There’s a concept in engineering called the time constant, a relative unit of measurement that describes how long it takes some event to happen. We have the same concept in colloquial language when we ask questions such as: How long does it take a car to go from zero to sixty? or How long will it take me to “come up to speed?”
For the past year, I’ve been working under the assumption that I could help shorten the Social Media time constant–helping those new to Social Media come up to speed that much quicker. But I’ve learned something during the process–that there is a limit to the Social Media time constant. No matter how many examples that I create, no matter how many analogies that I perfect, the time it takes takes for someone to become proficient in Social Media cannot be shortened indefinitely. I call my discovery the Natural Law of Social Media.
Natural Laws are nothing new. Long ago humans learned that the only way to reap a harvest in the Fall was to plant their crops in the Spring. The seeds needed to be in the ground for a specific length of time and no amount of extra tractors, fertilizer, or ranch hands could change that fact. To use a term from consulting: “You can’t hire nine consultants and have a baby in a month.”
Social Media too has it’s own gestation period–one that is split into three different phases: Conceptual, Internalization, and Proficiency.
Phase I : Conceptual
This first phase requires a person to have fundamental grasp of Social Media and what makes it different from traditional media. They have the ability to look at the advances in technology to see the impact that they’ve had on the state of communications.
- The ability for anyone to publish content and distribute it around the world for a cost of nothing is a game-changer in corporate communications.
- Traditional communications devices such as press releases and obsequious marketing collateral don’t work well in an environment where the content consumer controls the channels.
Phase II: Internalization
There’s a big difference between understanding concepts and internalizing them. Just as reading a book by Dr. Spock can’t make you an expert in parenting, simply understanding Social Media concepts without hands-on experience will not help you become Social Media proficient.
The only way to advance beyond a conceptual understanding of Social Media is to use the tools. Write a blog, use Twitter, or connect with your friends on Facebook. Participate in LinkedIn group discussions, upload photos to Flickr, or create and distribute a video via YouTube.
By doing so, you open yourself to nuances that you can’t experience by observing from the sidelines. Unfortunately, I know many people who don’t use the tools but profess to understand Social Media. They do understand…but are stuck in Phase I.
Phase III: Proficiency
There are no shortcuts to Social Media proficiency. Just as hard work helped you become proficient in Sales, Marketing, Public Relations, Customer Support, or Management, it takes the same commitment to become proficient in Social Media channels. Significant time must be spent listening to the online chatter, creating compelling content, and participating in online communities. By doing those things consistently, you will build an audience that you can interact with. Interacting with the audience is the “Social” part of Social Media. How can one master Social skills without having people to speak with?
Are you willing to perform the work necessary for Social Media proficiency?
Photo Credit: Library of Congress