Getting Social, Part 1: Fear of the Internet

I’m just going to put it out there: I’m scared of the internet.

When I say that, I’m not saying that I’m scared to put my data or our designs online or anything like that – I’m generally more lax when it comes to internet privacy than most. What I am scared of is the angry few – the people who can (and often will) take the greatest offence to the slightest mistake in wording, and yell abuse as loudly as they can. The people who will effectively say why you’re wrong in seven words, but can only be refuted in two hundred, because life is more subtle and complex than twitter’s character limit.

And because of that, I don’t really do social media. I shy away from twitter. If I post something in a forum or on Facebook, I usually don’t reply in a timely manner. I often end up procrastinating over my replies, waiting sometimes until a few days have passed (there’s currently a really well constructed comment on my innovation in games’ post sitting on the site that I’ve so far failed to answer).

At the end of the day, this fear isn’t constructive. It means that I often censor my opinions and fail to express myself. It’s bad for the publicity of our studio, which often hinges on us being able to show our personalities publicly, and on our online interactions. And it’s exhausting and time consuming to be constantly refreshing a post in the fear that someone’s going to make a hateful comment.

Over the next month, I’m determined to fix this. And because I figure I’m probably not the only one in this boat, I’m going to chronicle my progress. Below is my plan: please let me know what you think of it. And if anyone wants to join me in this journey, let me know!

The Plan

My plan here is pretty simple: I think the psychological term is ‘immersion therapy’. You could also call it ‘get-off-your arse-and-just-do-it therapy’.

Essentially, for the next four weeks (the 5th of August until the 1st of September), I’ll be following some specific rules about how I deal with social media. These rules are arranged in priority order (if – for example – rule 3 comes into conflict with rule 1, then rule 1 takes precedence). By doing this for a month, I’m hoping that I form habits that mean that I will stop needing the rules.

I’ll also be recording my interactions at the end of each day, and posting something about them every week or so.

I’m generally going to be focusing on Facebook and Twitter for now, though I may add other things as we go.

Ground Rules

It’s very easy for these rules to create false social interaction, and so I’m putting this here to be clear: it’s important that any social interaction be genuine, and not just there to fill a ‘quota’. This is always more important than following any of the rules below.

Time

One of the excuses I often use to justify my lack of an online presence is that it takes up too much of the day. But this is only true because I keep second-guessing what I am saying, taking too long to craft each post or reply.

So the first part of the plan is that I’m not allowed to take much time to do this. I’m forcing myself to just say what comes to mind. To be conversational. At the same time, I have to take some time every day to interact online.

Rule 1: Social media activities described below must take up 1 hour of each day – no more or less.

Note that this doesn’t all have to be done at once (I’ll probably start by doing two 30-minute blocks a day). If I find that it’s too much or too little, I’ll change the number as the weeks go by.

Reply

Replies are pretty damned important. They’re how conversations continue, and they’re important for building relationships.

Rule 2: Replies take precedence over everything else. All comments or replies by others must be replied to in the next block of time assigned for social media.

There’s clearly an exception here for threads that have reached their natural conclusion.

Engage

This is the thing I probably do least – replying to other people’s things (entering conversations, essentially).

Rule 3: Each day, reply to at least three tweets that aren’t directed at you, and at least three topics in Facebook groups.

I’m hoping that this number goes up over the weeks.

Create

It’s important to seed conversations as well as entering them, so this needs to be on the list as well.

Rule 4: Each day, create a new conversation by tweeting at someone or by posting in a facebook group. These should be designed to create conversation, rather than being statements to be read.

This should also go up over time.

That’s it. Them’s the rules. Let me know what you think – did I leave anything out? I’ll post again in a week (but respond to your comments much sooner!).

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