Being digital: How to join the 99%

By Jon Bains

July 30, 2013 | 6 min read

Some of us were born with it, some of us had it inflicted upon us, some of us live in denial and some just never appreciated why they would engage fully online but now appreciate that it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

This is a summer series aimed at the latter. By autumn, should you choose to engage, you will never look at things the same way again, assuming you can still see of course.

In terms of pop-psychology, at its most base there are only a couple of reasons why people change.

Need, which sounds pretty straightforward but is not often recognised until far too late.

Fear - that if you don't get with the programme, as it were, then your own personal value proposition is diminished, never mind the business itself.

Ultimately though, you either want to know more or you don't. If you are reading trade publications then surely you 'want' to learn more, right?

Want. We are what we know. If our world is information then frankly we are Number 2 (we want information, information, information!). Want is good; that means receptive, open, engaged. Want is already more than half way there.

Hence the axes that drive personal engagement are simple.

If we Want to change then about having the Time to play. Time apparently bends – it’s flexible. It can be made, lost, freed, wasted or recycled. Time is one of those commodities which circumstance allows in abundance when not required or scarcity when it is.

Want + too busy * an opportunity for growth = fail!

Want + make time * an opportunity for growth = win!

If time is that flexible then the ‘fail’ is a lack of motivation. Not necessarily about whether or not you are generally motivated, but more how do your own personal motivations intersect with the glorious collective consciousness out there. Should you find that you are 'into' something then the macrocosm that is the interwebdigimumble should provide a Venn overlap of 'me' meets 'we' in order to catalyze your first major incursion into dotland.

With all these various modifiers in place the only thing you really have to learn is how to learn. Alas in order to do that you can’t actually just read about it, you have to experience it for yourself, understand why things are the way they are and have your own opinion. Everybody else does! As such I figured it prudent to construct a few exercises to get things moving.

If you want to, can make time and are sufficiently motivated to learn and engage then read on. The exercises themselves are all practical but not particularly focused on the specifics of the technology rather why things and people are the way they are online. It’s supposed to be fun btw.

Stage 1 - Understanding contribution

Find something you are passionate about, could be work, could be your family, could be fly-fishing in Scotland, something that relates to your professional life or just good old fashion politics. Doesn't matter what it is as long as it matters to you - the more obscure the better frankly. Look it up on Google, find a forum where people 'hang' around and chat about that particular topic. Caveat being it’s got to be specific with an ongoing community - ie not Facebook or a review site. It may take you a bit of time to surf around and find somewhere you are 'comfortable' with that contains ‘your kind of folk'. Agree with some, challenge others or just feel you can keep up with the conversation and contribute meaningfully.

Before you join in the conversation take a look at the language they use, see if you can identify regular contributors and whether there is an apparent hierarchy. Why do you think that is? How did they get to the top of the pile? Why is their input so much more valued? If you get a chance - try and engage them in conversation. What are they in it for? What makes them tick? If you succeed you may have just met your first maven.

Once you appreciate the rules of engagement for that particular community try constructively commenting on a recent post, ideally something that inspires discussion as opposed to just making a statement. In most cases you have the choice of contributing anonymously but I would suggest that unless you are professionally concerned that your views in that context are public, you do it as yourself. Honesty and transparency are generally the best policy. Did anybody respond? Did you get engaged or hit a dead end? Did you learn anything about your specialist subject in the exchange?

Repeat over a couple of weeks and note the feedback you get from your own musings. Now try the same process again somewhere where your views aren't shared - comment, correct and watch the response. Be a bit careful not to be overly aggressive otherwise you'll be branded a troll (in this context is means to start an argument for the sake of it). Did you manage to change anyone’s mind? What you should notice very quickly is that controversy and argument is a substantially more engaging than just preaching to the choir, however the signal to noise ratio becomes out of whack.

Ultimately the purpose of the exercise is - if a very Noddy rule of thumb is that 1 per cent contribute, 9 per cent comment and 90 per cent read things - this gets you to experience being in the 9 per cent. You can read about what's its like but until you've spent a bit of time within a community it’s all just a bit academic. You'll end up with a greater respect for those who genuinely contribute and from a marketing perspective be less likely to come up with ideas that directly exploit them.

If you fancy it, pop your findings here. Next time it’s all about email so keep any eye out for those ‘gimme’ sign-up boxes!

Jon Bains is a partner is business futures practice Atmosphere


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