Personality type and a learner's success with social media

June 23, 2009

I’ve been thinking about a possible link between a specific personality type (introvert) and social media success for several months and what it means for learning in the workplace. (I haven’t done any significant research on this topic yet.)

I can’t synthesize this provocative older post from Venkatesh Rao but his insight was this:

…the word “social” in the term “social media” represents the ultimate in misleading advertising, and is responsible for many failures and a lot of disenchantment, especially within the enterprise.

Here are the parts of his post that became my initial ear worms:

  • thoroughly introverted, unsociable, egoistic, and ornery individualists take to (social media) like ducks to water
  • social media amplifies the human traits of social manipulation and exploitation
  • successful social media efforts are fueled by self-interest
  • social media attracts extroverted, harmony-seeking, consensus-driven people who end up carcasses

So I went looking and found some opinions about his first bullet point…

On introverts

Peter Cashmore wrote about introverts here (and noted that a very popular social media personality, Guy Kawasaki, described himself as a loner). Cashmore ran a poll and reported results showing

61% of Twitter users considered themselves introverts (only 13% described themselves as extroverts).

In another post, Mark Dykeman reminds us that the difference between introversion and extroversion lies in the effect other people have on us.  He thinks social media removes the need to connect in person (something extroverts are more comfortable with). He quoted Laura Thomas at Dell:

“social media is very introvert-friendly (because many introverts) are more comfortable writing their thoughts/feelings than they are speaking them.”

Dykeman also notes that Darren Rowse (who has a huge online presence) said:

“as an extreme introvert I enjoy social media as it gives me social content but in a measured way.”

Lou Covey wrote that social media is attuned to introverts  because it levels the playing field.

Russell Miyaki wondered if, because social media is a controlled environment, introverts can be connected with their own world online and be by themselves at the same time.

Brent Leary, a self-described “introvert with an accounting degree for crying out loud” wrote about his success with social media.

Sandy McMullen, talking about the book Twitter Revolution, noted that

social media allows those with a preference for introversion to reveal themselves after the have had a period of time to reflect on what and how they want to present themselves.

Anthony Vultaggio thinks introverts have a distinct advantage with social media.

“[Online] social networking is a solitary activity done from the privacy of one’s personal computer. Traditional introverts…lack the need for feedback…they reach inward.”

Here, Jim Blasingame interviews Patricia Weber (a former corporate trainer) in a poorly titled podcast about whether or not social media is a tool or a crutch for introverts (assumes there’s something wrong with being an introvert). She notes that social media, while used by all personality types, can be a productive. She thinks an introvert can be a good bet for getting a social media strategy rolling or to keep it rollling.

I’m not a big fan of Myers-Briggs but this is interesting. Breanne did an unscientific survey of 296 people on Twitter and found that INFPs are more represented than other personality types (14.7% in the Twitter sample vs. 4.4% of the general population.)

A good instructor can keep all personality types engaged but I suspect many introverts keep quiet in the  classroom and may not have their voice heard. Perhaps social media offers introverts a platform for their voice.

Now I’ll just have to think a bit more about the other three points I took away from Rao’s post.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/tomwerner Tom Werner

    Hi Janet, an interesting wrinkle on this topic is that Myers-Briggs defines introversion-extroversion as where you get your energy. So, at least according to the Myers-Briggs model, an extrovert says, “I'm exhausted — let's have a party.” An introvert says, “I'm exhausted — let's rent a movie.” But the introvert may have great social skills and do a lot of socializing.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/tomwerner Tom Werner

    Hi Janet, an interesting wrinkle on this topic is that Myers-Briggs defines introversion-extroversion as where you get your energy. So, at least according to the Myers-Briggs model, an extrovert says, “I'm exhausted — let's have a party.” An introvert says, “I'm exhausted — let's rent a movie.” But the introvert may have great social skills and do a lot of socializing.

