Social media use and misuse for beginners, part 1



Now before you go on about how I said “I’m back, baby!” and then was decidedly not back, I want to say I’ve been a little busy. I do that homeschooling thing, ya know. And we graduated our first kid this year! That’s right, I’m the parent of an adult child. Whoa. But senior year/graduation takes a lot of time and energy. I’m glad I get a break before we do it again. *gulp*

But the main reason for my lack of being here is that my side hustle takes most of my extra time. (Can you call it a side hustle when your main hustle — homeschooling — doesn’t actually pay?) But I love it, and it’s actually inspired this post.

For the past two years, I’ve been the social media manager for Proofread Anywhere and the Work-At-Home School, It’s an interesting, challenging, and occasionally frustrating job. (Mainly because of the always changing algorithm and the shockingly large number of people who do not understand the concept of a joke.)

But my point — and I do have one — is that all this social mediaing that’s taken my time has also led to some insights about how people use and misuse social media. While I’m primarily thinking of people trying to make a buck or build an audience with social media, this information may be helpful for people who uses social media for personal use, as well.

The number one mistake people make is not understanding that “social media” isn’t one thing.

We use the phrase “social media” to encompass every platform online, but we’re really talking about several distinct things. It would be as though you said all ecosystems are the same and thought you could survive with the same equipment on Mt. Everest that you need in the Sahara. The consequences aren’t quite the same as wearing sandals to climb a mountain, but using the same approach for Pinterest as you do for Facebook is still a bad idea.

Step 1: Know the differences between your social media platforms!

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The truest representation of social media there is. Not pictured: Pinterest, the janitor who only comes around when somebody needs real work done.

This post is a very basic overview of four main social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Tomorrow I’ll look at how to approach each platform based on these descriptions.

These are the platforms I’m most familiar with. If you use other platforms, share your basic understanding of what they are and how they work in the comments. The idea is to give a description of the nature and function of each platform, not a detailed philosophy or technical explanation.

Four distinct platforms with different purposes:

Facebook is primarily about connecting people in communities. It encourages engagement and connections. Like all of these platforms, Facebook uses your interests and affinities to serve up your community for you. The more you engage with certain groups/postings, the more of those you’ll see in your timeline. If your timeline is filled with a bunch of ragey idiots, maybe start liking posts with cute animals or puns. (Oh, hey! I know of a page that shares a lot of puns and other delightful content! Hint, hint: OddlySaid Facebook Page, right here.)

Twitter is also a community, but more like the punks at the corner store and or the goofballs at the back of the class. Okay, that’s a little harsh. Twitter tends to break into groups more easily than Facebook: Homeschool Twitter, Political Twitter, Book Twitter, etc. It’s easier to find a niche of people with shared affinities. It’s a lot easier to pick exactly who you want to follow and see all their posts on Twitter than on Facebook. At least for now, Twitter lists truly let you be the curator of your feed. Things move a lot faster on Twitter — and can turn ugly quicker as well. For my own purposes, Twitter is a fun toy and great for getting a quick take on the day’s obsession (and backing away slowly), but it’s not as useful as other platforms for promoting stuff. Not useless, just less useful. I don’t neglect it, but I don’t expect that much out of it and adjust my investment accordingly.

Instagram is the glossy fashion magazine of the social media world.  And like those fashion mags, the content 90% image, 10% text. It’s less about selling specific products than selling a lifestyle. The whole point of Instagram is the image. Those images can be motivational quotes or memes or whatever, but it’s all about how people react to that one little square being scrolled past at the speed of a thumb. Hmmm. That metaphor didn’t really work, did it? Moving on! Like Twitter, you can curate your own feed better than Facebook, but since Facebook owns Instagram, the (cursed) algorithm plays a role and to some extent, you’re getting what the algorithm thinks you want to see.

Pinterest is probably the most misunderstood platform, but I think it also has the most potential for businesses. Think of Pinterest as the catalog or reference book of the social media world. In fact, it’s more of a search engine than a social media platform. It’s social in that you can find like-minded people to follow, but you’re following them for the information they curate. People go to Pinterest to find information or ideas. Need a grain-free crepe recipe? Pinterest can serve up a whole slew of them in 10 seconds.  Looking for inspiration for a kitchen remodel, kid’s birthday party, or vacation? Pinterest has you covered. And it doesn’t matter who created the pin, as long as the information is good. But note: Pinterest, like Instagram, is heavily visual. It’s the pin that grabs the eye and causes a person to click.

Tomorrow (or maybe the day after), I’ll take a look at how these definitions can help you use these platforms effectively and how you can manage the constant changes to social media without it taking over your life.

What do you think? How would you change or add to these descriptions?

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