When I was a kid, I was painfully shy. Those of you who have met me in person would probably not believe it, but it’s true.
When I met William Azaroff of Vancouver in Manchester, NH a couple of weeks ago to tour America’s CU Museum, and then later that same night went out for dinner and drinks with Matt Davis of North Carolina and Ron Shevlin in North Reading, MA, we discussed that one of the criticisms leveled at us “social media” types who attended and presented at the 2008 Partnership Symposium in Indianapolis was that we didn’t mingle with others. I hadn’t consciously realized that, but looking back, it was true. And I am sad about that.
And though there is no excuse for that, there is a reason for it, and l will explain and tie paragraph one to paragraph two. It’s human nature to greet friends warmly, and not to walk up to strangers to introduce yourself. I try to greet people at most opportunities, and say hi to those I pass in a hallway. When given a choice between giving a handshake or a hug to an old friend, and introducing yourself to a stranger, it’s human nature to greet a friend first, because that’s much easier.
And that’s the amazing thing about social media and social networking. Sometimes you give an especially hearty greeting to someone you are meeting in person for the first time if you have already gotten to know that person online. Because, as Ron Shevlin has pointed out, you can get to know, online, a person who lives 3,000 miles away better than your colleague down the hallway who isn’t online in any meaningful way. When you get together, you already “know” that person. Especially given the conversational nature of twitter, you probably know more than you ever wanted to know about them on a personal basis. When you meet, you don’t need to use small talk to find common interests, you just naturally pick up the conversation that you’ve already been having online, and will continue online later.
I remember my first PodCamp Boston experience; it was the second of the PodCamps that they have held. I missed the first day entirely, but arrived in time to catch the tail end of the official evening party. I met a couple of folks who I had connected with online previously, but felt very much the outsider. It seemed like everyone else already knew each other. Undaunted, I continued to meet people throughout the second day and learn more about what this social media thing was all about.
And so I write this blog post to encourage everyone who is a.) relatively new to social media, b.) naturally shy, or c.) both, to put aside that shyness and to do your best to overcome that feeling of being a social media “outsider” when you come upon a group of social media people hanging out with each other, such as that which occurred just two weekends ago at PodCamp WesternMass. Bear in mind that most people involved in the online social world are exactly that: fairly social. Please understand that although it’s human nature to hang out with friends that you already know, most of us involved in the field really WANT to meet new people. Sometimes we just need a nudge of encouragement.
Remember that everyone in the world of social media was an outsider at first. If you introduce yourself, the folks worth talking to will be more than glad to have met you.