I recently found out a coworker and I both attended Lac du Bois, one of the Concordia Language Villages camps in Bemidji, Minn.
Finding this connection got me to reminiscing about my time there, and I was struck by the parallels between attending a language-immersion camp and diving into social media.
When you first arrive at French camp, you have to go through "customs." They take away any English-language items you have, including books, magazines and music. It's a somewhat shocking experience, having people rifle through your belongings and remove things that remind you of home.
I felt similarly vulnerable when I started using Twitter and Facebook. I was worried about people seeing my stuff, and whether I could adapt to the new culture presented by online communities. I felt like the tools that had served me so well in the past were being taken away, and I would have to learn a whole new language in order to fit in. Which was partially true.
Once you're in, being at French camp is the next best thing to living in France. Everyone around you speaks French all the time. You eat traditional French foods and sing French songs. You play French games and have French language lessons. The best strategy is to just sit back and listen for awhile, watch how people interact and learn what things mean by context.
A similar strategy works well in social media. By watching how others behave and learning from their actions what's accepted in each community, and contextualizing the language, you can adapt to the new environment and learn to "speak like a native."
When you leave French camp, you're amazed how much you've learned in such a small amount of time. Your vocabulary has expanded and you've been enriched by a cultural experience, learning things you wouldn't have anywhere else.
And similarly, I've learned and experienced so many things through social media, and met so many cool people, that my offline life has changed! There are more things to talk about, more fun things to laugh about, and more awesome people to hang out with than ever before. The world feels simultaneously larger and smaller, because we're all so connected.
So if you're uncertain about diving into social media, just wade in for a bit. Listen, learn from those around you...and soon you'll find yourself enriched and enjoying your newfound community.