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More Than a Trend: Why Social Media Matters

Do you have a blog?  Do you use Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media?  If so, did you know that you are a spokesperson? 

You are responsible for stewarding a platform that has influence, whether or not your own voice seems significant to you.

So what are you about?  Who or what do you represent?

These are questions I wrestle with.  And I suspect that many others do, too.  But do those questions themselves seem presumptuous to you?  Self-absorbed?

There’s no question that the world of blogs and social media can lead to self-absorbed behavior, as people use Twitter or Facebook to promote their own accomplishments or repeat others’ compliments of them (for everyone else to see).  In most Asian American and other cultural settings, it’s worse than a faux pas to put oneself before others like this…it’s shameful.  It’s self-promotion.  But when people do that, they aren’t trying to brag or aren’t completely full of themselves…right?

To be honest, I don’t think we really know what to do with all of this. 

After all, the world has changed.  We can now write things online with the click of a button that we would never have said before in person.  Or at least in the past, we had a few minutes to reconsider, as we saw the faces of the people we were addressing.

We live in an age of unprecedented sharing of information, where each of us can speak to hundreds and thousands of people from behind a computer.  And people are reading.

So what do we do?  Ignore social media and all that’s happening there?  Never speak up and put ourselves out in public?  Close our eyes and semi-apologize, labeling everything we share as “shameless plugs?”  Or throw caution to the wind and inundate people relentlessly with our online presence?

As you can see, there’s a lot behind this that is worth exploring.

Let me start with this.  Although I respect people who choose not to use it (and their reasons for doing so), I am absolutely a believer in social media, and it’s not just because it’s effective.  It’s a way that people relate and communicate with one another, like it or not.  It’s already shaping the next generation of leaders and organizations around the world.

I could put it even more strongly.  I think we have to shift from treating social media as “cool” or “modern” to treating it as a matter of leadership.  I’ll try to elaborate.

This past summer, one of my coworkers gave a seminar called “Social Media 201,” where he discussed a number of cultural shifts in the way that people access information.  The first shift was to feeds.  For instance, Facebook and its stream of updates is a feed, as is a blog’s subscription feed…or even an e-mail.  It’s basically anything that gets information to people so they know it’s there and can read and engage it if they want.

The central insight behind the informational shift to feeds was that people aren’t looking for you anymore.  They simply won’t spend the time to type in the Web address of your Facebook home page or blog when there are hundreds of other sources of information that are being streamed to them.  So what to do?  You must find ways to seek out people, not wait for them to come to you. 

There’s a leadership and personal lesson there.  First, you can’t lead if you’re completely out of touch with the way others are communicating and connecting.  It’s not about whether you like technology or feel adept at it or not.  If you want to share your experiences or gather feedback or insights from others, you have to be where people are.  It’s that simple.

Second, here’s a personal lesson I’ve learned.  If you’re not willing to put yourself out in public, you lose all the positive things that can come through that in addition to the negative.  For instance, my writing and work is part of my own growth in stewardship as an Asian American who wants to use my opportunities, education, and skills to do something good for others and in the world.  Can’t it be irresponsible (and self-absorbed, actually) to be so self-conscious to never use one’s voice for anything, even for good causes?

Let me just say, I’m an introvert and social media is not natural to me.  On many days of the week, I’d rather stay invisible, and certain times after I write an article or put myself out in the public eye, I feel like hiding under a rock.  But if I believe in what I’m writing about, is it a bad thing to share it with other people?

Sure, it would be great if other people could be constantly looking to share other peoples’ stuff so we could all avoid the discomfort of self-consciousness and apparent self-promotion.  But that’s just not how the world works these days…people rely on feeds to know anything’s even out there.  Someone’s refusal to be public, while certainly a respectable choice (note: some people are not interested in that, and I do respect the spirit behind that), won’t necessarily be perceived as a matter of arrogance OR humility.  People just won’t know they’re there, period.

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adrianpei@churchleaders.com'
Adrian Pei works as Director of Creative Arts and Resources at Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru. He earned degrees from Stanford University and Fuller Seminary, and is passionate about writing and developing culturally-aware leadership. You can find him on his blog at www.adrianpei.com, or on Twitter at @adrianpei.