If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll be aware of the tremendous impact social media has had on my life and career in the past 6 years or so. It’s brought about incredible opportunities for my business, allowed me to meet and become close friends with many wonderful people, and it’s changed the course of my teaching career.

So many people are clamoring to figure this space out right now. What does it really mean, this fundamental shift in the way we communicate? Why should we care? How do we do it? Where do we start? These are all questions I hear on an almost daily basis. It’s why I am doing what I can to help teach people, point them in the right direction. And I do feel like I’m helping. I’m seeing former students and current clients have success with using social media and it is extremely satisfying to know that, in some small way, I’ve been able to help.

But a lot of people are still scared. They are hesitating because, although they have read all the books, taken some courses, and subscribed to the blogs of smart people, they still don’t feel ready to start. They are afraid of messing up, going down the wrong path, of not getting the results they want. So they hold out, waiting until the right moment, when they have enough information and enough knowledge and enough comfort.

The problem is, that moment will never come. Why? Because social media, the online world in general, is always changing. One minute, Facebook looks a certain way, then they change it all. Then Pinterest comes along. Then some other tool goes away (or goes out of fashion). More people start using mobile devices. Design trends change.

The online world is ever changing, ever evolving. And the truth is, you’re never going to catch up. You’ll never know it all. None of us will.

So how can you really even start to figure it out? There’s one secret.

You have to be willing to put in the time.

And the reality is, it takes a LOT of time. People ask me often how I learned all this stuff. I did it over hours, days, weeks, months, of sitting at the computer, day in and day out, reading and learning and being curious and then actually trying things. I broke stuff. I put it back together. I tried something. I tried something else when it didn’t work. I found efficiencies as I went, and implemented them. And yes, while I was doing it I had a full time job, family commitments, side projects and friends. I simply had to find the time, because I knew it was important. So I sacrificed a bit of sleep, and some favourite TV shows, and I did it.

There’s this weird stigma about spending time with social media. Some people look down their noses at me when they see I have tweeted over 60,000 times. I used to defend this, say things like “oh, well, most of those are @replies!”. Now I don’t make excuses for it anymore. I’m proud of my 60,000 tweets. Yes, it took me a long time and many hours. But as a result, I deeply “get” Twitter. I have invested a significant amount of time and I now understand so much more about interaction, human behaviour, group dynamics and how to use the tool to effectively promote and tell great stories.

So, what’s the secret to getting a handle on all this stuff? You must be willing to put in the time. And you need to stop thinking that you have no time. I started this post at 6:30am this morning. I could have slept in, but I know that practicing this craft of blogging is important. Today I will spend less time with my nose in my email inbox, less time doing busy work and more time exploring how people are conversing. I’ll be looking closely at the audiences I need to connect with right now. I’ll be learning everything I can, and it will probably take hours and hours.

But then, and only then, will I begin to understand this crazy online world for a moment. Then tomorrow, it will change. And I will need to do it over again.

You have the secret. Now go spend the time.

Photo by Val.pearl