There are a billion people on Facebook now, including most of the people reading this on BostInno. But that means there are 6 billion not on it, and that’s a problem sometimes. One of the things I’ve learned returning to an enterprise tech company in the ‘burbs is that lots of people are still struggling to “get” social media, which means lots of us are still struggling to help them get it.

The problem isn’t really what you need to learn to take advantage of the medium. The hard part is the behaviors you need to “un-learn” to be a good social citizen, and the one people seem to struggle with the most is overcoming the primal urge to continue to “push” the content they want heard at the whole world via e-mail.

I’m old enough to remember when e-mail first took hold. It was awesome. The “Memo” went the way of the dodo, and with it the typewriter, letterhead, white-out, and the need to communicate with anyone face-to-face. E-mail was clean, and efficient. It scaled. I mastered e-mail. I came to love it.

But sometimes love goes horribly wrong. Turns out empowering the whole world to push whatever they want at us with no variable cost had some downside. Today we’re all drowning in e-Mail. Most of us hate it, including me. People under 30 have started to abandon it in droves. I envy them.

These people aren’t communicating less, they’re communicating better. They recognize that the signal-to-noise ratio of e-mail makes it inefficient.

Truly embracing social as a way of interacting with each other starts with a willingness to let go of e-mail as your communication default. When you have something to say, ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Is it a directive requiring compliance on the part of the recipient? Does it require action on their part?
  2. Is the information time-sensitive for some reason?
  3. Is it private communication?

 

If the answer is yes to any one of those questions… Pick up the phone (over 30), or send a text message (under 30). If the answer is no… post it someplace where the recipient (and, ideally, others it might benefit) can access it when they want and/or need it, as opposed to when it was convenient for you to hit “Send.”

Embrace this idea, and you’ll find yourself consuming the medium in the way it was intended. Enterprise social systems like Jive aren’t about creating another Inbox, another task-master demanding that you beat back the bold type before you can unplug. They are pastures to be grazed. Not new lawns that need mowing.

Twitter is the ultimate expression of this idea. I follow a few thousand people on Twitter whose output I find useful, or just interesting. I poke into it during idle moments, and wait for news to prove itself important by overtaking the streams of my peers. Collectively, the people I follow help me understand what’s important in the world. If noise overtakes the signal, I adjust my following. I decide who appears in my feed. I am not a prisoner of Twitter. I’m freed by it.

Embrace this idea as a consumer of information, and you start to become a more productive producer of it. You focus on sharing what’s likely to be valuable or interesting to others. Social media noobs often feel like they’re sharing too much. They edit themselves, because they don’t yet understand that mastering social media isn’t about limiting the quantity of what you publish. It’s about the maximizing the quality of what you publish, as judged by others. Quality earns you an audience, over time. Quantity of quality just makes that audience larger.

Jive is working for Actifio now, and I genuinely appreciate the time and effort people have taken to understand how it works, and how they can take advantage of it for the good of all. When I talk with those still skeptical, or still struggling to take the leap, I ask them to remember this: Internal social platform are a tool to help us all know what we each know. The more of us who use them that way, and who work reduce the glut of e-mail as a happy side effect, the bigger advantage they will become for our company.

The same is probably true for yours.