Remember those little personality quizzes that would do the rounds via email or MySpace back in the early 2000s? There would be ‘do you prefer dogs or cats?’ (dogs, of course), ‘what’s your favourite musical instrument?’ (better say guitar to look cool), and ‘are you an introvert or an extravert?’ This one was a little different. I always put extravert, because introvert meant loners and shy people, which wasn’t what I wanted to be. But I knew I wasn’t really an extravert either.
I was a shy child. In fact, at nursery, I would only speak to one person there, my mum’s friend who worked there. As a teen I wanted so desperately to be at the heart and soul of social groups, but I couldn’t ever quite muster it. Into adulthood I discovered, and embraced, my introversion. The last time I took the Myers-Briggs test (more on this here), a month ago, I was extremely introverted – 95% introvert, to be exact.
A lot of people think this makes a people-hating weirdo. I’ve been called anti-social because I’d rather stay in with my friends than go out to a noisy bar (and risk having to talk to strangers). I hate talking on the phone and will go to great lengths to avoid it – I’m particularly awful when people want to sell me things, and will say what they want to hear just for it to be over.
Introverts can get a bad rap in a world that sees the two as binary opposites: extravert vs introvert is the same as good vs bad. However, I heard an excellent description of the difference between introverts and extraverts on this Being Boss podcast: it’s all about where you derive your energy. Extraverts have a solar panel, sucking in energy from their surroundings and being around other people. Introverts have an internal battery, and we need to plug in to ourselves to recharge.
How does all this translate to online?
On the one hand, social media is a nice way to interact with other humans because you don’t have to be there in front of them – you can type away from the snugness of your sofa. However, it’s also constant. The snugness of your sofa is no longer a sanctuary from other people, they’re right there with you in your hand. There’s no chance to escape and recharge your battery, which can be pretty draining.
Social media doesn’t reward introversion. It wants you to be the life of the party, throwing around likes and comments like toilet roll in one of those American teen movies. It doesn’t understand that some people just need space and time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love reading and returning comments, finding out what people are up to and chatting on Twitter. I just find it exhausting. Thinking of witty, meaningful things to say to people that won’t make them think I’m overly keen, or not keen enough, or just generally weird, saps me. It also never really occurs to me to say hello to new people online – a picture from an Instagrammer I don’t know has to be pretty darn beautiful for me to pluck up the courage to say so. Just like real life, I don’t put myself out there like I should – I talk to my friends who I know, and wait for people to approach me.
Which, you know, is stupid for a person starting a new venture! If I want to pursue my purpose of helping others in their dream businesses, I need to learn to deal with my introversion and, well, get over myself a bit.
I love people, I’m just scared of them.
How can we introverts succeed on social media?
Here are a few things I’m doing to counteract my introversion issues. I hope they’ll help fellow introverts too, but they’re also just good practices to adopt for general life balance and wellness.
Create a routine
When something becomes a habit or routine it becomes easier. Doing it every day means you gain commenting momentum, and of course the more you practise the better you become. But a routine also gives you boundaries. If I know my engagement time is between 5.30 and 7, I have my head in the game between those hours safe in the knowledge that afterwards I can put my phone down and recover. If engagement is a never-ending open task, it’s too daunting. Put a time on it.
Engage ‘on charge’
Remember what I said about introverts having an internal battery? I’ve recognised the sort of things that drain it and the ones that charge it up, so if I’m returning comments or doing a Twitter chat, I do it at times I’m recharging to keep my energy levels at a steady plateau. These are usually in a nice hot bubble bath, on the sofa watching TV, in bed on a lazy weekend morning; any time I’m relaxed, alone and not distracted. On the flip side, I try not to engage at times where I need to conserve my energy or there’s a lot going on around me – like on a busy train.
Set yourself a challenge
I’m quite good at being competitive with myself, so a challenge really works for me. Maybe it’s leave a comment for five people you’ve never seen before, or tweet something live rather than only scheduling, or start using five new hashtags a week. Not only will you get a nice big sense of achievement, but you’ll realise that you can do it, and that people will appreciate it and not think you’re weird. Which leads me on to…
Do unto others
It’s nice to receive a heartfelt comment, so adjust your mindset from ‘oh godddd speaking to people’ to ‘I’m going to make someone’s day’. I had to realise that actually it was pretty selfish and hypocritical not to engage with others the way I like them to engage with me. A new person commenting or messaging to say they love my blog makes my day, so it was about time I paid it forward. No one is overthinking you as much as you are, so suck it up and spread the love!