend to measure my success in quantity—like my followers on Twitter—with each new add I get a little, well, twitter.

But more and more my thrill comes from a sense of contribution. I’ve begun to shift my focus, and while I still may pitch and promote I try to do so judiciously, and mainly with those with whom I’ve established a connection.

More important, when I see something of value, I try to put it out there and share it without trying to figure out how it’s going to get me something reciprocal right away.

What I’m getting is that Twitter, Facebook and other social media are really a giant pot luck or Tupperware party, and in order to get nourished you need to bring something to the table – preferably without too much concern with short term gain.

And again, this brings me back to how it resembles dating—if you’re always worried about who’s going to pick up the check, or how the evening is going to end, you’re missing the point.


Lilli Blue said...

It is all about the ability to connect. The ability to connect with people you may never meet but who in some way will impact your life.
Great article. I'll pass it on.

Terrence Gargiulo said...

This is an aha moment - thank you for shedding light. Its all about relationships and what neat new way we have to build, nurture and explore those relationships.

High Desert Rose said...

Thanks to Lilli Blue for passing along this great article. People are so hungry for connection and interaction. They want to know that someone cares enough to listen to their opinions and perhaps answer their questions.

Thank you for your transparency regarding your own experiences with social networking. I saw myself in there more than once!

Tom Bunzel said...

Thanks for commenting and following, Rose. I think we're all just finding our way thru this new world, and sometimes we all feel like everyone else knows more. As you said, it's all about feeling connected.