How we learn to use social media

I’m a fan of the owner of Patti Finelli’s School of Dance. Finelli has the patience of a saint, a requirement for anyone trying to teach my daughters to dance (or do anything). After nearly 40 years of owning her own business, she has a pretty solid clientele.

In 2011, she ventured onto Facebook and created a page for her business with the help of one of her tech-savvy teachers. She makes the occasional post and does so more as a way to communicate with parents than to drum up new business.

“I’m pretty good at making posts to Facebook and sending messages to parents,” Finelli said. “But I’m really still trying to figure out social media.”

Finelli’s not alone. In fact, we’re all still trying to figure out social media — even the social media experts.

Many of us are trying to learn social media, but think that A) it will take too much time, B) it will take too much of an effort, and C) it will change as soon as we learn how to use it.

Steve Krug, a Web usability guru and author of the best-selling “Don’t Make Me Think,” is most famous (at least to me) for his “3 Facts of Web Use.” Although Krug offers these “facts” for understanding how we use Web-based information, I think they’re easily adaptable to understanding how we learn to use social media.

1. We don’t read social media posts. We scan them. Like websites, this is mostly true of social media and our lengthy lists of tweets, images and videos.

Think about it. The last time you were on Facebook, did you scan the news feed until you found a friends post to like or comment? Krug notes that we do this because we’re usually in a hurry, scanning helps us quickly find relevant morsels of information, and we’re good at it.

2. We don’t make optimal social media choices. We satisfice. The term “satisfice” is a portmanteau of “satisfy” and “suffice,” and it means we don’t spend time contemplating our options. Satisficing is selecting the first plausible option.

With Finelli’s social media options, Facebook probably satisfices until she’s ready to branch out and learn more. Why? Like scanning, we’re in a hurry to learn how to use social media. Based on Krug’s facts for using Web pages, there’s no penalty for guessing and choosing the wrong social media option, and sometimes guessing is more fun.

3. We don’t figure out how social media works. We muddle through. This is true for most casual social media users. Learning to use social media may not be that important to some of us, but we’re intrigued by the connections we can make.

As Krug notes, with most technology, we don’t spend time reading directions. We just dive in. Once we figure out how a new social media option works, we stick with it.

Learning how to use social media requires a little patience, something Finelli has in spades. But it takes time, comes with little risk, and can be fun.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chairman of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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