Adrian Chan is a Sr Fellow with SNCR.org and is a social interaction design consultant and strategist. You can follow him on Twitter @gravity7 and at his blog: gravity7.com/blog/media.

In designing for social participation, we can consider user goals and needs — even interests, features, functionality, adoption and scaling issues. Best practices and popular ways of using social media guide us in our decisions. But there’s a basic concern we seem to often overlook: “What is the user good at?”

We each differ in what we’re good at socially, so asking this question raises other interesting questions that can be useful in mapping the social design objectives for tools, services, social brand campaigns and more. In the answers lie a rich set of possibilities.

If we really take the user experience to heart, we ought to think about user competencies. Users have different competencies in social media applications, just as they have different social skills in the real world. How users socialize, and what they are good at — these are their competencies. In the case of social media, this is as much social and interpersonal as it is technical.

Using Human Insight

When we think about user competencies we might first recognize that we need to know more about the user’s experience with social media, but we have little research upon which to draw solid distinctions.

Researching this is hard, and methods are imperfect. Qualitative approaches are difficult to scale, and users do not always describe what they do online with the honest insight we want. Quantitative studies can scale better, but they rely on limited interpretations of user behavior.

Let’s instead do a series of thought experiments using assumptions about some basic and essential insights and principles.

What We Can Presume About People and Social Media

If we start with the assumption that people on social media are good at social media, then the following are also true to varying degrees:

People are good at using social media.

People are good at interacting with others on social media.

People are good at making themselves look good on social media.

People are good at making others feel and look good on social media.

People are good at making things happen on social media.

People are good at these things over time, not just once.