Becoming A Good Social Media Citizen

Are you a good citizen?

Most people, when asked this question, would say, “yes.” Me, included. But the more think about what this actually means and how this translates into my online interactions, I wonder.

It’s important to know what it means to be a good citizen, not just in the “real world” but also in our online world. After all, we probably spend as much time, if not more, engaging with our online communities as we do our local communities.

In order to determine what it means to be a good citizen online, we must first think about what it means to be a good citizen in general.

Do you remember elementary school? The Citizenship award was a big deal for me and my classmates. It was probably the one that made our parents smile the biggest. In addition to citizenship being an award, it was also a grade…an actual grade! Anything less than an “A” in citizenship was not acceptable in my book. But how did we get evaluated? I cannot remember exactly, but know it had something to do with minding your manners, being kind and helpful, and following the rules (and encouraging others to do the same.)

However, that definition did not precisely translate into adulthood. Being a good citizen as an adult goes deeper and requires much more. It’s about contributing to the place in which you live in a positive way. It’s about participation, collaboration, and connection. Being a good citizen requires a common understanding of what helps and hurts a community and striving together to do the things that build it up and stand against things that tear it down. Civil discourse has always been one of the key ideas that we hold dear as part of living in a peaceful society. What does that mean? In short, “engaging in conversation to increase understanding.”

But somewhere along the way, civil discourse has been replaced with a lack of conversation and contemplation and more contempt-building. We can’t even agree on what would make our communities better which makes it harder to be good citizens. This is true especially online.

It is much harder to engage in real conversation to enhance understanding when it is easy to just post something and then scroll on or switch to another app. We aren’t willing to dive deep into the comments or hop into direct messages to learn the perspective of others. We are busy building our individual walls instead of breaking down the barriers between us.

It’s easy to blame the social media apps for this, and certainly the algorithms and platforms do contribute to creating chaotic communities, but they are not the only ones to blame. Just as we have a responsibility to live with each other in our local communities as contributors, collaborators, and connectors, we have the same responsibility online. We are responsible for building the community we want to be a part of online. We may not be able to control every aspect, but we can control how we contribute. We can control how well we collaborate with our fellow online citizens. We can connect with others in ways that encourage, share, and build others up.

Don’t you want to be a good citizen? I do. I want to change the world and, increasingly, that world includes the online communities in which we spend our time. But I can’t do it alone. It’s going to take all of us to make a difference. Won’t you join me? Sign up for encouragement and inspiration on how to take control of your social media and build the community you want.

Creating the Perfect Social Media Purpose Statement (and, yes, you need one.)

Everyone has a purpose. Full-stop. As we get into this topic, I want you to know that I believe you have a purpose in this world. What we are going to be talking about today is how to define your purpose for being on social media. Why is this important? Because going onto your social media channels without a purpose and a plan can lead to a chaotic and often toxic experience. In general, having a plan leads to better decisions. Think about it. Going to the grocery store with a list makes it easier to stick to the types of foods that you intend to eat and less impulse buying of things that, well, might not be so great for you. Creating a routine for your work week saves you time and energy because you are able to focus on particular tasks on your to-do list. In school, you learned the value of creating a plan, an outline, for your essays in order to stay on topic and get the best grade. So if having a purpose (i.e. to get groceries) and a plan ( i.e. a grocery list) helps you at the store, wouldn’t having a purpose for your social media help you get what you came for? For example, if your purpose is to catch up with old friends, you’ll probably spend more time engaging with these friends than you would in a Facebook group about your favorite hobby or hanging out in Marketplace looking for the best deals. If you are there to promote your business, you might spend more time in your Facebook group than you would be chatting with the president of your senior class.

So do you have a purpose for your social media? You might and not even realize it, but if we don’t define it and get some clarity on it can be easily forgotten in the intensity of a moment or cause that sparks your interest. Next thing you know, your angry about something you didn’t even know was a problem until your newsfeed told you and that’s a recipe for posting or commenting on things that you wouldn’t normally. However, if you have a purpose, you can refer to that when you are unsure of if or how you should post.

Ok, let’s get to work on creating your social media purpose statement. Don’t worry, that sounds really complicated, but it’s not.

First, if you have created personal or family purpose statements based on a set of values that guide your daily life, start with that. My friend and fellow marketer Joe Garrison, states his purpose as, “In all areas of life, just try to make things a little better for others and myself.” While this is his purpose statement for his life, one can see it come through in his interactions with people on social media. His tweets are always making things better, sometimes with marketing advice and sometimes with dad jokes, but hey, he’s consistent!

