Over the last couple of days Sue York and I have been focusing on how to make social media accessible to more people, especially busy execs (trying to help them become ‘Efficient Execs’ in the context of their social media usage).
As part of that process we have been exploring the sorts of things that make people who are not social media fans uncomfortable. Some of the findings are pretty straightforward, ‘I don’t want to share that much stuff’, ‘I don’t want to know that sort of stuff’, ‘I don’t have the time for all that stuff’, and some were more surprising (at least for us), such as somebody who said they ‘hated serendipity’, by which they meant they liked their findings to be predictable and their world to be ordered. This particular comment led me to think about of the big paradigm shifts that social media (indeed the web) is imposing, a shift from organised collections of information (which I have likened to a tank) to a stream of information (given the terrible floods and worse happening I have avoided using a metaphor stronger than stream).
In the ‘tank’ world we tended to try to deal with everything and we would catch up on things. For example, if you went on holiday you would typically try to read all your mail and email on your return to catch up with communications, you may look at the main magazines you missed whilst you were away (e.g. The Economist) but you probably tried to follow the new whilst you were away. Your colleagues will brief you on projects so you can resume your involvement and input.
The classic metaphor for the ‘tank’ method was the ‘do list’. Items went on the do list and stayed there until they were processed.
With the amounts of information now being produced, especially via the Web, and in particular in social media, nobody is every going to catch up, nobody will be able to read everything that they ought to read, our metaphorical do lists run the risk of simply growing and growing. The new way is to move away from the paradigm of the tank to that of the stream. A stream may look the same from one day to another, but it is always new water, if you see a twig floating down the stream you see it, but if you look away and miss it, then you can’t look for it later. Whilst some things will stay ‘tank’ items, such as remembering your partner’s birthday, paying your taxes, etc, a growing number of things, and social media in particular need to model themselves on the stream.
People who are really at home with social media use Twitter to control their stream of information. People who are not comfortable find that Twitter is adding the uncontrollable flow of information. The key difference between the two is the adoption of the stream mentality.
Using Twitter to filter information is based on following people who tend to find/say/create relevant things, using hashtags that identify useful things, and then monitoring the flow of the stream via a tool like TweetDeck. The person comfortable with social media will not worry about what they missed whilst they were asleep, or out at a meeting, or even busy working on a presentation, they will assume that anything important will be re-tweeted. If it was in the stream and it was not re-tweeted by lots of people, then it might have been interesting, but it was probably not important to you.
Once the Efficient Exec lets go of the idea that they can monitor everything, they will find they can use Twitter to highlight key things. Australian researcher, Peter Harris, gave a great example of how to use Twitter when he said that one of the times he looked at TweetDeck was first thing in the morning and that he tended to look for two or three interesting things, not trying to get everything, just dipping into the stream.
I find that I look at TweetDeck about 5 minutes every hour to keep on top of things, which means I am probably spending an hour a day on information and communication – but that is my job, others should be able to manage on less, perhaps checking your app (be it TweetDeck, HootSuite or whatever even just twice a day).
One of the big differences with the steam and the tank is what you do after a break, such as a two-week holiday. With the tank approach people try to catch-up, ploughing through their over-loaded in-boxes. The steam way would be to ignore that and start looking at the stream when you return – perhaps even setting your out of office to say something like “I am out of the office for two weeks and my inbox is closed. If it is urgent contact XXX. If it is for my attention, you will need to send it to me after my return.”
Once you are following the right people and hashtags it is probably fair to say that if a particular news story or topic did not get re-tweeted it did not matter.