When we are young and go to school almost everyone spends time learning another language – french, spanish, latin. The precept is that learning a new language expands our minds and exposes us to other ideas and cultures. In technology and the web, digital fluency is a key element of finding success, yet far too few people pursue any level of learning deliberately – instead deferring to digital natives for their needs.
I don’t mind this – it keeps me employed – but increasingly I see the deficiencies in taking an us/them approach to digital tools. I work daily with organizations that need the power and reach of sophisticated media tools and platforms but are stymied by an unwillingness to open themselves up – even a little – to new ideas and if you will, new cultures.
Learning a language is hard – and ultimately the barrier to many of us achieving comfortable fluency in french, for instance, is the human element – we have to talk, face to face, with another person and it intimidates us. Digital fluency by comparison is accessible. You can make mistakes, learn answers to your questions quickly, and have an impact almost immediately. Yet why are so many people reluctant to go through the struggle of posting that first blog, building that first website, setting up that first social media channel, learning that complex CRM?
I’ve taught many people over the years to do these things and one thing I notice that stands out is hesitancy. The learner hesitates to take action, to click on the “publish” button, to submit the post, to “send” the mailchimp eblast. Their finger hovers over the mouse – afraid – to send their ideas into the air. By contrast, in my day I am constantly trying – fiddling with new tools, installing new plugins, trying out new platforms, subscribing to myriad newsletters and blogs. In reality – there is no fear. The web is a vast world and we can only hope that our ideas have some impact and most of the time, they fall on deaf ears so it helps to be brave and fearless and hit that “publish” button.
In my work with organizations I often recommend that rather than being overwhelmed by the options (which social media platforms must we use?) I suggest that they choose one channel and do it well. Part of choosing is to find the channel that allows you to publish with the least amount of friction – to find a place where fluency – your ability to converse with the world – comes easiest. Most of us in the USA grew up studying one of the romance languages as opposed to russian or mandarin – why? because they are easier. Pursue a path of less friction. I remember a client who was very frustrated by her inability to publish on her institution’s blog because the webmaster at the time had put in place too many restrictions to access. She was introduced to facebook and rapidly found that she could publish and promote her ideas easily and quickly on the platform and engage her community. That simple shift changed her relationship to the web and her fluency and proficiency. Now, years later, she blogs easily, posts from her phone while travelling, and moves seamlessly between platforms.
A current client of mine is a small, start-up non-profit. I’m encouraging them to use a CRM platform on their website that incorporates all their stated needs – donations, membership, events management, customer tracking, etc. It’s a good platform and (to my eyes) seems very seamless and straightforward. Yet they are intimidated by the system and hesitant. Ironically, this is what they asked for – but now they are faced with learning and gaining fluency. It’s frustrating to me to watch them hesitate but I know that if I give them simple instructions towards basic fluency that in time they will be zipping around the system like experts. This stuff is not hard – but you have to ENGAGE in it.
Stop hesitating. Dive in. Immerse yourself where you find the going easy. Avoid friction. Build your language skills one step at a time. Send that tweet. Post to facebook. Write that blog. Before you know it, you’ll be a native speaker on the internet.
Try these simple tools – each of these can address a problem or create an opportunity. Sign up and try them out. No one will make fun of your accent.
Adobe Slate for telling visual stories
Squarespace for building a website
Square for selling online and in person
Hootsuite for tying together all your social media publishing channels
Shopify for buidling a store and selling online
(Photo of Mary Clare with bicycle by me. If you were a young man in France and you encountered a lovely young woman with a bicycle it would likely be the best motivation you could have for making the leap from not-fluent to fluent in as short a period of time as possible. What’s your motivation to start up a converation?)