Social customer care and ‘digital literacy’


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I’ve been watching a number of YouTube videos recently featuring Howard Rheingold talking about ‘digital literacy’.

Howard Rheingold Digital Literacies

People of the Screen, Rick Prelinger and Howard Rheingold at IFTF

In the video above, he asks the question: What is it that we assume that people know in this day of everyone carrying a laptop, a phone that’s connected to the net?

He goes on to say: But they really don’t in terms of a literacy. By literacy I mean, a skill plus social. I think there are at least five essential literacies – attention, participation, collaboration, network-savvy, critical consumption (‘crap detection’).

I started thinking about this idea of ‘digital literacy’ in the context of customer service agents, the customers they deal with, and the organisation itself.


What I have come to realise over the past few years is that social is a journey of discovery and exploration. I create my individual playbook as I go along. I add new gestures to it, I annotate existing ones. I learn different currencies. I remove those gestures that are no longer relevant, no longer have a purpose. There are those that I have simply forgotten about. And those that I collect like books on a shelf, to come back to at some future moment of quiet. But no one has taught me. No one has shown me their directory of gestures. I create my own index, my own categorisation. Yes, I have looked to others to see what they were doing, but only to learn, to re-interpret, to make my own.

I speak a language called Android. Instagram, however, is not a part of my dialect. Or not yet, anyway.

I rely on intuition, the desire to explore, the desire to understand… the knowledge that these literacies may result in something greater – moments of serendipity.

You rely on a different set of literacies that require a different set of gestures. But via Twitter, Facebook, AudioBoo, Storify, Instagram, WordPress, StumbleUpon, Ushahidi, Layar, YouTube we are able, for a moment, to converse, to sometimes share gestures, learn new ones, create new gestures of shared meaning.

This is my playbook and I share it with you for a moment.


YouTube requires its own set of literacies.

Twitter does as well. And Facebook. And Kred. And Oolone.

What are the literacies that underlie these platforms that enable us to converse with each other?

Do they change if you are an individual? An organisation? A customer complaining? Someone looking for a job? Two people meeting by chance on a train?

Do we know all these literacies? Do we need to know them all?


We live in a highly connected age. We have the potential to live – ‘on’ ‘now’.

Those who have iPads vs those who do not. But having an iPad is not enough. Understanding the literacy of the iPad and the new and emerging literacies it offers is. Do you dare accept the challenge? Or will you forever be stuck with ‘old world’ literacies in a new world device. Do you simply collect covers?


We have lived in a time when we knew the answers. We became complacent. This is no longer the case. We do not have the answers. The answers lie in the journey, in each of our own playbooks, whether an individual, an organisation, or both.

…who will teach you the new gestures, the new literacies? Who will help you decipher the different currencies that are emerging all the time?

Those who understand vs Those who do not

Those who understand ‘how’ vs Those who do not

Do you trust ‘those who know how to’ enough to learn from them?

Do you trust?

Perhaps this is the first literacy?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Guy Stephens
Guy is a social customer care trainer/consultant who has been in the social customer care space since 2008. He is also the Co-founder of Snak Academy, which provides online social customer care microlearning for individuals and SMEs.


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