What I learnt from social media about being social

I’ve grown more active than ever before on Twitter. And if there’s one thing that it’s taught me, it’s that reciprocation is everything.

When I first joined Twitter over six years ago, I looked up to celebrity accounts like every other novice. It amazed me how much the paparazzi buzzed after them and how even though they followed no one, their accounts boasted a massive following. I wanted to be like them. Shame on me, I now realise.

Because I tried so hard to be an influencer even before I understood the purpose and meaning of social media, I couldn’t get past a few tweets a week and a meagre following of friends who signed up for Twitter and forgot all about it. My account was at a sorry state and without trying too much I faltered, ignoring my account altogether. What I didn’t realise is that everyone who did well on social media were either channelling their success from offline or from other platforms. Industry specialists, cinema stars, subject matter experts—all of them were already established before they posted their first tweet.

I, on the other hand, was a scrawny 19-year-old drunk on Shakespeare, trying to be poetic in every line I said. Plus, I wouldn’t follow anyone. People should follow me for my genius—I thought every day as I logged into Twitter. I didn’t think about meeting new people, conversing, exchanging insights, or learning.

That’s why I couldn’t get the hang of social media.

It took me long enough, but I’m glad that I’ve come a long way since. After years of being a failed twitterer, I discovered how chats brought out the sociableness in me. I understood that we gain value from a network when we offer value in return. Social media isn’t about posting a fantastic message and the likes. It’s a community, instead, where we should be willing to follow other people’s train of thoughts, thank them in sincerity for their opinion, and reply only if and when appropriate.

I’ve been trying do that for a while now.

No, my followers count hasn’t peaked up overnight. And no, I don’t have paparazzi outside my window. But no, I don’t feel like a failure either.

I feel like an achievement. Because I now realise the likes and followers don’t matter as much as the ideas and their reach. Amazing how far a thought can go on social media. My old classmates (who I no longer speak to but are on my network) liking my posts doesn’t matter as much as a relevant person chatting over it—of course, retweeting and sharing helps, but it’s not what drives my worth anymore.

Every time I go on social media now, I know that I’m only a tiny speck in an ocean bigger than anything I’ve seen. The deeper I engage with people who share my interests, the more I learn that I have a lot to learn. Every day I come across people I want to probe, to ask questions from, and to discuss what I think.

Social is not one-way communication riddled with ego. It’s social—where everyone knows and accepts they’re a fool sometimes and a genius at other times.

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Chit chatting away

I’m not what people call the social kind. I’m more of a…

…selective-social introvert.

It means I don’t like going out in large parties, or to large parties.

It means I’m uncomfortable with more than three people in a group.

It means I prefer being alone in my room than being lonesome in a crowd.

Most of all, I don’t mind people knowing that I’m not a people-person.

As a result, I stayed away from social media, too. I’d always found it too noisy, too spontaneous, and too narcissistic. Until I discovered Twitter chats.

I’d signed up for Twitter six years ago, but for more than five years, I made only feeble attempts at understanding how it works. And then one day, I had to analyse and evaluate Twitter for my work. As I combed through their documentation and scanned popular accounts, I discovered the wonder that is Twitter chats.

It seemed promising — a closed group of people discussing issues that mattered to them. That seemed like a purposeful way to spend time on social media, unlike the posting of selfies and sharing of love-struck statuses my friends did.

Though not all together certain, I joined my first chat. The sheer number of people who contributed to the conversation surprised me. As soon as the first question came on, a bunch of people replied in kind. Funny, enthusiastic, helpful, share-worthy responses piled up. As I read through them, I realised I could contribute something as well. I had a point that no one else had mentioned yet, and I felt an irksome desire to say it out. After all, these were people in my industry speaking their own experiences. It’s fair for me to do the same.

And I typed out my perspective. Within seconds people liked and retweeted my tweet. They replied, they agreed, and some even followed up with questions. The more I shared my ideas, the more conversation I generated. I realised I knew stuff that people thought were valuable. I knew tricks of the trade I didn’t know I knew. It was exciting. Twitter was exciting for the first time in five years! Social media, for once, was social to me.

That chat hooked me right in. From that day forward, I try my best to make it every time the chat happens. Every week, more and more people join in. But I never feel the crowd bearing on my shoulders. Instead, it’s fun to have more people in the discussion. Sure, sometimes my feed floods with hundreds of tweets even before I can read a handful of replies and answer a question, but it’s still useful, engaging, and welcoming as ever.

What began at one chat transcended beyond the one. When I began to participate in many chats, I realised there were others who showed up for particular chats every week. I started to see familiar faces, and I started making friends.

I’d become social. At least on social media.

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Do you hang around Twitter chats? How do you like it? If you’re interested, come say hello @s_narmadhaa.