(Quick mention: Social Media Summer School starts on 16 January 2022 and registrations are open now!)
People assume that because my business is in social media that no matter what the scenario I’m always going to say “yes! Get on social media! Do lots of it!”
Funnily enough, that’s not the case. (Is this like a nutritionist saying don’t eat vegetables?!)
Like so many things in life, I think social media and how we can use it is a huge grey area and there are no absolutes.
Social media has changed over time
I came to social media pretty early (for my generation!), via blogging and freelance writing. About fifteen years back I was writing for magazines when one of my editors got me a gig blogging daily for some US travel websites; this led to more jobs like this and pretty soon part of the writing work became also posting on social media platforms as they started to spring up. I’ve been on Twitter and Facebook since early 2008 and have tried out (and stuck with several) platforms as they’ve come and gone. Last year I started teaching social media topics at a postgraduate level at Murdoch University and revising the development of social media over the years and looking at it through a much more academic and philosophical lens was so refreshing.
Obviously social media has changed massively over time; some things are better, some things are worse. But it is definitely here to stay for the foreseeable future, and both personally and as a business owner, I try to use it for all its advantages and do my best to mitigate the ugly bits.
Social media gets the blame – rightly and wrongly
There are definitely issues with social media use, but I think it can become an easy scapegoat. I remember having a workshop participant complain to the room about Facebook. The problem was something like, “my neighbour’s son now has a restraining order against him because he harassed his ex-girlfriend via Facebook”. I didn’t have to say anything – another participant quickly remarked that he may just have had the same issue with or without Facebook.
But there are plenty of reasons to criticise social media and not just its users. The algorithms of social media – how posts are shown to you each time you open an app or log in – are designed to suck you in! It makes sense, economically – Facebook, for example, obviously wants you to spend as much time as possible on Facebook, because then you’ll see more ads, and they’ll make more money. To do this, they optimise their algorithm to show you the kinds of posts that engage you the most, so that you’ll stay longer and longer. So while it might sound easy to say, “Just don’t spend too much time there,” you have to fight against a powerful algorithm trying to keep your attention.
There are also definite issues of bullying, self-image problems, and more, especially amongst young people – and although some of these issues may have occurred without social media platforms, the ease of spreading images and the natural desire to see the “likes” add up mean teenage angst happens on steroids online. (I’m glad I was born in the 70s!)
In the postgrad course I took we also went down the rabbit hole of topics like digital labour: for example, think about the fact that every time we post something, perhaps pictures from our Christmas or our newborn nice, we are providing “free labour” to Facebook or whichever platform – we are doing the work that makes the platform money. This is just how things work, and at some level I’m okay with this because I’m still getting pleasure and value out of it, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
The good bits of social media
I wouldn’t still be working in social media if there weren’t parts of it I love. At its best, it is truly social, and an incredible way to connect with other people. For example, the Facebook group that I use to support my travel podcast is a group I feel is populated with 1300 of my dear friends. The vast majority of these people are travel-lovers I’ve never met, but they share a common interest and an ethical approach that makes it my favourite place on the internet. I’ve made some really good friends out of people who’ve joined that group, some of whom I’ve since met in real life and some of whom I hope to meet sometime, but after so many good conversations the line between them feels so blurred that I have to stop and think about who I’ve actually met and who I haven’t. I’ve also connected with all manner of people through Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram who’ve become close friends and people I’ve met up with all around the world (back in those days when I could travel!).
I’m also very glad for social media being there for me as a business owner. I would hate to have to be a really traditional marketer and try to “sell” myself and my services all the time. The more subtle approach of social media where I can just be myself, show what I get up to, and people learn about me that way, works for me much better. I also prefer this as a way to find people I want to work with, or want to buy from. Seeing genuinely what people are like – and often learning something about them beyond just their professional persona – helps me decide, as the marketers say, that I “know, like and trust” them.
What does this all mean for you?
I personally still use all the main platforms: Facebook (though to a lesser extent, apart from groups), Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn; I dabble in TikTok. Should you use them all? Very likely, the answer is no! I talk to my clients about this ALL the time. It’s no longer a matter of just jumping on the social media bandwagons – you have to think about the wagons that work for you, and how to use them in a way that you enjoy. And that might be very few platforms, perhaps only one!
The reason I’ve been thinking about this more deeply lately is that with Social Media Summer School coming up again, I wanted to adapt the curriculum to reflect that social media is no magic fix or a be-all and end-all. You can’t sell your services just by opening an Instagram account and starting to post about what you sell. (Okay, you might be able to, but it’s much less likely to work and it’s not a long term strategy – and it’s also pretty boring!)
This year I have a whole day in Summer School devoted to non-social media ways to get known online, for example, and throughout the whole course, I have an emphasis on figuring out what works for you and your audience. I’ve long taught this – don’t use a platform you hate, because then you’ll never use it consistently and your value won’t shine through either – but I think it’s becoming more and more important.
Whether you’re part of Social Media Summer School or not, I’d encourage you to have a good look at your social media use at this natural pausing point of the year. Which bits of it light you up? Which parts are providing you with useful viewpoints and opinions? If your answer is none, then consider completely changing who you follow and engage with, so that you can answer this with a long list instead. Social media is full of cleverness, of hilarity, of excellent information, of opportunities to connect with wonderful people – do whatever you can to avoid the crappy bits, and indulge in the great parts instead!