  • jclarey

    Yes, like Dykeman said, the difference between introversion and extroversion lies in the effect other people have on us (your energy). My issue/struggle here is in the physical vs non-physical element. On a personal level, I want to rent a movie after being in a physical environment with a bunch of other people for a period of time. However, socializing with a bunch of people utilizing communication tools that don't require me to be physically present doesn't drain my energy.

  • jclarey

    Yes, like Dykeman said, the difference between introversion and extroversion lies in the effect other people have on us (your energy). My issue/struggle here is in the physical vs non-physical element. On a personal level, I want to rent a movie after being in a physical environment with a bunch of other people for a period of time. However, socializing with a bunch of people utilizing communication tools that don't require me to be physically present doesn't drain my energy.

  • http://www.castlehom.com/ Richard Larratt

    what you have to say is pure gold

  • http://www.castlehom.com Richard Larratt

    what you have to say is pure gold

  • Brian

    All I can do is laugh at the bullets below…The author is describing him/herself it would seem.–quote start–thoroughly introverted, unsociable, egoistic, and ornery individualists take to (social media) like ducks to water social media amplifies the human traits of social manipulation and exploitation successful social media efforts are fueled by self-interest social media attracts extroverted, harmony-seeking, consensus-driven people who end up carcasses–quote end–1. Since when is being an individual 'unsocialistic'?2. Since when is using civil methods to study and challenge the problems forced on everyone from bullies 'ornary'?3. If someone is putting her thoughts out there for millions to see, how is that 'introverted'? (I think the source of these bullets would prefer everyone stand in ranks and do jumping jacks all day long…and pay a tax for each jumping jack because of the increased CO2 emissions from breathing harder).4. Yes, social media amplifies the fact that if you are feeling or thinking something, you're probably not alone. Sometimes there is power in numbers, and the REAL scam artists do not like this.Some folks would rather be a carcass from a fair fight than a 'slave' bent to rank and file socializum. Some people use social media to exploit…but at least now the explited have a field from which to defend themselves or even fight back.

  • Brian

    All I can do is laugh at the bullets below…
    The author is describing him/herself it would seem.

    –quote start–
    thoroughly introverted, unsociable, egoistic, and ornery individualists take to (social media) like ducks to water

    social media amplifies the human traits of social manipulation and exploitation
    successful social media efforts are fueled by self-interest

    social media attracts extroverted, harmony-seeking, consensus-driven people who end up carcasses
    –quote end–

    1. Since when is being an individual 'unsocialistic'?

    2. Since when is using civil methods to study and challenge the problems forced on everyone from bullies 'ornary'?

    3. If someone is putting her thoughts out there for millions to see, how is that 'introverted'? (I think the source of these bullets would prefer everyone stand in ranks and do jumping jacks all day long…and pay a tax for each jumping jack because of the increased CO2 emissions from breathing harder).

    4. Yes, social media amplifies the fact that if you are feeling or thinking something, you're probably not alone. Sometimes there is power in numbers, and the REAL scam artists do not like this.

    Some folks would rather be a carcass from a fair fight than a 'slave' bent to rank and file socializum. Some people use social media to exploit…but at least now the explited have a field from which to defend themselves or even fight back.

  • http://michelemartin.typepad.com/thebambooprojectblog/ Michele Martin

    Janet, all of this rings true for me, an INFP, who is sporadic in her use of Twitter, but engaged by all things social media. I've joked that Twitter is the ultimate extroverted tool, but I can see where I'm probably wrong on that as extroverts want to TALK, not write. They get their energy from their interaction with the outer world which happens in a very physical, real way, not necessarily online. At least online wouldn't be an extrovert's first choice for social interaction. I do think what's interesting is that introverts are often accused of being “antisocial,” but you can see from our extensive use of social media that it isn't that we don't like to connect with people. It's that we have a greater need for what Darren called getting social content in a measured way. I agree with Tom that introverts often have great social skills, but somehow extroverts seem to define what “social” means. My husband is very outgoing and talkative (which most people define as “social”), but a few weeks ago we met someone who in the first few minutes told us that while everyone called her a certain name, she didn't like it and preferred another version of her name. My husband didn't hear that she preferred the other name–too busy thinking about the next anecdote he would tell–so proceeded to call the woman by the name she said she DIDN'T like, until I pointed out to him what she'd said. I'd argue that I was being more “social,” in the sense of being attuned to and listening what this person had to say and responding to it. But because I wasn't dominating the conversation with stories, etc., most people wouldn't see me that way. So it's definitions that are part of the whole issue of what is “social” too–at least in my mind.

