My opinionated beginners guide to social media

Digital people love social media. Long before celebrities got on board, Twitter’s popularity started with swathes of tech and startup enthusiasts finding a common interest and found it a convenient place for centralising bite sized discussion that didn’t warrant full blown blog posts or chasing down comment threads. Likewise Reddit, Hacker News and other discussion platforms have played host to many seedling ideas that have gone on to become huge hits.

However I’ve encountered many folks disillusioned by the empty promise of social media. “I tried social media. It doesn’t work.” are actual words I’ve heard from a disgruntled business man, as if he was owed some debt of gratitude from the digital gods for gracing Twitter with his 5 minutes of attention. So simply showing up to the party and shouting your mouth off at how great you/your idea is won’t likely yield results. So what can you do? Is there still opportunity in social? I definitely believe so and have a few guidelines that maybe of use to some yet to find their place.

Lurk

This is probably the most overlooked and undervalued use of time. You have to spend time acclimatising to any social/community platform. Try a few different platforms. Learn who the influencers are, learn the vernacular, what is the general tone and spirit of discussion, what are the rules (explicit or implied). Most importantly, is this the right place for you? Just because others have found success here, doesn’t mean it’s right for you and if you can’t stomach hanging around somewhere as a reader, that will definitely come through as being fake or forced when you try to participate.

This will require a fairly substantial investment of time and effort so be sure you’re happy doing so. Time for such things can be hard to acknowledge if you’re conditioned to thinking social isnt a “work thing” or if there are other, more valuable uses of your time (which is entirely feasible, no one has to do it). You will want to learn how to differentiate between the fine line between useful time and wasted time. That’s not to say you can’t have fun with it, you most certainly can and should, but be mindful of your purpose. If you find yourself getting caught up in arguments over football transfers, it might be worth saving that for out of hours (unless you’re building a football manager sim, in which case, go nuts).

Be nice, be helpful

Once you’ve found the platform(s) that are right for you and have spent time consuming and understanding the community’s content, start your active participation by joining in conversation. Answer questions, offer opinion and give feedback. Find people who are also new to the platform and engage with them. You can find your feet, are much more likely to get a response and will boost someone elses confidence.

The currency of social is karma, so bear that in mind and always try to help build others if you expect the same in return. You don’t have to blow smoke, if you have a critical opinion feel free to share it, just do it nicely and constructively. If you see good work, say so. We all love a pat on the back but are naturally inclined to point out the flaws we see first (just ask my team, I’m apparently the master of the “swoop ‘n poop”) so make the extra effort to praise good work.

Be humble

The web is the ultimate leveller. Whilst this anonymity definitely has accountability issues, don’t assume everyone on the other end is a clueless child. Never, ever try to amplify your message with self stated authority on a subject. The amount of comments I see about video games that begin with “I make games in Unity so…” as if that’s some instant elevation of importance on a subject (I’ve taught 8 year olds enough to be able to make such a declaration). Equally, “I’ve been doing x for 15 years so…” sounds just as petulant. Let your message itself be your authority on a subject, people will either heed your advice or not but that is up to them.

Your aim is to build relationships and earn the trust and support of others. Don’t judge or value people by their age, gender, experience, follower count or anything else. You never know who your best allies will be so treat everyone as equal. The absolute least you should do is acknowledge any interactions to your contribution, even if it’s just a ‘like’.

Find what works, find what fits

Of course, you and your project are unique and don’t fit into any existing genre or category. But just suppose for a minute there are lessons to be learned from the successes of others. Look for lessons in any and all successes on your platform of choice within any similar field of work. For the enabling of learning, assume that there is no luck, “you make your own” as the adage goes. Who are the people and projects you deem a success and what is it about them that makes them so? We all leave a very clear footprint in our digital lives so strap on your deerhunter and do some investigating.

Who do they follow? Who follows them? What have they done previously? What is their tone of voice? Where are they based? Who are their friends and influencers? Make no assumptions and find out the facts to build an idea of what are the behaviours of success.

Be careful though, not to try to replicate patterns and habits of others that aren’t a good fit for you. Yes being crazy/hilarious/confrontational/opinionated/whatever might work for some, but if that isn’t your personality then don’t try to force it. Look deeper to see what aspects of that success model you _can_ adopt comfortably and focus on those.

Be amazing

This is the most important consideration but also the most nuanced. In a lean and agile world where we love to iterate, fail fast and learn from our mistakes, to put a huge focus on quality and high production value might sound conflicting. Do I get something out quickly or keep adding polish to give the best first impression? Do both.

The key is determining the right balance to give your opportunity the chance it deserves. A few years back, the trend was to keep projects under wraps for too long, throwing endless time and money into fundamentally flawed ideas. The advent of lean and agile practices have addressed this and we now have the well and truly embraced concept of the “MVP” (minimum viable product).

Social however, is a fickle place and I feel the MVP pendulum has perhaps swung too far into the M and lost focus on the V. In a world of 140 character updates, 15 second video, terminal velocity down votes and split second attention spans, it’s crucial to make a good first impression.

This is something I’ve seen some do incredibly well recently. Presenting extremely compelling, highly polished “micro content” that offers an exciting glimpse of their larger plan. Not full blown, fully fleshed out and completed projects, but a wonderful, fleeting glance at something that looks great and leaves you excited for what’s next. They’re easy to spot because the mechanics of social media throw them into the limelight.

Here are some examples that stood out to me recently of people creating and sharing some amazing work:

The entire escapade of how this development started is worth a read.

[Image] The art of sentence length. from writing

These are just a few that have stood out to me recently based on my interests but there is always something noteworthy being shared on social media that you can learn from. Massive engagement showing off a small piece of their larger vision. What is it about these that makes them stand out? These folks undoubtedly have some incredible talent, but as mentioned earlier don’t chalk that down to luck or circumstance. Perseverance and hard work will almost certainly be a common trait.

Your first reaction might be to define why your project/skills/circumstance is different so you can’t be compared to things like this. Make your second thought be about how it potentially could be. What do you need to do to create something similar or better? What might your snippet be like that represents your work/project/idea in such a way? Do that.

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