Lurkers, Social Networking, PLNs, & More

July 28, 2014 § 2 Comments

I am not a prolific user of social networks. Even though I have profiles at most of the major sites, I am selective in my use of each one and the amount of time I invest. Additionally, I am a lurker first and active participant second. Digital lurking is commonly defined as when an individual reads social media content without posting or engaging with the community themselves. I define it as digital listening. There is value in listening first before jumping into any community whether it be digital or physical.

What I’ve learned from lurking:

When I started on Facebook, I did it to connect to just a couple of friends and a few family members whom I no longer lived near. This was an important piece for me because I am not very dedicated at consistently composing e-mail or snail-mail letters. Most of my time for the first year or so on Facebook consisted of reading my timeline and posting “Happy Birthday” on friends’ walls. What I learned that year and the years since shaped how I utilize Facebook. Though the birthdate tracking function in Facebook is grand for not forgetting birthdays, the functionality extends beyond that. My wall is sparse compared to many other people, but that is indicative of my introverted personality. I share meaningful articles, uplifting quotes, follow groups & businesses, and contribute comments to engage with my friends and family. So what?

That’s the easy part. I’ve found from the groups and businesses that I follow that a real authentic dialogue is possible on Facebook. Just a month or so ago a new ice cream shop opened down the street from me. I liked their page to follow them as a show of support for another local business in my community. Yes, they frequently post ads or promotions, but they also take the time to promote local community events which they attend. They have real Q&A with customers. They post human commentary: well-wishing to graduates and newlyweds, condolences to community members who suffer tragedies, and PSAs regarding happenings in our neighborhood. The humanness of the interactions online is just a fraction of the humanness of the people who run the shop, but it is powerful and engaging. I haven’t done a whole lot of digging as to who else uses Facebook to connect with their communities, but I assume the same digital reach could be harnessed by libraries, schools, religious groups, neighborhood associations, and other community related organizations.

What I’ve learned from participating:

Conversely, my lurking on Twitter was short-lived. Yes, I always start with lurking. I want to grow and know my community before I jump in, but it was only a couple of months before I started actively engaging others on Twitter. One of the things I learned from those who I follow on Twitter is that lurking takes the humanity out of social networking. It is vital to engage with people on Twitter and in other digital spaces for any real growth to take place. I have since started participating in Twitter chats that not only give me a chance to raise my voice on subjects that I am passionate about, but also it provides me with many voices in return that are filled with poignant inspiration and fuel to continue pursuing my very passions.

This interaction, though digital and separate, can be a unique and powerful catalyst for deeper human connections with a broad audience. The value of using a Twitter chat (or a Reddit AMA for that matter) to explore topics of personal commitment is exponential. Book studies, public opinion data, planning sessions, and more could be done through this forum with an audience that would dwarf any room, and with proper moderation during the chat and curated logs after the chat people could not only participate in the midst of it, but reflect upon it afterward. Being that Twitter is always available, follow up questions and interpersonal connections after the fact can be made.

 So what…

There is a power in social networks that lingers waiting to be used to create deeper community engagement within the myriad of selfies, mundane updates, and sophomoric attempts to gain attention that have given this platform a tarnished name over the years. But to do that, we must focus not on what we want to accomplish but on with whom the people we wish to accomplish much.

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