Saturday, March 22, 2014

The definitive social media guide for painful introverts

The beauty of life is that all people are created differently. Some people are naturally sociable, extroverted, self expressive and enjoy dealing with others. Such people tend to shine in social media. They naturally attract large networks of friends, engage with and befriend new people and are completely comfortable in the limelight.

And there are people who are a little shy, reclusive and sensitive to share deeply personal stuff.  There may even be people who tend to avoid socialising too much, either offline or online. Perhaps they like to have large amounts of personal space, perhaps they just have quieter personalities. I fall in the latter category myself.

It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but even an introvert may want to be popular in social media. They may be the late adopters and laggards, they may be more cautious and even suspicious about the security of their information, and they may struggle to understand what to do. But they may have business to run, a talent to showcase, or simply have an interesting perspective to share, and they may rightly recognise the power of social media to help them.

When I speak to the so-called extroverts who shine in social media, I invariably find that they are too ready to downplay their own popularity. They suggest, unprompted, that they are exhibitionistic, attention seeking and egoistic. Sometimes they even denigrate what works for them – they say that shallowness and populism is the key to success. Undoubtedly they are sensitive about their behaviour in a world which psychoanalyses the popularity seekers who feed off social media. No one said that being an extrovert gave you the hide of a rhinoceros! It’s almost as though a successful social media user is a dumb blonde and no one wishes to fit that stereotype.

The social media introverts will do themselves a great disservice if they compare themselves to the extroverts – either to distance themselves from them, or to decide that they need to emulate them. The former is nothing but a self-defensive reflex, and it will prevent the genuine growth that comes when we are open to learn from others. The latter is an even more disastrous strategy, because the introvert who adopts it believes that by morphing into someone else (this social media monster), they can achieve the success that their own, genuine self cannot. It is a rejection, both of oneself and the person one is trying to be. And it will lead only to confusion, and an emptiness that cannot be disguised from anyone.

At the end of the day, let’s agree on one simple thing – we all want (at least a little) attention, recognition and empathy. In real life, we know that there is only one way to get this – by doing our best, and being ourselves, with the people who care about us.

This is my recipe for social media success, for my fellow introverts. Do not go into it as a fame seeker. Do not go into it seeking the formula for success. Contrary to what anyone may tell you, there is none. The fact that something worked for a bunch of people in the past will not negate the unique things that will work for you.

Go into it as yourself, as someone who wants to find a tribe of people who care about you. You will find those people. They may not be as numerous as someone else’s tribe, they may not be as talkative or verbally appreciative and they may come into your life more slowly. Be patient about it. Nurture the relationships that you build. This is how you built them in real life. You did not strategise your offline friendships. There is no need to strategise your online ones.

If you need to achieve reach, spend a little extra money to promote your Facebook posts or your tweets, assuming you can afford it. But promote the stuff that is your own true voice, not the persona that you think works in social media.

Whatever you do, do not obsessively check your likes, pluses, follows, shares or whatever (you will, because that is human nature, but detach your self-worth from them).  If you don’t get a lot of attention, there is no need to despair. Even if you have created the most beautiful, powerful or erudite piece of work and no one saw it. The internet is thankfully designed to preserve, not destroy. Good stuff always gets discovered, as long as it’s properly tagged and searchable. If no one read it today, someone will later. I have discovered this myself. Blog posts that I wrote three years ago, which I would imagine are dated, still regularly attract readers. Try to figure out days and day parts when you are likely to get more eyeballs in social media. And when you do, re-tweet or re-post old stuff that you think deserves a second chance.

There is something we can learn from the extroverts. Be truly interested in what other people are doing, if you like what they are doing. Write to them, comment on their stuff, praise them, share it with your friends. If people or their content help you in your work, acknowledge it publicly. This is at the heart of social media success in nearly every case that I have seen. Your work will reach out to people, if you reach out to them. That’s the ‘social’ in the media.

I want to share a personal story with you. I started blogging in 2010. I have seen my reach grow, from 300-400 page views a month, to an average of 10,000 a month. Are their people whose blogs grew faster and bigger in the same period or a shorter period? Of course! And initially I made the mistake of comparing myself to such people. I made the same assumptions that I have warned you against. When I wrote this post, I realised how wrong I was. Paradoxically, introverts who claim to not need other people, can be very insecure about what they think of them!


Having something to say is a huge gift. Those of us who have run dry of interest and inspiration at times, know this well. And if you regularly have new experiences and new things to say, then that is a huge blessing. I may lack time to post as regularly as I did earlier, but it’s still fairly effortless for me to think of what I want to write and put it down. Reaching out to other people? Let me be honest, it is still work in progress. But, the good thing is, it is in progress, and meanwhile, I do find people, and they do find me. I am sometimes surprised by how many people know that I write a tech blog even if they have not read it. I find more people asking my opinion about gadgets and which phone they should buy. It's an image, but it’s founded on my very real interests, passions and abilities.  I am not (yet) famous. But in an increasingly extended circle of people, I am known for what I love and what I am good at. That’s a lot. And that’s what I owe to social media.