Learning Social Media Without Getting Stitches


November 20, 2009

So I was trying to update my wiki today after I read this post in my RSS feed when a couple friends of mine wanted to Google wave.  I shifted focus to see what they were waving about when my buddy tweeted at me to let me know he created a crazy hashtag for a tweetup he’s hosting.  I immediately posted the party info to my Facebook page so more friends would know about it and since it is a party I grabbed my flip cam and threw a quick video on YouTube about it.

Ok.  The above story is totally false, but if you’re reading this blog, it is likely that you understood most, if not all, that I talked about.  It’s also likely that you use or understand all of the social media tools above.  The challenge becomes when those of us who “live” social media now go out and interact with the rest of the human population, we sound like we’re speaking an alien language.  We become so immersed in our comfort zone that we forget that for a majority of HR professionals, and people in general, this is brand new.

Real Life Example:

I had the pleasure of speaking at Corporate University recently to a group of Learning and Development executives and HR professionals.  While there were a few people in each session that knew Facebook or Twitter, a majority of the participants were not using social media on any type of regular basis.  As I stood before the room of people and talked about using social media platforms to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing, I could see the light bulbs above their heads lighting up and a spark in their eyes.  I could also sense the fear.

Like anything new and technological, there are always fears associated with it.

  • I am too old to learn a new technology.
  • I don’t know where to start.
  • I don’t have time.

As with any new hobby, learning to use social media in some form is no different from learning to ride a bike.  How so?  You weren’t born knowing how to ride a bike.  You probably told your parents that you wanted a certain color or style of bike (for me it was a yellow Mongoose dirt bike back in 1978, but I digress).   So they buy you a bike and you hop on and attempt to start pedaling.

What happens?  You fall over.

BikeYou stand the bike back up and climb back on, only slightly rattled that balancing on this bike is harder than you anticipated.  Second time, you actually get to pedal a little before you fall off your new bike and scrape your knees up.  A few hugs from mom, maybe a band-aid, and you’re back on the bike because you’re a tough kid.  By the end of the weekend, you’ve done it.  You may not be popping wheelies, but you’re riding around your street without falling off the bike.

Social media is just like that.

You can’t expect that you’re going to know whether it makes more sense to try LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter first.  So you choose one that looks good to you.  You open your account.  Now what?  Say you’re on Twitter and have to answer the question of what you are doing.  Ummmm….”I’m sitting at my desk.”

Now what?  I don’t get it. (get back up off the ground and back on your bike)

Ok, I can do this.  What AM I doing?  Here goes….”I just read a good article about ways businesses can lessen the risk of H1N1 and the impact on employees.” (wow, that sounded pretty good)

Oh no!  Someone tweeted back at me and wants me to share the link.  Help! (calm down now, get back up off the ground and dust yourself off.  Call your friend who uses Twitter for a little moral support.  They are like the band-aid from Mom.)

Let me see.  Ok, here is the business week article I read on H1N1.  So I copy the link and paste it into Twitter.  I better say something else.  Here goes…”Just reading this great article on H1N1   <<link>>”.

Oh!  What just happened?  Someone has taken my tweet and copied it with the letters RT!

My friend, you have just learned how to ride a bike.

If you tackle learning social media in small, manageable bites, you will get it.  It takes time and you can’t expect to learn how the various sites work all in one day or even a week.  The great news is that the people on these sites, for the most part, are the most helpful, collaborative people you’ll find.  They will help you and be your guides.  You will be able to ask questions and get real-time answers.

I talked to several Corporate University Week participants after my session and the other social media sessions.  I was encouraged that many of them are excited to at least give it a try.  And, social media is not for everyone.  It’s a personal decision.  Just remember, if you’re an “old pro” challenge yourself to reach out to someone in your organization or to a client and offer to teach them.  If you’re the one new to the scene, challenge yourself to reach out to others who have experience so you can learn more quickly.

And soon, you may just pop a wheelie or two!


  • Trish, boy does this resonate. By own ST journey has included a fair amount of “falling off the bike,” but we gals are tough. One of the best parts of the journey has been the support, learning and encouragement from a new group, I might even say a new generation, of colleagues whom I might never have known otherwise.

  • Great Post!
    Love following your Blogs.
    Have a great weekend!

  • Trish
    I like the analogy between learning to ride a bike & using social media.
    Based on my personal experience, it helped to have a purpose. I had a bike, but it just sat in the garage. I did not see why I should learn how to ride. Then I looked outside onto the street where I live. All of the other kids had bikes; and it looked like fun; they were using their bikes to all go get ice cream. So I got the bike out & learned to ride. Now I’m more connected to the kids in my neighborhood.
    Great post.

    • @Naomi- I think you bring up an important point- no matter what generation we’re from, we are all learning social media and we are all benefiting from getting to know people we might never encounter otherwise. I’m grateful for meeting you and that would not have happened (at least when it did) if not for social media. Thanks for the added perspective.

      @Shennee- Thank you for commenting. It’s nice to know I have you in my corner.

      @Shauna- Good point- it is scary at first. People should definitely not feel intimidated because it is new to us all.

      @Paul- I love your addition to the analogy. How nice to be connected to the kids in the neighborhood. And, glad you’re one of them.

  • Thanks for the reminder that we’re doing something that most people aren’t – it’s experimental in a big way and all of us are risk takers. I like the feeling that there’s really no failure – just experiments that didn’t work and you learn and move on to the next. Just about anything that ends up in a mess is easily cleaned up.

    • @Marsha- thank you for taking time to comment. Social media is definitely experimental and that is a good thing for us all to keep in mind as we wade (or plunge) into it every day.

  • Wow. Great post and great story at the beginning. I think you have a promising future ahead of you in HR Technology or story telling.

    • @Michael- Thank you Michael. Appreciate you taking time to read and comment.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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