Updated: Oct 14, 2020
If you prefer the shorter, Tl;Dr version of this post, i made a Twitter thread just for you
Whenever someone tells me they hate social media, I respond with an enthusiastic “me too!", which can be a little surprising coming from a social media consultant. But being in this business for close to 15 years, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the repulsively ugly.
Between working in communications for the NYPD and the Israeli army, I’ve managed to attract some heat online from pretty diverse crowds, so when I started my business I hesitated to put myself front and center. I didn’t really need to be on social media anymore, right? I could be one of those “do as I say, not as I do” quirky consultants. I shared this notion with the legendary Peter Shankman, who gave me some much needed advice: get over it. And he's right. I can't encourage my clients to get in the shark-infested waters and not swim alongside them.
I wrote this to help readers maintain a healthy social media presence while minimizing some of the negativity that comes with it. If you want to reach people you must* play this game - but I also don't think you should have to suffer through it. So grab your wetsuit and hold your nose, we’re going in and we’re coming out strong:
Start with your goals – I can tell you right now that your goal isn’t to be ON social media, nor is it to get more followers. Dig deeper and ask yourself what your life goals are right now, professionally or personally. More customers? Finding love? Patreon subscribers? All your messages should have these goals in mind. That hot take about the presidential debate or the latest celebrity break-up*? Only post it if it relates to your goals. It's tempting to post all our opinions online, but the world doesn’t need to know what we think about everything, that’s what friends and family are for.
Stay on brand – a fancy way of saying be yourself. Here’s a secret, if you want more followers and tons of engagement do a ton of stories, post thirsty photos, and end every tweet with PLEASE RETWEET. But if that’s not you, then don’t. The growth may not be instantaneous, but you’ll attract quality and be able to live with yourself.
Don’t say things you’ll regret – easier said than done, right? Actually, it’s not as hard as it sounds. You just need to start thinking of social media as a mass email and not a diary or a group text. A rule of thumb I always set is not to write anything online you’re not comfortable reading in the paper tomorrow. It doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to change your mind or evolve, but rather that you should always consider how far your words can go and who might be reading them. You can still post unpopular or controversial opinions, but they need to be thought out. If the Tweet hits the fan, you want to be able to back up, not back track.
Unfortunate personal example: recently, a screenshot of a post I wrote in a private Facebook group was shared on Twitter by someone who doesn’t particularly like me. I didn’t enjoy it, but I also wasn’t uncomfortable with any of my words out there, because when I wrote the post, I had that potential reach of in mind.
Don’t hate the game, hate the players – people can be really mean. Smart, otherwise nice, accomplished, blue-checkmark people. You can hate them, but try not to be one of them, and avoid using the platform just for the sake of being an asshole too. I know because I was one.
I'd see some tweet and my blood would boil, so I’d reply with a snarky response to someone I didn’t know who posted something that wasn't even directed at me. I’d get a few likes, and then I felt like shit for the rest of the day because every time I got a notification, it was a roller coaster, the kind that makes you throw up. Ask yourself if it ‘s worth the back and forth that will inevitably follow, and the buzz of anxiety-inducing notifications.
If you do decide it's worth responding, take a few minutes before hitting send. Isn’t it great to have that luxury? Imagine if a boxer could take some time to think over his next move after getting punched in the face.
Know who you're talking to - If you’re trying to get people who already agree with you to snicker at your witty clapback, you don't have to be nice. But if you’re actually trying to engage with someone and make an impact, be respectful. The advantage of social media is that you can calmly make your case while privately screaming into a pillow. Your cool demeanor might even come off as more savage that way (think of that “look” your mom gave you that was scarier than anything she could ever say)
Do it for the lurkers – Say it with me. Social media is not real life. 10% of tweets are made by 80% of users. Gone are the days when social media was (or attempted to be) a democratic town hall for all to come together and change the world. Now it’s a shitshow, and we need to work within it, always recognizing that the voices we hear aren’t necessarily reflective of the majority of opinions. If your post gets 500 views and 10 comments, a pretty good ratio, that means there are several hundred people who are just absorbing it without feeling the need to chime in. Those are your lurkers, and you must believe in their benevolence. I’ve said it before, lurkers are kind of like God, we have no real proof they exist, but it helps to believe in them.
At the end of the day social media is a means to an end, not something you have to enjoy. That cutesie, carefree social media world a-la Emily in Paris isn’t really a thing (I know because no one ever lets me drink wine at lunch.) Instead, think of social media as something important, like going to the dentist or doing your taxes. Don’t avoid it, do what you have to do with it, and go about your day IRL. People are usually a lot nicer out there.
*Not everyone needs to be on social media. If you don’t need anything in your life or line of work that has to do with reaching other people, then you can go ahead and live without it. Let us know what it’s like to have inner peace.
**your goal might be to be a political pundit or a comedian, in which case you can totally post about that stuff and more.