“Why Your Social Media Sucks” is an overly provocative title intended to grab negative attention. It begs for an argument.
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Yours is worse.”
“You didn’t prove this and oversold your headline.”
“Sure it does. I don’t know how to fix it.”
Personally, I don’t enjoy this headline technique at attention-getting.
It does not suit me. I don’t enjoy when others use it. I don’t think it engenders respect or trust.
Today, I’m being a part of an online Trinity Talk called “Why Your Social Media Sucks: How to Improve Your Online Presence,” with Trinity University faculty members Dr. Jacob Tingle and Dr. Dominic Morais.
We talked about this as a title and agreed on it as more of a discussion point.
My focus in the talk is answering the following question: In the negative-attention begging world, how can you conduct your online presence in a way you feel good about and works for you as a person or your business?
First, how’s your website?
When working at their best for society, search engines should be connecting people to the businesses they are looking for without undue expense or time. If someone is searching your business or you, they should be able to find a fair and helpful representation of you if you want that.
So before overthinking the latest in social media, a business should have a functional, useful website that if someone is searching for your business specifically, they can find you and know what you do.
This seems basic but so many businesses cannot be easily found even when people are searching.
Often marketing directories that want individuals to pay them for better placement dominate the top spots in search engines. Someday, maybe today, we are all working for tech companies that end up being an expense without justifying the time and money using them. (The Skynetting of the web is a different topic altogether).
Whatever your job is, you may be forced to learn about marketing because if you don’t, you may not be as effective as you can be at your primary job. The difficulty is that it can be hard to figure out who to trust and who provides value to you and your business.
My website is fine. Should I be on social media, and how?
Some questions to ask:
Why are you doing it? What is your intention? Does it work with who you are now and where you see yourself in the future? Does your online self fairly represent who you are in reality?
Money and Time.
What resources do you have to spend on it? Is this something you can maintain? Does it distract you from other things that are better uses of time? Is something that worked for you in the past no longer working for you?
There are different types of online interaction, and the different technologies evolve over time. Some businesses are more well suited to some kinds of social media versus others.
For many businesses, some level of online interaction is necessary or useful. This can change quickly, and you need to adapt in smart ways that work for you and your work.
Sometimes it feels like everything is marketing over everything. That the quality of the product or service is less important than how it is sold to people. That the new world is old products marketed in more friendly to consumer ways.
To me, the best marketing is just connecting people with the right thing without spamming, imposing, and harming others in the process. Making people’s lives better. On the internet, marketing can feel broken due to impositions on businesses and customers and the disconnect and distrust between the two.
Creating authentic, positive communities online that are a net benefit to society is beyond marketing. How are you serving your real world communities and using your talents to make your life and others’ better?
Sometimes, this can be difficult to navigate as a consumer of online content, finding what is actually beneficial versus those who market well, but do not have quality goods and services that they are sharing.
For better and worse, the costs and barriers to communication have come down, and the challenge for all of us is to figure out how this can benefit ourselves and society without creating harm.
“Any attention is good attention” is a popular ethos, and it works for some people, but it can be hard to maintain over time and can cause unnecessary problems.
Social media is just another way of interacting with people.
The web allows you to travel all over the world all at once. Have you given thought to how you want to interact with friends and strangers? Humans, not too long ago, had very limited interactions with other people. Those interactions can be good but they can also end up in unintended, sometimes unpredictable negative ways.
“Influencer” culture can be helpful to people, but also, like in non-online interactions, influences can be bad too, and sometimes it is easier to see when that is happening to other people than when it is happening to yourself.
As the last link notes, we should all take care who, where, how long you hang out online.
Reality programming on TV does not fully reflect reality but it edited in ways to make it more engaging. With social media and online interactions, we are all creating our own reality programming daily with no editor or producer filtering what is shown, and media companies doing some but little moderation.
Is this something you want for yourself or your business?
How to communicate online?
What are your values and goals? We all communicate in different ways, enjoy and value different things, have different goals.
For me, I have put together guidelines that have evolved over many years, have been learned from smart experts, happy and sad accidents, practical experience. These usually work for me, but my values, talents, and goals may not be yours:
Avoid unnecessary drama.
People have different life experiences. It is easy to get sideways with people you don’t know, particularly online, when you do not see facial expressions, hear tone, don’t know someone personally, or know if someone you are talking to is a put-on. I have enough issues living without manufactured drama, and often the best way to win an argument is often not to get into them.
