For the past few months, we’ve been organizing a monthly elearning meetup in Portland, OR - OpenSesame’s home town. We meet up at the Green Dragon, a local pub, and enjoy happy hour appetizers and everyone's craft microbrews of choice. From college professors and software designers to technical writers and Second Life architects, we’ve had a diverse and fascinating crowd over the last several months.
Last week, we sank into a juicy discussion of the differences between our online and offline personas. My fellow meetup-ers correctly diagnosed that I am an extroverted person in “real life” (what does that really mean anymore?) and equally extroverted in online conversations. That’s not particularly surprising.
What’s more interesting is the power of social media to convert those who are shy or introverted in “real life” into strong, vocal community builders. As you build social learning environments in your organization, you have probably found that your community is more than just the sum of its loudest voices: Those "extraverted" types are joined by their less vocal colleagues when the interface is Tweetdeck rather than the meeting room.
Reason #1,345 to Encourage Your Organization to Go Social
You’ll hear from the normally reserved as they find their voice in ways that are comfortable for them. A recent Washington Post article described research that reveals “that shy people are spending more time on Facebook than more socially confident people do, and that the shy report higher satisfaction with the service than do others.” In addition to providing a venue for diverse discussion, social networks enable reserved people to create new relationships that they can pursue offline.
This research is fascinating because it reveals how social networks do more than just replicate offline dynamics in a new environment: As media for conversation evolve, our modes of expression evolve alongside.
The New York Times is also covering the emerging theme of empowering diverse conversations through social networks with an article on classroom backchannels. One college professor described the value he had realized through Purdue’s classroom backchannel app, Hot Seat: “Before Hot Seat, I could never get people to speak up,” Professor Chakravarty said. “Everybody’s intimidated...“It’s clear to me, that absent this kind of social media interaction, there are things students think about that normally they’d never say.”
As this professor has discovered, social media conversations can enhance "real-world" communication by encouraging diverse voices, making connections between students and connecting the students more deeply with the material they are studying. These social media conversations are equally powerful in an adult learning context, where workplace and conference backchannels entice the normally reserved and quiet to participate in a different kind of conversation: One where they have more control over their participation and do not feel restricted by social anxiety.
This is just one more great reason to support paths for social learning in your organization. You’ll help folks find a voice to ask questions and share ideas who might not always speak up in a classroom or group environment. In short, social media and online communities are not just the best way to access experts and constantly-updated streams of curated information: They are great platforms for unleashing all the voices in your organization.
Image Credit: Minette Layne on Flickr