  • http://michelemartin.typepad.com/thebambooprojectblog/ Michele Martin

    Janet, all of this rings true for me, an INFP, who is sporadic in her use of Twitter, but engaged by all things social media. I've joked that Twitter is the ultimate extroverted tool, but I can see where I'm probably wrong on that as extroverts want to TALK, not write. They get their energy from their interaction with the outer world which happens in a very physical, real way, not necessarily online. At least online wouldn't be an extrovert's first choice for social interaction.

    I do think what's interesting is that introverts are often accused of being “antisocial,” but you can see from our extensive use of social media that it isn't that we don't like to connect with people. It's that we have a greater need for what Darren called getting social content in a measured way.

    I agree with Tom that introverts often have great social skills, but somehow extroverts seem to define what “social” means. My husband is very outgoing and talkative (which most people define as “social”), but a few weeks ago we met someone who in the first few minutes told us that while everyone called her a certain name, she didn't like it and preferred another version of her name. My husband didn't hear that she preferred the other name–too busy thinking about the next anecdote he would tell–so proceeded to call the woman by the name she said she DIDN'T like, until I pointed out to him what she'd said. I'd argue that I was being more “social,” in the sense of being attuned to and listening what this person had to say and responding to it. But because I wasn't dominating the conversation with stories, etc., most people wouldn't see me that way. So it's definitions that are part of the whole issue of what is “social” too–at least in my mind.

  • Elana Centor

    Love this piece. As soon as I finish this comment I'm going to do a post on my blog, http://funnnybusiness.typepad.com linking to this piece. As an INFP and somone who does play in the social media sandbox I find this data fascinating. However, my personal observations is that extroverts in real life tend to be more connected in social media communities. And so while INFP's may be sending Tweets and blogging, I would be curious to see if they are having conversations with others. My experience is that social media provides a voice but true engagement may be out of the grasp of most introverts.Thoughts?

  • Elana Centor

    Love this piece. As soon as I finish this comment I'm going to do a post on my blog, http://funnnybusiness.typepad.com linking to this piece.
    As an INFP and somone who does play in the social media sandbox I find this data fascinating. However, my personal observations is that extroverts in real life tend to be more connected in social media communities. And so while INFP's may be sending Tweets and blogging, I would be curious to see if they are having conversations with others. My experience is that social media provides a voice but true engagement may be out of the grasp of most introverts.

    Thoughts?

  • http://subquark.com/ David Miller

    I concur. While almost any outward endeavor is self-promoting (think corporations, they advertise for what purpose?), your view point holds a valid observation. I have several Twitter accounts and have experimented with their use in promotion of personal efforts (subquark.com), group efforts (iliveisl.com), and corporate efforts (hotelearning.com). I'll use the group effort to offer myself as a poster child to your viewpoint.My group promotion has gone well and I have received two projects and 4 new customers in the last month from it. Its Twitter account is supposedly in the top 1% of all Tweeters according to twitter.grader.com and also worth $614 via tweetvalue.com (lol, I have no idea why anyone would want to buy it though).This Twitter account goes beyond one level of introversion. The account profile is of a fictitious spokesperson (think Erin Esurance or the Geico Gecko) who is an avatar in a virtual world. So the account does not even represent a real person in any way.Hmm, something to tweet about! Thanks Janet, very well written post. =)

  • http://subquark.com/ David Miller

    I concur. While almost any outward endeavor is self-promoting (think corporations, they advertise for what purpose?), your view point holds a valid observation.

