What’s “IRL”? It’s Twitter lingo for “in real life”, and it matters in Twitter and in HR.
I started using Twitter about nine months ago, so I still feel like a Twitter newbie, but I have learned that it can be a powerful communication tool. Far from a medium for mindless chatter (as some still believe), it is a combination of real-time information, connections and opportunities. Sure, you can use Twitter to keep up with the Kardashians, but I try to keep my connections mostly work-related, and I focus my tweets on my interests in HR strategy, leadership and coaching, with some healthy living tidbits on the side. It has been an interesting process to find my way to the best information and connections for my work, and sift through the mountain of information that rolls through my account.
My newest obsession though, is the world of the virtual chat. It feels a lot like a topic-specific cocktail party, where I can wear fuzzy slippers instead of heels, and at a scheduled time, a host moderates a discussion through a series of questions and responses. Bonni has hosted several Twitter chats recently as part of her #TEPHR project, and many of us have enjoyed forming new connections in the HR community. It takes some practice, as the rapid-fire conversation moves quickly on the screen, while you figure out where to offer your perspective. The insights and enthusiasm for our profession that participants weave into the discussion often lead me to hope I will meet some of them in person one day.
Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, where you have often met someone IRL before connecting online, Twitter connections can happen without prior meetings or introduction to the individual or company. It provides an opportunity to grow your network exponentially, and creates a platform for new connections and ideas. It sounds like it requires a lot of time, but in reality, it doesn’t take much time to be able to take advantages of its benefits.
I do get frustrated at times with Twitter, as conversations are always laid out in 140 character chunks. It can be difficult to fully communicate ideas, or worse, posts can be misinterpreted. There are many times when I’ve wished I could pick up the phone or meet quickly in person to hear more about their experience or ideas. The length of a tweet keeps it to key elements, but sometimes you want the nuances, deeper meanings or longer versions of a story.
Often, the most meaningful connections we make with people happen when we are able to connect in person. We can see body language, gauge reactions to what we’re saying, and connect on a more personal level that we ever can online. Since Facebook and LinkedIn often have a previous, personal connection, the starting point for a virtual relationship with Twitter is very different. The types of insights and ideas shared via Twitter often leads me to look forward to the day when I might be able to connect IRL, and have a longer conversation. Many studies on effective communications tell us that face-to-face communications far outweigh other mediums for effectiveness and persuasiveness. If we want to have a deeper impact, our written communications need to be followed up with contact in person.
The same need for face-to-face encounters applies equally to life in HR. It is easy to focus our communications with employees via email or phone, particularly when the need for efficiencies is emphasized, or budgets limit opportunities to travel, but a valuable opportunity to connect in person is lost, where deeper, trusting relationships are nurtured. Between the emails, projects and deadlines, there is barely enough time for lunch some days, let alone visits to employees in Tacoma or Moncton. We can convince ourselves that emails or phone calls are enough for building relationships or establishing trust, but it is difficult to build effective connections with the community of employees you serve until you find a way to connect with them face-to-face.
For now, most of my Twitter contacts will remain as faces on a page, and I hope one day that some of them will expand into face-to-face connections. Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I have decided to host a Twitter chat in January with the start of a virtual book club, an idea which took root during one of Bonni’s #TEPHR chats. I am a little nervous about the idea of moderating my first virtual chat, and I’m hoping I will be able to keep up with the conversations. I will miss being in a living room or coffee shop with everyone while we discuss the book, but if I’m lucky, maybe some of them will invite me out for a coffee IRL afterwards.