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Is it possible to learn from other people via social media?

It's pretty easy to find thought leaders in our field by scrolling through Twitter or LinkedIn. Lately, it seems like people are increasingly wanting to be heard, and doing a lot less hearing. This week's podcast guest, Lauren Hug, has some thoughts about this.

If you’ve ever jumped into the comments of a social media post, you have have found some not-so-nice comments. I’ve gotten the feeling that social media is often where people go to shout their thoughts and beliefs, but they rarely go there to understand others’ perspectives.

Lauren Hug, author of four books and someone who has spent the past few years really examining how people engage in the digital space, is a but more optimistic. In today’s podcast, she shares her thoughts on how we can still learn from many other people via social media.


Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, your host. I’m also the Co-founder of a company called Endurance Learning. And today I’m joined by Digital Media Defender and Author of four books, Lauren Hug. We’re going to be talking a little bit more about how learning professionals or really anyone can leverage social media and digital spaces to forge authentic connections and use the digital space as a place to learn.

Before we get to all of that though, I do need to remind you that our podcast today, like always, is brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online learning tool that you can use for 5 or 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing a live, instructor-led training. So basically how it works is you go in, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then Soapbox will instantly generate a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish all of your learning outcomes. If you want more information, go ahead and visit

6-Word Social Media Bio

Brian Washburn: Okay. So here we are. We are here with Digital Media Defender–I love that title- and author of four books, Lauren Hug. Lauren, as I warned you a lot of times, we’ll just keep it short and we’ll keep our introduction short and our biographies short. And so we use a six-word biography, and when we talk about this topic of digital space, if I had to sum up my life in six words when it comes to this topic, I would say, “I tend to avoid the comments.” How about you Lauren? How would you introduce yourself in just six words?

Lauren Hug: I would say, “Exploring shared humanity via social media.”

Brian Washburn: And that’s exactly why I wanted to have this conversation. You know, I’ve followed you for a long time. We talked a bunch of years ago when one of your first books came out, and I have just been watching your posts recently that really seem to revolve around how people might want to engage with one another digitally. And the first thing I want to ask is really– I mean, when I go to Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook, whatever, I just kind of see what’s there. And I’m like, “Oh, this debate again?” But what piqued your curiosity on digital relationships and interaction? I’m really curious about that.

Developing an Interest in Digital Relationships and Interaction

Lauren Hug: So, I was not an immediate adopter of Twitter. Twitter really is what convinced me that this is an amazing space. I thought it was incredible that I could have these conversations with people from all over the world, all these different perspectives. So I loved it. I was– as soon as I got on board- I was like, “This is great!” 

what blew me away was how this entire group of people that would never have met in any physical space were coming together to make a difference in the community as a whole and forge these relationships

And I happened to be moving pretty soon after I got on Twitter, and I was asking questions in this community that I moved to about preschools and other stuff, right? And I got to know a few people. And then a fire came through the community, a big one. And actually, the house that I was going to buy was in the fire zone. And what blew me away was how this entire group of people that would never have met in any physical space were coming together to make a difference in the community as a whole and forge these relationships– this was almost exactly 10 years ago- that have lasted through today. 

And from those relationships, I started to realize that I would never have met these people through any of my natural, physical circles, but they added so much to my life and changed my perspectives in so many ways. I started to think about what would happen if we did that purposefully. That happened accidentally because of a physical community, but I started thinking about what happens if we do it personally and purposefully, and that changed my approach.

Brian Washburn: I was very similar when I first got on Twitter. I thought it was the coolest thing where I could go and I could follow people who I always admired in the learning space and, kind of, the thought leaders in the space and the pioneers in the space. And I could actually interact with them. I could send them a note. I could comment on something they wrote. And every once in a while, they’d like something I commented on or they’d respond to me. And it was like really cool. 

And as I’ve spent more and more time in kind of the digital space, it has gotten to be– even though not a lot of the people who I follow are political- I get lots of reposts or retweets or things like that and I’m like ugh! And then we– you know, the entire Trump years were characterized by things that he would tweet or–. And ever since, you know, social media has become really a place where there is lots of just stuff that’s tweeted out that isn’t always positive. And so I’m kind of curious from where you sit and what you’ve been taking a look at as you’ve been engaging with people digitally: is social media is still a place where people can learn from others? Or is it just a place for all of us just to broadcast our own views?

Can We Learn Using Social Media?

Lauren Hug: I think what makes social media special is that it’s not a broadcast space. Like that is what actually makes it different than one-way communication methods. The fact that the algorithms support this kind of– or incentivize the more incendiary type of post- that is a structural problem with the networks that I think needs to be changed. 

There's all sorts of research that says that sympathy for other human beings expands when we start to hear their stories.

But we still have agency. So we are still choosing when we engage in these spaces to do whatever we decide we’re going to do with them. So when– I think what makes it so amazing is this access to all these different great viewpoints. There’s all sorts of research that says that sympathy for other human beings expands when we start to hear their stories. So literature has really been important in expanding people’s understanding of others and us. And I think social media is the next iteration of that. 

You don’t have to read a story about somebody, you’re reading their own words about their lives. But it is a mindset, for sure, to decide that this is how we’re going to approach it. And so that’s what I– both my more recent books are about- is that we have a choice in how we use this, so let’s use it to learn about each other.