But let’s say you don’t have some grand purpose statement, that’s ok too. When thinking about why you are on social media, it can be as simple as saying, “I am here to laugh at cat memes.” That’s cool, at least you know what type of content you want. Maybe your purpose is, “I want to stay connected with my kid’s school (or college friends, or fellow knitters, or my church.) Statements like these can and should drive all of your interactions. If you are looking for a community- of cat meme lovers, of fellow parents, of people who love the 90s, or a little bit of all of those, the content you create (the things you post) inform the algorithm of the types of things you are interested in and what you are not interested in.

If you want to have more of an intentional purpose for being on social media than the things listed in the above paragraph, here are 2 questions you should ask to create the perfect social media purpose statement:

  1. Review your last 10-20 posts. What topics are you posting about? It’s ok to have multiple topics but we all tend to have threads. Me? I post about caregiving for my mom, working in social media marketing, old pics of my kids (they won’t let me post current ones), and I share blog posts and helpful articles about social media. What about you?
  2. What do you want to be known for? When people think about you, especially those that ONLY know you from social media, what do you want them to know of you? In the marketing world, we call this “branding.” Whether you think you have a brand or not, you do. Think of it as your reputation. What do you want your reputation to be? I have a friend who is spunky and sassy and it’s part of her “brand.” If you met her on the street, you would get the same sass, and I love that about her social media profile!

After you’ve answered these questions, you are ready to create a social media purpose statement. It can be as simple as filling in the blanks: I want to be known for ____________________ by creating and/or posting content that ___________________________.

My social media purpose statement is: “I want to be known for encouraging others by creating and sharing content that equip, inspire, educate, and encourage.

See? Easy peasy. Now, how will this help your social media experience? When you post with a purpose consistently, you are giving algorithms data that will help determine the type of content you see. You are also telling others what types of things you are interested in talking about which may, in turn, create a deeper connection with people. When this happens, you begin to create the community and experience you want.

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Do You Know What You Signed Up For?

Do you remember when you signed up as a Facebook or Instagram user? Admittedly, I have a vague memory of getting my Facebook account and no recollection at all of actually creating my Instagram or Twitter accounts. Even if you do remember your glorious entry into the realm of social media, you probably don’t remember reading the Terms of Service Agreement. I mean, did you read it? Honestly, I probably did not. Of course, as I began working in the world of social media and it became prudent for me to do so, I have since read them and, well, they are pretty straight forward. In both the Facebook and Instagram agreements, it clearly states that while the platform does not sell your data to advertisers, they do use your data for ads from these advertisers, who pay them to run said ads.

If you spend any time at all on social media, you get this. In fact, you may even appreciate how the ads you tend to receive actually are for things you might enjoy. Keep in mind, though, that the data being used by advertisers is not just from what you post on Facebook or Instagram, but from everywhere you are on the internet. Have you ever used a search engine to find something and then, BOOM, there it is on your Facebook feed? Yeah, that’s not magic, it’s data.

So why am I talking about this? In order for you to be a conscious consumer, and prosumer*, of social media, you need a basic understanding of what social media platforms are designed to do. While they will tell you that they are all about creating opportunities for friendships, community-building, and gathering around the campfire so to speak, that is really only part of their purpose. Yes, they want you to enjoy their platform, so your experience there is important, but not because they care about you as a person. They want you to enjoy being on the platform so that you will stay on it longer and, therefore, see more ads! Oh, and so the algorithm can gather more data.

Another reason I mention this is to dispel a couple of myths that I often see promulgated on Facebook particularly. I am sure you’ve seen them too. First, typically once or twice a year there will be a post shared that says something to the effect, “I do not give Facebook permission to use my data…” yadayadayada. Welp, guess what, you already did (see above paragraphs.) Sharing a post on your wall does not change the terms of service.

Another post that makes the rounds from time to time is the “Facebook will only show you 25 friends” one. The idea is that if a person wants to be one of the 25 friends that Facebook allows you to see they need to comment on your post. Now, think about what Facebook’s goals are: 1) to keep you on the platform as long as possible, and 2) generate revenue through advertisers running ads. Why would they LIMIT the number of profiles you see to a specific number? While there are parts of the algorithm that prioritize what you see, it is not based on a specific number. It is based on how you are interacting with what you see. In general, any time you see a post that says something like these two posts, and especially if the post says, “copy this post and paste it in your status,” just don’t.

Yes, social media can be a wonderful thing. It allows us to keep in touch, connect with people all over the world, promote our own businesses, and even learn new things. But remember what you signed up for. All of this connection is free, to you, but someone is paying. Businesses, entrepreneurs, and other advertisers are paying to use the data that Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms are collecting so they can target ads effectively. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be. (More on that in another post.) The more you know and understand social media and how it works, the better experience you can create for yourself and those who follow you.

*prosumer: a person who consumes and produces media.

