Getting real (on social media)

Social media is different things to different people. In the line of work I do, very often writers or creative professionals come to me hoping for social media to be a promotional channel. For instance, they want to use it to sell more books.

I understand why they want that; they believe in their book, and they are seeking ways to connect it with readers. But what I try to do is remind them that social media is a channel to engage with other people in meaningful ways, not just game it for sales.

That, for all of us, social media is an opportunity to share a common interest, enthusiasm, challenge, or hope with others — even those you have never met, and may live thousands of miles away.

Sure, this can align to your book. But it can also connect us in deeper ways.

Over the last few months, there are some posts that friends have shared on Facebook that I couldn’t get out of my head. I kept coming back to them again and again.

Why? Because they were sharing personal moments that were filled with wisdom. Let me share a few of them with you…

Here is my high school friend Darby saying goodbye to his dog:

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His statement of “wish we had more time” has honestly made me appreciate my time with my son and wife even more on a day to day basis. It has made me think about the nature of time, and the choices I make every single day.

Here is a photo that my childhood soccer teammate shared remembering his father:
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If memory serves, Michael’s father passed away really young. It was a shock when I found out about it back then, and Michael’s post indicates how, all through the years, his father’s memory was always there with him. It reminds me of how those we lose are always with us. That there likely isn’t a day that has gone by where Michael’s thoughts or actions weren’t effected by his father’s memory in some small way.

Here is a photo that my good friend Dave shared honoring his mother who had passed away:
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He includes lyrics from Pink Floyd’s song “Wish you were here.” In choosing those lines, it cuts right to the heart of who we are as adults… that we experience the “same old fears,” and that sometimes, only connecting with loved ones can bring us solace.

Years ago, Greg was my boss. He shared this photo recently with his brother, who he lost to an overdose:
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It reminds me of the opportunity we have today, right now, to communicate with others. Loved ones, yes, but also with anyone out there in the world.

This is a power you have in this very moment.

Even though Greg is using social media to say something meaningful to his brother who is gone, each of us can use it to reach someone who is very much a part of our daily life right now.

That is a choice.

Which brings me to a story that I’m barely able to process, let alone write about. Growing up, I had a friend who lived next door to me named Tony. For years we would do all the things kids would do — we spent countless hours playing, running around, and pretending.

We grew apart over the years, and then casually connected on Facebook a few years back. It was neat to see updates from him — and experience his life as he shared it.

Last year his posts got more serious. And then earlier this week, he posted this:

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He has been dealing with blood cancer for awhile now. He setup a GoFundMe page that was meant to help pay for upcoming medical expenses.

Yesterday, he switched the purpose of the fund:
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My goal here is not to make you sad. Tony has been dealing with his situation with grace and elegance, and it is clear that friends and family have been rallying around him to support as best they can.

No, social media doesn’t not always need to be as heavy as the examples I shared above. It can indeed be a thankful moment celebrating a good cup of coffee. I’m not one who bemoans food photos — I always see them as someone who is appreciative and enthusiastic.

My point is this: You have an opportunity every day in what you create, in what you share. How you share your stories, your ideas, your life, with the world.

It can be real. Or it can be fake. Or it can be something in between. All I ask is that you make that choice consciously.

There is no “right” way to use social media. Do what makes sense to you. But don’t just blindly copy what you think are “best practices.”

Use the medium to tell a better story. A more authentic story.
To make a connection that the world wouldn’t have without you.

There have been a lot of articles about how too many people use social media to portray these “perfect” lives. This one talks about how Snapchat has become popular because it encourages you to be who you really are, instead of a curated Instagram feed that needs to be “on brand.”

Jason Kottke shared his own reflections based on this post:

“I wonder if Snapchat’s intimacy is entirely due to the ephemerality and lack of a “fave-based economy”. Blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram all started off as places to be yourself, but as they became more mainstream and their communities developed behavioral norms, the output became more crafted and refined. Users flooded in and optimized for what worked best on each platform. Blogs became more newsy and less personal, Flickr shifted toward professional-style photography, Vine got funnier, and Twitter’s users turned toward carefully crafted cultural commentary and link sharing.”

Louis C.K. reminds us that our art and what we share with the world should be a reflection of who we are, not what others expect:

“I think that you make an honest account of who you are and you live with the results. The results will be appropriate to who you are… If you just say the things you believe, and the things you like to say, and that mean something to you — if you stay close to the gut — then everything will work itself out.”

When I look at the photos above of Tony. Of Greg with his brother. Of Michael and his family. Of Dave with his mom. Of Darby saying farewell to his dog. To me, the connecting thread is not “death.” It is a celebration of the most meaningful moments that we can possibly fill our lives with.

What will you celebrate today?