Brian Washburn: And let’s– I want to talk about that a little bit more in-depth. So do you have some guidelines that you might suggest for people that want to share their thoughts in a forum like Twitter or LinkedIn? That’s where I spend most of my time when it comes to the learning space. But then to not just share their thoughts, but also actually be able to learn from others who might disagree with them?

Advice for Learning In Social Media Environments

Lauren Hug: Yeah, I think that– I advise listening, right? So to first just be listening to other people. If you have an opinion about something and you can’t imagine how somebody would think the opposite or something different, go find somebody. And pay attention, not just to what they’re saying on that topic, but what they’re saying about everything else, right? 

There's all this other stuff that humanizes this person that might otherwise be just an opinion or just a talking point because we're all way, way, way more than whatever our one opinion is that we're putting out there today.

So you’re going to find somebody who has a really extreme view from something you think. But you’re also going to find that they’re volunteering at their kid’s school and that they, you know, did a park cleanup last weekend and they’re taking care of their elderly grandmother. There’s all this other stuff that humanizes this person that might otherwise be just an opinion or just a talking point because we’re all way, way, way more than whatever our one opinion is that we’re putting out there today. Because that’s the thing percolating on the internet today. 

So I really think that it’s just flipping from using it as a place to talk to a place to listen first. And then being more purposeful about what we talk about because our lived experiences are going to be informative for other people. And if we can phrase our opinions more about our experiences and our stories about where we’re coming from, then it’s not adversarial – it’s a learning experience.

Brian Washburn: I really kind of love that approach that the person on the other side of the screen is more than the meme they may have just posted, right? And so for people who are listening and they’re thinking, “All right, I get it. I like Lauren’s utopian vision for social media interaction, but how can I create a space for people to share thoughts and learn from others?” What advice might you have for people who are thinking, “I like this. How do I create that space?”

How Do You Create a Space for Learning Through Social Media?

I would start with being conscious of when you post: are you telling stories or are you making arguments? Because arguments are alienating and stories are inviting.

Lauren Hug: I would start with being conscious of when you post: are you telling stories or are you making arguments? Because arguments are alienating and stories are inviting. Like we all have– somewhere in a story is a shared, universal human experience. Arguments aren’t like that. 

So with the way that you speak yourself on your own channels, the more you tell about stories. The more stories you tell, the better off you’re going to be. But also being conscious of saying, “I am inviting other viewpoints.” Like actually saying those words. “This is a space where I would like to have conversations and learn about other people. And I’m also going to shut down when it gets ugly.” So just from the front end, telling people what your intentions are on your own social media feeds. “This is a space where I want us to come together to have dialogue and discourse, and I’m going to moderate it, my own Facebook page, my own Twitter feed in that way.” 

We get to decide who's going to have dinner at our table. And if somebody behaves badly in our home, we're, not going to just gonna let it slide.

Because we get to decide who’s going to have dinner at our table. And if somebody behaves badly in our home, we’re, not going to just gonna let it slide. Like we’re going to tell them, you know, “I think you probably need to leave,” or “Could you change the way you say that?” We do that in physical spaces all the time. So I think we just take our manners in physical spaces and think about digital spaces that way.

Brian Washburn: Right. Well, I would love to have this conversation cause it’s more than just this 10 minutes, right? In terms of how you do this. And we’ll– actually at the very end here, we’ll also let people know where they can find some of the stuff that you’ve been writing. But before we get to any of that stuff, and before we wrap up, I have a few speed-round questions so that people get to know you a little bit more. Are you ready for the speed round?

Lauren Hug: Yeah, I think so. (CHUCKLES)

Get to Know Lauren Hug

Brian Washburn: All right. First question. I usually do this or that questions, but this one has this, this, this, this, or that. So Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat?

Lauren Hug: Twitter. (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: Twitter. All right. Do you prefer to read books or write books?

Lauren Hug: Oh, I like both. (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: 50/50. (CHUCKLES)

Lauren Hug: Do I have to pick one?

Brian Washburn: No, it can be both, and! Do you prefer rowing machine or an exercise bike.

Lauren Hug: Rowing machine. I hate exercise bikes.

Brian Washburn: And for those who are listening, if you’re not following Lauren on Twitter, you will see that she will share some of her exercise accomplishments and that’s there as well. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

Lauren Hug: I think, “Why not you?” That limiting belief of, you know, why not you? You can be the one that does it.

Brian Washburn: I love that. Before we end, do you have any shameless plugs for us? Where can people find you, the stuff that you’re writing, and stuff that you’re working on?

Lauren Hug: Well, both of my books on digital spaces and how to navigate them, Digital Kindness and Digital Grace, are available on Amazon in both eBook and print form. Please go check those out, and share them with people because I truly believe we can change this dialogue if we make that choice.

Brian Washburn: Perfect. Lauren Hug, Defender of Digital Media, is our guest today. Thank you so much everyone for listening. 

If you know somebody who might find today’s conversation about digital spaces to be important, please do pass on a link to this podcast. You can also find a transcript of it at If you want to make sure that you’re notified every time a new podcast is hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe to us at Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Even better would be if you were to give us a like or give us a review. It’ll just take you a minute, and it would mean a lot to us. 

If you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, including things like engaging people on Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, websites, you can go ahead and pick up a copy of my book: What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning for Impactful Training at And until next time, happy training everyone.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.

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