If you are like many writers and creators, you wonder if you should be using social media at all, or if you should be using it differently than you already are. This debate can happen in your brain on a minute-by-minute basis, as you try to balance your very limited resources of time and attention, with your goal of ensuring what you create reaches your ideal readers.
Today I want to share my advice on how to reframe how you think about social media, continuing with my recent theme of turning marketing from fear to joy. In the process, I’ll provide some simple prompts that I hope will make social media feel more approachable to you.
Social Media is What You Make of It
Social media is many things. Often, I hear a writer tell me that social media is only this or only that. Their reasons are often logical and framed with examples. In these conversations, I often show them other people on social media who are using it in entirely different ways, filled with education, connection, empathy, and so much else that may be truly valuable. I also point them to communities that bring people together in powerful ways.
Social media is what you make if it. It is who you follow. It is what you share. It is how you engage. It is how often you show up. I am not trying to diminish the power that social networks have, the techniques they use to control what we see, or even the influence they exert in how we behave. I am simply highlighting that each of us gets to choose aspects of what the experience is in our lives.
In my book, Be the Gateway, I talked about ignoring “best practices” when it comes to one’s author platform and how you consider social media. What I was encouraging was to not just use social media in the same way as everyone else: copying the most boring aspects of how others use it, because they feel expected.
Because when you make the absolute minimum effort, mimicking what everyone else is already doing, it can be difficult to get out of it what we hope for: meaningful connections, new people discovering your work, and a sense of creative growth. Too often, “best practices” are a copy a copy of a copy of something that worked well 3 years ago. There are diminishing returns when you are the millionth person doing the same thing as everyone else. This is why when I work with writers and creators we go deep to get clarity on their messaging, their ideal audience, and find compelling ways to share their work.
There are an infinite number of ways to use social media, but if you are stuck on how to make it feel effective and meaningful, consider these prompts to help you find a path:
- What if you only share work that you truly love?
- What if your goal in how you share was to make someone’s day a little bit brighter?
- What if you were authentic in sharing who you are?
There are many ways to consider this: What if instead of worrying about how many new followers you had by the end of a week, you instead asked how many people you made smile? How many people you gave hope to? How many people you know truly felt heard in what they share? How many people you helped to achieve their creative goals?
In some ways, this can flip how we often think about social media, and in my experience, that can radically change the joy you feel in the process.
Social Media is a Choice
You have the choice to not engage in social media. To ditch it, to ignore it, to delete your profiles and never look back. I, of course, understand why someone would want to do that.
But it’s also worth noting that the choice to engage with social media is just that: an opportunity. The night before spring break ended, my family was having dinner. I looked to my 11yo who is in middle school and said, “Back to school tomorrow…” His shoulders slumped illustrating he’s not excited to go back. Then our 4yo said, “We GET to go to school tomorrow!” For him, it was an opportunity, not an obligation.
That choice is yours when it comes to social media.
When I was in high school, I saw the movie Dead Poets Society, and remember a scene about ‘the dangers of conformity.’ Robin Williams’ character encourages students to walk around a courtyard in unusual and unexpected ways in order to not conform to expectations. He sees one student not walking, and instead just casually leaning against the wall. Robin’s character asks: “Mr. Dalton, will you be joining us?”
The student answers: “Exercising the right not to walk.”
Robin’s character replies: “Thank you Mr. Dalton. You just illustrated the point.”
I am not saying you have to be on social media. I know there are many reasons one would choose not to. I am simply encouraging you to make a choice with clarity and purpose. And if you choose to be a part of it, do it with gusto. If you choose not to, then consider how else you will share your work in a meaningful way.
Consider the Power of What You Can Share
Let’s look at a real world example of what it means to go all-in with sharing what you love. For many years, a big hobby of mine was seeking out new music in the record stores of New York City. Here i would buy CDs and records, spending a better part of my paycheck.
One of those places was a small store on Bleecker Street called Rebel Rebel. Compared to other stores, it was tiny. But like the best that any city has to offer, it was an experience. This was the outside of the shop:
And here is the overwhelming inside:
The owner’s name was David, and he was always behind the counter. Always. Rebel Rebel was a social network, of sorts. All through David.
He specialized in rare imports, which was what I loved. For regular customers, they would walk in, and he would hand them a stack of CDs that he had saved specifically for them. There were always stories of celebrities who frequented the shop: Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, Prince, Robert Plant, and many others.
For the first few years I went there, the door was locked. David had to buzz you in. There are signs everywhere that photography is prohibited. David is one of those classic New Yorkers: on the outside, he is calm and cool, a man of few words. But then he looks at you and surprises you with incredible kindness.
The store felt like a scene, a place you wanted to be. It’s what you came to New York City for: the unexpected, the hard to find, the connection to a community that feels rare and special. David connected people to music and to each other. You can read stories online of the meaningful relationship that people had with the store. There was a sense that you were participating in an institution, akin to getting a sandwich at Katz’s Deli, or a haircut at Astor Place Barbers.
This is Rebel Rebel today:
It likely won’t surprise you that the store is gone, the result of stratospheric rent increases in Manhattan. One day David was simply told that he had to move out at the end of the month, after 28 years. Rebel Rebel was the left 1/3 of this clothing store, which expanded into his space. You wouldn’t think by looking at this, that the tiny portion to the left could become something special all by itself. An amazing place where creative work is shared, where people felt as though they belonged, where one person can create a respite in an otherwise overwhelming city.
But David created exactly that. And that is your choice every day with what you create, and how you share and engage. Could social media be a part of that for you? If you want. Could you make your Twitter or Instagram or YouTube as special as Rebel Rebel. Yes. If you want.
Like David, you can create a place that is unique to who you are. That shares things you feel are incredibly meaningful. That walks a careful line between being a wonderful community, but with personal boundaries that make you feel safe.
I remember the first time a friend took me to Rebel Rebel and rang the doorbell. Through the window, David glanced at us, sizing us up. Then, the sound of the buzz, and the door unlatches. The expectation of what was inside was palpable as we moved through the threshold.
How can you create that experience for others?