Keep good energy.
I’ve found that I receive the respect and energy that I tend to give. And that if someone’s behavior towards me is hostile, I do not need to return that energy. I can acknowledge it and defuse it. Maybe it is a misunderstanding. Maybe that is just the online interaction they are used to or enjoy.
Maybe it is just a put-on or someone seeking negative attention. Sometimes, I can choose to ignore it. I can also understand that sometimes the hostile energy often says more about the person making it than it does me. I’d rather pay attention to people who interact in conventional ways than reward people with my attention after they try to get it in negative ways.
Dealing with people who seek negative attention for their ends is difficult to navigate, particularly when the things they are promoting hurt you and other people. However you interact with people behaving in difficult ways, make it an intentional choice.
Keep humanity at the center of interactions.
You never know what is going on in someone’s life.
Sometimes seeing the humanity in other people in both in-person and online interactions can create a positive situation out of something that started off negatively.
People feel as they do always.
Often, people will feel a certain way, and share reasons to justify their feelings. And then various people argue about those reasons, even though the argument is really about feelings, and you can’t really argue someone’s feelings away.
Telling people how they are supposed to feel usually ends up poorly.
For me, a better way is to invite people to a way of looking at something, or framing a topic, and trying to make that a place that suits people of different experiences and backgrounds, without engendering unnecessary fear, anger, unhappiness. That can be a hard thing to do without shared trust, but it is great when it happens.
Ultimately, people like what and who they like. If we all liked the same things, life likely would be expensive and boring.
It’s okay for us to like different things. The main disputes between people happen when some people’s likes make other people’s lives worse.
Attack arguments, not people.
The best online forums have that as a basic moderation guideline which feels good based on what I value. Some days this feels more difficult than others, particularly when people are being intentionally provocative about things that are core values to you.
Time and place and audience.
Whether online or not, communication is respectful of time and place and audience. What works in some situations does not work in others.
Look for shared understanding.
Often words and phrases people use do not have shared meaning. Avoid jargon and work from shared understanding when you can, particularly among strangers with different experiences.
Take care on difficult topics.
Relatedly, complex topics are often that way because stakeholders do not have shared interests and understandings, no easy answers, and that there are hard truths from different perspectives. On topics like that, I try to take extra care in my words, say them with good intent but knowing that good intentions may not be enough for highly emotional topics.
You don’t have to have an opinion on everything.
Really, it’s fine to just not. Wisdom comes from knowing what you don’t know.
Avoid words and behaviors you can’t easily take back.
If you say enough words, offer enough opinions, some you may regret.
You don’t have to fight online or anywhere if that isn’t your job. Some mediums are more combative by nature but you do not need to engage in that.
Figure out a way to make online a net positive.
If your online presence isn’t working for you, figure out how it can if you are able. It is a tool. It should not be your boss. Boundaries. Times. Influences. Deleting or taking a break temporarily or permanently.
Listen to the people who care about you. The people closest to you. If the people you value express concern about how your online behavior affects you and them, consider it.
Online interactions with the entire world at once is a human experiment. One where no one can really be In Charge of the ethics of it but socially, we can encourage positive interactions.
Some people get a new medium of communication and jabber away without thinking of the consequences of what they are saying, who the audience is, or how it fits within the medium. However you communicate, make it an intentional choice.
Just keep living.
A lot of this likely may sound more serious than I intend. I enjoy the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the disagreements sometimes come from the details.
We have a life. Many good ways to live it. Makes me sad when people’s lives never really have a chance or go astray. Hope that your online life makes your life better and not worse.
You be you.
You be you because you don’t really have an alternative. You, as a person, may change over time. And my wish for you is to be kind to yourself, and your future self.
These are just my own guidelines that I have embraced over years that make it easier to engage with friends and strangers online. Guidelines, not rules, because I can intentionally choose to do something different. Other people with other talents and values and purposes, may choose to do things differently.
Some things I wished I learned a long time ago but really, I am part of the first generation who has lived through this from its beginnings. I thank all the brilliant people who I have learned from and still learn from, and just passing this along to return the favor.
As always, take what works for you and leave the rest.
Also, please do not spam the comments because that is not a positive online experience for anyone, particularly me.