I had an expansive coffee earlier this week with Kai Riemer, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney. Kai is a super-smart guy, who has done a lot of research into why people use Yammer and other various forms of social media in their work and lives.
Kai has just recently published a new report, titled Oh SNEP! The paper outlines a new model which helps explain how and why people begin using social media in their organisation. Check out Kai’s great post on the topic for the full story.
One key thing Kai outlined to me over the coffee we shared is that people chose how they use a tool and they do this by making sense of it for themselves. Here are a few gems I’ve taken away from our conversation.
Archeologists can never fully know what something was used for
Imagine an archeologist working on a site and discovering a tool of some sort. The archeologist can assess the tool, describe it’s various features and understand what it’s made of. It might, for example, be wooden with metal spikes and have all the features of a modern day hair-comb. But we can never actually know what people used the tool for. We can guess, but we can never know. All we do know, is that this tool probably made a lot of sense to the people that once used it. New technologies are very similar.
Why people use new technologies
It’s no different today. People will use a new tool because it’s interesting to them. Perhaps a friend or a colleague shared it with them and they’ve decided to take a look at it. Once they take a look at it, they’re confronted by a new thing to understand. The first thing that people do when faced with this is try to make sense of what it is they’re seeing. They will work to understand how this tool can help them. What can I use it for? What utility will I get from this?
Everybody is the same. Everybody. Whether you’re a social media guru or a self-proclaimed luddite. People might have a lower threshold for new technology or change, but they still must fundamentally make sense of said change before becoming productive. And here inlies the key point.
You can’t make sense of a new thing for anybody. Only they are able to make sense of it for themselves. You can help them on that journey, certainly. But unless they can make sense of it, they will not continue to adopt the new technology beyond that initial sense-making stage. And so they will not become productive using it.
Why twitter doesn’t make sense to many people
This makes intuitive sense. Think about the last time you showed someone how to use Twitter. Twitter is very hard to make sense of for the general punter. What is a follower? How come I don’t see anything when I log in for the first time? WHO do I follow? How do I send something to them? What is a mention? Why is everybody’s name spelt with an ‘@’?
It’s a very foreign experience for many people. If you’ve forgotten what that’s like, try explaining Twitter and how to use it to your Dad, Mum or someone else. You’ll see what I mean.
Why email does make sense
Now think about email. You have an inbox, just like your snail mail letterbox. You receive letters (electronically). You can send letters (electronically). Everybody has an address. You just need to get their address, and you can send them a letter. That’s pretty much it. It mimics real life mail and so is very easy to understand. It is easy to make sense of.
I’m going to keep exploring this idea myself. It makes sense to do so! Thanks Kai for your time the other day. I’m looking forward to the next installment.