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social media as irl social lubricant

I think this post’s title might actually be the most obnoxious that I’ve written to date. It’s making me cringe. But. I couldn’t help myself. Thinking about a tweet asking if ‘I follow you on twitter’ is an acceptable introduction’ and networking at conferences. Please do note: this tweet’s context is about professional network at a conference. Anything I say here is applicable to that context only.

A note about conferences and (perhaps) other environments wherein professional networking is a thing that is happening. In these environments there’s an implicit understanding that if you are there, you are at least somewhat open to being approached by strangers and engaged in conversation. One of the main functions of conferences is networking.

Now. Network, particularly of the professional kind, is a strange social beast. It isn’t like socializing and trying to make friends. It isn’t like going to a bar and trying to hookup. It isn’t even like trying to talk to your colleagues at work. In part because some of the professional networking might actually occur at a bar. Some of the people might become friends. These people are your colleagues but you don’t work with them, might never work with them, and don’t have to worry about workplace politics with them.

I write all of this down because I, a lowly autism, never fucking managed to get the hang of networking. My strategy pre-social media for network was attending conferences with my much more socially confident friend (not an extrovert because she wasn’t, but she wasn’t autistic and didn’t have social anxiety), and literally just following her around. She would initiate conversations, introduce me to people, and so on.

I mean. I barely know how to social at a regular old social function. You know the first time I ever went to a house party was like when I was 19 or 20? I had no fucking clue what to do so I just sat in a corner and started knitting. And believe me, this was long before knitting was a hipster trend so everyone was like “what the fuck are you doing”. If I remember correctly, I hadn’t actually started drinking yet so I wasn’t doing that. And unlike a social apt person, I didn’t even manage to use my knitting as a way to initiate social interactions with people. Oh, don’t get me wrong, people tried but… I was me and so they soon stopped because I was largely unresponsive. And then I left. I can’t with all honesty say that my ability to function at social gatherings has improved all that much. Somewhat, but… not that much.

And then. And then came social media. Particularly twitter. Honestly? My first real use of twitter came from a class I took in libschool and then with a conference I helped put on, which I also live tweeted - it was also the first conference in which I was recognized as one of the most prolific live-tweeters, something which would hold true for many other conferences I’d attend. Between my professional blog and live-tweeting conferences, this is how I initially made a name for myself.

Even before I had a real ‘reputation’, one morning of doing some serious live-tweeting at a conference will have people approaching me at breaks and meals to talk. And just like that? I was networking. People would follow me on twitter, I’d follow them back. My network would grow and soon enough, any time I’d head out to a conference, there’d already be a couple people I’d want to meet either attending or already living in the city. Then there’d be the people who’d come up to talk to me.

Social media as social lubricant.

I hope people understand what I’m describing above. Its the concept of social media as an accessibility tool. Sure, it isn’t one all the time and in all contexts, but it can be in some circumstances. For me, it has made one type of activity that people place a lot of value in – professional networking – accessible to me. Actually, sorry, it isn’t that people place ‘value’ in networking but rather that networking is critical to success. It is amongst the much vaunted soft-skills everyone says you need. Most importantly, a lot of people know that getting jobs frequently depends on connections.

One a personal level, I also realized when I was mentally composing this post in the shower that all of my close relationships right now started online. My best friend I met on tumblr. My fiance I met on okcupid. My longest friend I met on manhunt (I know, lmao). I had a call from my camh psych yesterday and he actually said that I’m doing really well socially for an autism. This was in regards to my surgical readiness and to ensure that I had adequate social supports. And, fuck, I do.