Social Networking For Introverts

You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.
~Dr. Seuss

Are you overwhelmed by the unending stream of updates from twitter, facebook, linkedin, forums, and blogs? Do you wonder what you could possibly get out of all of that chatter? Me too. I recently made a discovery that I’d like to share with you. I am an introvert and I struggle with how social media is presented. No, that’s not what I recently discovered, what I recently discovered is that we are trying to change who we are when we move our real life social habits into the online world of social networking. I say, don’t change who we are, change how we use the online tools.

The many social tools available today are just the beginning of the changes we will see in how the internet is used. It is becoming more social, but it has yet to match the way we socialize in real life. Until the technology and design catches up with the complexity of society, there are a few things we can do to stay authentic to our individuality.

Introverts comprise about half of the population. You can discover your preference by taking a personality assessment such as MBTI®. Add to this the fact that many introverts are also highly sensitive people (see ‘Too Much Stimulation‘) and you get a very overstimulated, uncomfortable group of people in the highly stimuli world of social networking. Here are three changes you can make to be true to your strengths when taking your socializing online:

1. Go for one-on-one conversations. For example, twitter is much like a cocktail party with many conversations going on at one time. Utilize search or hashtags to narrow the conversation to something of importance. Then, invite one person into a conversation by asking a powerful question. Focus on one person and have a meaningful (albeit short) conversation. Keep in mind, not everyone is looking for meaningful conversations, so choose your conversation partner based on their current tweet tone. For introverts it is more important to have a deep conversation with one person at a time instead of working a room.

2. Limit face time. Too much stimulation and too much interaction is draining for the introvert. Limit your exposure to the cocktail party conversations to a manageable amount. Only you know your limit. I recommend starting with 30 minutes per day total for all social media exposure. That may mean you can only dip your toe into the twitter stream for 5 or 10 minutes if you have multiple online social locations to visit.

3. Use status indicators. Just because someone pings you on chat does not mean you need to answer. Use your status indicator (such as on google chat or skype) to let others know if you are open to conversations. Set expectations in your profiles so that people know how often you are in that online location (i.e. I don’t spend time on facebook, but keep my profile active to control my identity. My profile says that I am not active there and that visitors should find me on twitter or linkedin).

Online social networking and the social web will continue to change. Regardless of the functionality of the tools, they are just tools. Do not let the tools change who you are and how you choose to be in this world. These are just tools – you are a unique individual.