    I have several Twitter accounts and have experimented with their use in promotion of personal efforts (subquark.com), group efforts (iliveisl.com), and corporate efforts (hotelearning.com). I'll use the group effort to offer myself as a poster child to your viewpoint.

    My group promotion has gone well and I have received two projects and 4 new customers in the last month from it. Its Twitter account is supposedly in the top 1% of all Tweeters according to twitter.grader.com and also worth $614 via tweetvalue.com (lol, I have no idea why anyone would want to buy it though).

    This Twitter account goes beyond one level of introversion. The account profile is of a fictitious spokesperson (think Erin Esurance or the Geico Gecko) who is an avatar in a virtual world. So the account does not even represent a real person in any way.

    Hmm, something to tweet about! Thanks Janet, very well written post. =)

  • http://twitter.com/subquark david miller

    Janet writes a great post about social media (this from the guy with a red Q avatar) http://tinyurl.com/lrc7el

  • http://twitter.com/subquark david miller

    Janet writes a great post about social media (this from the guy with a red Q avatar) http://tinyurl.com/lrc7el

  • nobodytalking

    I really enjoyed this article – in-fact after reading I immediately turned to a co-worker and forced them to read the article. For weeks this co-worker and I have been having in-depth conversations/discussions about the role of social media and life, and in our field of elearning. I find myself falling more on the side of “who cares about my opinion.” I'd rather provide valuable content in a blog – than blog or twitter about randomness. I see twitter and “blogging just to blog”, and the like as stroking the ego. Obviously my co-worker sees things a bit differently.I see myself with more extroverted tendencies, and I would say that my co-worker is more introverted. I too would like to look/read more into this relationship between introverts and social media. Very interesting.

  • nobodytalking

    I really enjoyed this article – in-fact after reading I immediately turned to a co-worker and forced them to read the article. For weeks this co-worker and I have been having in-depth conversations/discussions about the role of social media and life, and in our field of elearning. I find myself falling more on the side of “who cares about my opinion.” I'd rather provide valuable content in a blog – than blog or twitter about randomness. I see twitter and “blogging just to blog”, and the like as stroking the ego. Obviously my co-worker sees things a bit differently.

    I see myself with more extroverted tendencies, and I would say that my co-worker is more introverted. I too would like to look/read more into this relationship between introverts and social media. Very interesting.

  • http://subquark.com/ David Miller

    nobodytalking (me being the coworker he mentions) interprets my social strategy as random. But traffic, Google Analytics, and real dollars illustrate otherwise.http://blog.iliveisl.com/why-we-tweet/While the social aspect is introverted, its results are outward (and its efforst focused). Those results being more customers but also an opportunity for others to express their creativity. And isn't much of creativity a deeply personal and ofetn introverted avtivity? =)*goes back to new Facebook effort* lol

  • http://subquark.com/ David Miller

    nobodytalking (me being the coworker he mentions) interprets my social strategy as random. But traffic, Google Analytics, and real dollars illustrate otherwise.

    http://blog.iliveisl.com/why-we-tweet/

    While the social aspect is introverted, its results are outward (and its efforst focused). Those results being more customers but also an opportunity for others to express their creativity. And isn't much of creativity a deeply personal and ofetn introverted avtivity? =)

    *goes back to new Facebook effort* lol

  • ellasherry

    I found it really interesting to read about the types of people that use social media sites. I wanted to share a website that I came across with you, its called Applebatch Teacher Network and provides free classroom resources. I found it to be very helpful. Here is the link if you want to check it out:http://applebatch.com

  • ellasherry

    I found it really interesting to read about the types of people that use social media sites. I wanted to share a website that I came across with you, its called Applebatch Teacher Network and provides free classroom resources. I found it to be very helpful. Here is the link if you want to check it out:

    http://applebatch.com

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