Tom Webster, writing and speaking

People Just Don't Get It

Added on by Tom Webster.

iStock_000001296451XSmall.jpg My friend Jason Falls tweeted this today:

At a gun retailer show in Ft. Worth. Learning the gap between mainstream & understanding social media is wider than I thought.

He is, of course, 100% correct here - especially when he followed immediately with this clarification: "The gap between the echo chamber and the real world is far wider than I thought." When one spends a significant portion of the day online (and, especially, engrossed in social media), it may or may not be easy to miss this fact, but it sure is easy to misinterpret this fact. After Jason tweeted this, a number of people replied to him with a variety of "commiserating" opinions about how we need to "educate" people and lead them to the light. Most of these tweets, and others I have seen along these lines, boil down to one common sentiment - "people/companies/brands just don't get it."

Jason is smart - too smart to fall into the trap about being judgmental here - and to his endless credit he did not. You see, Jason (like me) is in the business of seeing information disparities as opportunities, and this is essentially how we both make our living (and why I like the guy, and write for his site.) Yes, there is a tremendous gap in social media knowledge between, say, the 4-5% of us who regularly update Twitter, and those Americans who don't even know what Twitter is. The mistake, however, is to see those on the "other" side of this gap as flailing about in a sea of ignorance, while we - the Twitterati - await their arrival on the shores upon which they must eventually wash up.

This is not how gaps work. Gaps are not one-way conduits. Gaps are just that - big canyons of information disparities, differences and information inequalities. Frequent users of social networks are on one side, and the rest of the world is on the other. When we say that those on the other side just "don't get it," we speak from ignorance ourselves. There is really no such thing as the "average American," for instance. There are pockets of like-minded Americans, sure - clusters of people who gather around similar values, or common interests, like guns, or Twitter. The gaps are everywhere. The mistake is to assume that a gap is a "hole," a deficiency, a loss. Maybe it is - but maybe it isn't.

I don't own a gun. I am not ignorant of guns. Perhaps there is a social network comprising gun owners, where they sit around all day lamenting people like me who just don't "get it," and that if they could only educate me and lead me into the light, we could narrow the gap between us. What exists is "a" gap, not "the" gap. What my crude analogy should highlight is this - that gap does not exist because I am ignorant. Maybe, for some, it does. There are a host of reasons for that gap, and one should not assume why it exists.

Similarly, there is a social media gap. My wife, for instance, has zero presence on social media. She also has a Ph.D. from Princeton, has done post-doctoral work in molecular biology, and is currently a university professor. She is a seriously smart cookie (and has done only one stupid thing in her life that I can think of. :) ) Saying that she doesn't "get" social media is demeaning and patronizing. I'm sure as hell not going to say it! She doesn't see the value in social media. It is entirely possible that for her - and for millions of Americans - there is none.

No, gaps are not one-way information disparities. When we say that we don't understand why some people don't "get" the power of social media, what we are really saying is that we don't get some people. I have music snob friends who can't understand how Bon Jovi can sell 80 million records, or how Lady Gaga can be as popular as she is. My 100% universal retort to this sentiment is always the same - you are merely admitting that you don't understand people, and the fault, if there is one, lies with you.

So I'll end with this challenge - and this goes out especially to my friends and readers (friends I've yet to meet) who make their living from social media. When we encounter clients, prospects and others who don't "get" social media, it is not necessarily our job to educate. It is our job to listen - without predjudice - and understand both sides of the gap - what they don't know about social media, and what we don't know or don't understand about them. "I don't understand why people don't get social media" says nothing about them, and everything about you.