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Manage Your Social Media Profile So That It Doesn’t Manage You. 5 Things You Need To Know

If you have a social media profile, then you are a social media manager, or at least you should be. Relying on the particular social media company to do it for you is not going to give you the experience you want. YOU need to take control of your experience and the first way to do that is to understand these 5 things:

  1. You are NOT the social media company’s customer.
  2. The algorithm doesn’t care about you.
  3. Your settings matter.
  4. You get what you give.
  5. Telephones are better than megaphones.

You are NOT the social media company’s customer.

Spoiler alert: you are not Facebook’s customer, or any other platform’s customer. You are the product. You may have heard the saying, “Nothing in life is ever free.” So, ask yourself, “If I am not paying this company to use their platform, who is?” The answer? Other companies. Businesses are paying social media platforms for your data. Now, before you freak out, there are two things to keep in mind. One, this was in your sign up agreement and two, it’s not all bad. After all, sometimes you see the perfect ad for something you want or need and very rarely do you see an ad for something that you have no interest in. Why is this? Your data and the algorithm. This brings me to my next point.

The algorithm doesn’t care about you.

Before we dive into this topic, let’s take a moment to define “algorithm.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an algorithm is, “a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end.” There seems to be this idea out there that the algorithms on various platforms have some sort of secret agenda. While much of how algorithms work is a mystery, the agenda is not. The goal of the algorithm is to keep you on the platform as long as possible. Why? Think about it. If your data is the product and companies are using said data to market to you on these platforms, then the longer you are on there, the more data they get and the more ads they can send to you. The algorithm, which is not a group of people performing tasks, but a computer performing a set of procedures, doesn’t care whether you ‘like’ or ‘frowny face’ a post whether you share it with criticism or support, or whether you are commenting negatively or positively. It just recognizes your engagement and notes that posts like that one drive your engagement. In turn, you will see more of these types of posts. If you want to see less of something, don’t react to it. In fact, don’t even stop to look at it as the algorithm can even tell if you’ve looked at something longer than a few seconds. In addition to just ignoring things, you can also take more control over what you see by adjusting your settings.

Your settings matter.

So, there’s a lot to talk about with settings, so stay tuned for future posts and video tutorials, but here’s a brief overview of things to check in your settings. I’ll be focusing on Facebook settings, but know that you should check all your social platform settings to see what is available for you. First, use your desktop to explore your settings. It’s just easier. Under your settings tab you have the opportunity to decide your privacy level including who can see your posts and how people can find your profile. You can also take a look at Ad Settings to see what advertisers you’ve seen most recently and you can even manage the data that is used to show you ads! I know, pretty cool, right?! Now, of course, this doesn’t mean you can completely control everything, but it does give you opportunities to choose what data is used and how the advertiser uses it. Is it fun to go through all of these things, maybe not, but it does provide you the chance to get rid of many of the unwanted sponsored posts in your feed. But wait. There’s more you can do to help create the experience you want, which brings me to the next thing you must understand to manage your social media.

You get what you give.

Just as with most things in life, you get what you give. If you want a positive uplifting social media feed, then sharing positive uplifting posts will lead to more positive uplifting posts. If you want to create a forum for debate and philosophical discussion, then post accordingly. But be clear about your intentions. Be honest with yourself about what you are posting and the potential outcomes. If your goal is to be known as the best gif sharer, then do that. If you want to be known as the one with the best fitness advice, then get to it! But set an intention and be the change you want to see on the platform!

Telephones are better than megaphones.

This is, perhaps, the most important one of all of these things to know. Social media is meant to be social. It is a place for conversation. A telephone, not a megaphone. When you post or comment, are you talking with people are at them? Think about social media as a dinner party where you are connecting with people, some you know, some you are just meeting for the first time. How would you engage with them? How would you speak to them? One of the things I always ask myself before posting is, “Would I say this to X’s face?” Yes, I usually think of a specific person. If I would not, I do not post or comment. Sometimes I consider how, if read differently than I intended, could my words cause confusion? If so, I try to clarify my point. Am I perfect at this? No. But I do believe that if we consider these things when we are milling around the dinner party that is social media, we will make more friends, have more interesting discussions, and learn new things that will grow our understanding of the world…or even just laugh a little more, which is ok too.

You can control your experience.

In our physical world there is so much we cannot control. Even when we surround ourselves with people with whom we have much in common and create boundaries to protect and comfort us, we, as members of humankind, are bound to encounter people and ideas that are different from ours. And yet, we still manage to live and engage with the world. We can’t control others beliefs, circumstances, or words, but we can control our responses. The same is true for our digital world. Even though we cannot control all things, we can control some things, AND we can control who we CHOOSE to interact with and how we choose to respond. Don’t believe that your social media experience is completely out of your hands. Do what you can to keep yourself safe, to create the experience you want, and to communicate with those you want.

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