20130228-074524.jpgI have this conversation a few times a week with clients and students.

Me: “So, tell me about how you interact online.”
Them: “Oh, I don’t really interact that much. I mostly lurk. I mean, I really want to start a blog, and I wish I could figure out where to get started with Twitter. But I just don’t know what to say or where to begin.”
Me: ” … ”

A study done by Harvard Business Review showed that just 10% of the user population on Twitter were responsible for 90% of the tweets. While this study was done a few years ago, I would suspect, given what I know about the average person’s online activity (or lack thereof), that these numbers probably haven’t changed much.

In my experience, it appears that most people, while they WANT to interact more online, simply don’t, either because they don’t know where to start or they don’t feel they have anything to contribute.

Let’s face it. Particularly if you’re over the age of 35, the whole idea of talking to complete strangers online is a strange one. It’s a real shift in our social mindset. I mean, weren’t we raised NOT to talk to strangers? We are conditioned to NOT trust people we don’t know, yet the online world is flooded with people we’ve never met. And we’re now expected to embrace them, and (gasp) even TRUST them?

It’s completely understandable why people have reservations about jumping into the middle of online conversations. Again, we’re conditioned not to do that. We are told it’s rude to interrupt. But the online world is all about interruptions. The network is set up so that people can easily jump into the middle of conversations. But it’s completely contradictory to what is familiar and comfortable to many of us.

Our social lives have changed.

The fact is, the world is a very different place than it was 15 years ago. No longer are our social circles limited to the people we see in person and interact with every day. There are multiple layers of social interaction now, even with our close friends. How many close friends do you have that you do the following with: meet for drinks, chat on Facebook, text message, email, phone, and tweet to? I have plenty of close friends with whom I do all of those things, sometimes on a daily basis. What about acquaintances, colleagues? Basically the same thing. We are interacting on many different levels now, and seeing a lot more of each others’ lives. Not only has the interaction changed, but our relationships have changed too. I know some pretty personal details about a lot of people now. I know what their kids, spouses and pets look like. I know what they had for dinner last night. I know when they’re having a bad day (and a good one!)

This shift is at once remarkable, amazing, and scary. But the fact is, this new way of socializing is here to stay. You need to figure out how you’re going to participate in it.

Participatory media.

So, if the parameters of socializing are changing, what does this mean for the average “lurker”? Well, lurking in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot to be said for listening, and one can gain tremendous insight from it. However, at a certain point, you become that person at the party that sits on the corner of the sofa all night and doesn’t talk to anyone. It’s one thing to be at the party. It’s another thing entirely to participate at the party. I’m not saying you need to be the life of the party – lampshades need not apply – but participation on some level is key. At the very least, introduce yourself. Say hello. We won’t bite.

I promise, what will happen if you choose to participate is this. You’ll meet some amazing people. You’ll laugh. You’ll feel more comfortable (this might take time, but stick with it). You’ll find new opportunities (so long as you keep your eyes open). You’ll have more fun.

Nobody is forcing you to participate. Nobody is forcing you to “join the conversation”. But I guarantee if you do, your online experience will change forever (and for the better).

So, please, say hello. Use the comments below, send me a tweet, or say hi on Facebook. I look forward to meeting you!

Photo Credit: Grahford via Compfight cc