On Sunday, I asked for feedback on the social media spiral I drew to represent my current thinking about how people transition from "old" media to new social media. This is a follow-up post to tease out some of the comments I received and integrate them further into my thinking. I will warn you that it's 6 a.m. and this is a little stream of consciousness.
First, a few people pointed out to me that what I'd drawn was not a spiral, but a helix, so the first thing I need to do is start referring to this thing as the "social media helix."
The visual here shows the progression I went through with Christine Martell in getting to my helix. I sent her the pyramid and then we did a long call. The result for me was the helix, while the result for her was the spiral. (Check out Christine's post on how these visualizations are showing us where we had differences in our thinking that need further discussion).
The helix construction is important, because as many people pointed out, it creates an implied hierarchy that a lot of people disagree with. As Alan Levine said:
The helix, spiral, levels suggest there is some sort of linear progression, or more worrisome, that one level is desirable over another. We can skip levels, operate at multiple levels, the whole nature of it defies 2D or 3D structuring. The phases people are at are not the levels per se, but some sort of overlay that might be a bubble that intersects the phases vertically. But again, I think the concept that it is a linear path is misleading.
This thought was echoed by many people, so I had to go back and ask myself why I'd seen this as a helix, with its implied progression. What I've realized is that I'm not really talking about how people tend to play around with and experiment with social media, which is generally not linear at all. Instead, what I'm trying to depict here is a way to introduce people to these tools so they see a progression and connection between what they already know and the new tools they don't understand. I'm seeing this as more of a training kind of a progression, I think, which is also why I was asking about the skills we think are associated with each of the different levels or phases.
Now of course with any training model, everyone is going to come to it with different entry-level skills. So this is far too simplistic to represent that. For example, some people may jump right into commenting on blogs long before they set up RSS feeds. That's how I was. In fact, I was blogging for two years before I set up RSS, so as a model for looking at how people actually use tools, my helix is clearly not the answer.
Another piece that got thrown into the mix was from Mark Aberdour, who reminded me of the 1% rule--that 1% of people will create/participate on a regular basis, another 10% will do so sporadically and the rest will lurk.
Part of what I think is going on right now is that we're still in the early adopter phase of social media use, looking at how to leap over the chasm between the early adopters and the majority of users--how to get more than 1% of people actively using the web. My interest in social media is primarily in how it can be used for learning, so I want to see as many people as possible using these tools for their personal and professional development. Part of what I'm trying to understand is how to help people build on their previous knowledge of the web and how to do use it so that they can progress into the more active learning that I think occurs when you move into the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation phases.
I think that how the early adopters are learning to use these tools is substantially different from what will need to happen for the early and late majorities. Remember email and learning to surf the web? The early adopters didn't need to be "taught" how to do those things. They generally figured it out on their own. But once we got into the early and late majorities, that's when we started to need training classes and "Email for Dummies" books, etc. We weren't able to fully scale up until more deliberate training occurred with the largest groups of people.
I think that there's a fundamental difference between the people who are using social media tools now and those that we're trying to help "see the light" for the future. I think that by their very nature, early adopters are self-directed learners, so to try to use our experiences to help the next phase of adopters may be a mistake. The early and late majorities are people who are more deliberate and pragmatic. They tend to want to be "taught" rather than to want to learn these things on their own. They feel more comfortable if someone shows them why they need a new tool and helps them learn it. They have lots of questions and worry more about "rules."
So where I'm going with this isn't so much about understanding how we early adopters are learning and using these tools. It's more about trying to find a more deliberate way to introduce these tools and concepts to people who aren't as self-directed or comfortable with exploration learning as the early adopters. I'm trying to understand the progression of skills and knowledge that people need to develop to full understand and engage with the learning opportunities provided by social media. Ideally I'd prefer it if they didn't have to be "taught"--I wish everyone was self-directed. But I'm a pragmatist, too, and I understand that we may need to think differently about how to help this next wave of people experience what we have.
With that in mind, does the helix make more sense? And am I on track in thinking that we may need to be thinking differently about helping this next phase of learners get the full benefits of social media to construct their own personal learning environments?