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.

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.

Don’t know where to start? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you tips on how to manage your own social media so it doesn’t manage you.