Yesterday, I shared a brief overview of different social media platforms. If you want to know how to use something, you have to know what it is.
Today, I’ll be sharing my “rules” for using each platform. By “rule” I simply mean the methods I find most effective based on my experience and research. I do keep up on the latest best-practices for each platform, so I’m not pulling these out of my … notebook. These are general principles that apply to social media. I’ll talk about some specifics for each platform later.
Rule 1: The main rule
If you read nothing else, read and absorb this: Be useful; don’t be a jerk. This brilliant piece of advice is from one of my earliest Twitter friends, Jimmie Bise. Jimmie actually left the cesspool that is Twitter and is on Facebook, Instagram, and Jimmie Writes. Because he’s a writer as well as a dispenser of wisdom.
But what does “Be useful; don’t be a jerk” mean?
By “be useful,” I don’t mean only “practical posts” like answers to questions, free stuff, and how-tos. For me, sharing puns is useful. Spreading laughter and joy is useful. Sharing your honest perspective, your struggles, your passions, etc. All that stuff is useful. But promoting others is useful too. Connecting people is useful. Sometimes correcting people is useful, but don’t be a jerk about it. (For example, feel free to tell your Aunt Doris that the link she posted is a hoax, but do it kindly and with respect. And maybe even, I don’t know, privately? Nobody likes being corrected in public, least of all Aunt Doris. M’kay?) Mostly I mean be other-focused. Even as your trying to build your own brand, think of how you can help others. Adding value to people’s lives will cause them to value you and what you offer.
Don’t be a jerk. You would think this would be self-explanatory, but anyone who’s spent 10 minutes on any social media platform knows it isn’t. Don’t attack people. Don’t be part of the social media mob. ( So You’ve Been Publically Shamed should be required reading for anyone with a social media account of any kind.) Don’t assume the worst about other people — especially about people with whom you disagree. Don’t post things for the sole purpose of provoking a reaction. Before you share some outrageous outrage with eleventy billion frowny faces and an indignant remark about “those people,” do some research. Check out Unfakery or other myth-busting sites as well as legitimate news sources (and watch for spoof sites that look legitimate but aren’t.) And know that in the first 24 hours after a major event, nobody knows anything and even “legitimate” news sources share stuff that turns out to be utter tripe in an effort to be first with breaking news. So maybe just cool your jets. In fact, if you just cool your jets and do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, you’ll have the “don’t be a jerk” part down.
Rule 2: Remember each platform is its own thing
Do not cross-post identical content across all social media platforms! Don’t put a link on Twitter that’s the first 10 words of a 300 word Facebook post, don’t pin your Facebook or Twitter status. Customize your content for the purpose and guidelines of each platform.
Remember “social media” isn’t one, amorphous thing. That term encompasses distinct platforms with different audiences, formats, and goals. For example, Twitter has a limit of 280 characters while you can write a novel on Facebook, and Pinterest and Instagram fall somewhere in between. Pinterest favors vertical pins with a 2:3 ration, Instagram favors square images, and Facebook and Twitter like their very own specific image sizes that change yearly. Or sometimes daily. (I’m a little bitter about the whole image-size issue.)
My biggest issue with cross-posting is that the audiences and their behavior vary so much from platform to platform. Facebook is the elephant in the room (and the pain in my backside), so people tend to cater to it and just push their Facebook post to other platforms. Sometimes that means posting a tweet that requires the user to click a link that takes you from Twitter to Facebook and then to a final blog post or other outside page. Totes annoying, guys. And it takes all of one minute to write a short Twitter caption (the title of the post works fine!) and a link to the post.
Instagram usually cross-posts well to Twitter (if the caption is short) or Facebook, but post the picture and caption uniquely on those sites, don’t just share from Instagram. “But WHY? It’s so much easier to just hit share!” Well, yes, it is. But here’s the thing: Every platform wants you to come to them and none of them want you to leave. So when you share from a platform, the new audience will most likely only see a snippet but be forced to go to the originating platform to see the full post. And nobody wants to be forced to leave the platform they’re using!
Say I’m twittering and I see this:
That’s it. That’s the whole tweet — a link to a Facebook post. I’m not clicking on that! Even if there’s a half sentence before it, I’m probably not going to do it. It takes less than a minute to customize a tweet. When I see this, I can pretty much guarantee the user isn’t a regular Twitter user and I wonder why it is I followed her tweets to begin with.
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Rule 3: Don’t try to game the system
Just like the house always wins in Vegas, the algorithm always wins in social media. You can’t cheat the system. There is no secret trick to get around the rules or give your profile an automatic boost. You can’t manipulate the algorithm by making a video of a still image. There is no perfect posting schedule or format or anything. Social media isn’t a puzzle to be solved, and the more time you spend trying to figure out the secret, the less time you spend connecting with people.
An aside: One of the absolute worst things you can do is buy followers. The algorithms are getting wicked smart at finding the fakes, and outlets will get more and more punitive for those who engage in the buying/rigging follower count game. Additionally, if you have 1000 followers, but 900 of those are non-engaging bots, then automatically 90% of your followers aren’t engaging with your profile or anything similar to your profile. So Facebook (or whoever, but Facebook) is going to assume that nobody likes your profile — even the 100 real followers. Fake followers end up hurting your reach to real followers, and you can permanently damage your profile. I don’t care how tempting it is, don’t try to artificially boost your follower count. It won’t end well.
The good news is that the system is not, in fact, out to get you. Believe it or not, social media outlets want its users to produce content that leads to real engagement with real followers. (Because the more people engage, the more data they can collect and sell. So yeah, we’re all products, but it’s not nefarious. It’s just business.) We may disagree with the approach of a particular platform, but real followers and real engagement are the keys to success regardless of the platform.
Focus on producing good content and connecting to and engaging with real people who like your content. It’s that simple and that hard.
Rule 4: Social media is not the boss of you
Do all these rules give you social media anxiety? Just remember: Social media is a tool to help you connect with others, to help grow your business or other endeavors, to help you learn and grow. It can be an immensely useful tool, but it is a hideous master.
Facebook convinced millions of small businesses and creators to invest heavily in Facebook, building their audiences and platforms in and around Facebook. Then it pulled the rug out — limiting their ability to reach their own fans without paying. All they got for serving the Facebook master was heartache. And it’s not just Facebook that changes the algorithm and wants you to pay. All the platforms are continually tweaking the way they serve up your content in an effort to attract and keep users and all the platforms are moving toward paid ads for businesses. That can be maddening for content providers, but I think we can find a happy medium between being a hampster on the social media wheel and throwing up our hands in despair.
All platforms have their own culture, rules, benefits, and drawbacks. Especially for a one-person operation, it is impossible to keep up with all the ever-changing quirks of every platform. So don’t. I know the “experts” will tell you that you need a presence everywhere. And go ahead and grab your name on as many platforms as you can. Save your spot just in case. I’m Oddlysaid everywhere. But just because I’m there doesn’t mean I’m there.
Start on the platform you’re most comfortable using and branch out as you need/want to. If you want to. You don’t actually have to do it all, and you don’t have to follow all the always changing, often conflicting rules the so-called experts insist upon. At the same time, don’t put all your eggs into one social media basket. That might mean having a blog, an email list, or an online store. Or it might mean more than one social media presence. You don’t have to do everything, but you should do more than one thing. Don’t let any one social media platform be your end-all, be-all.
And speaking of experts, there are tons of self-proclaimed experts out there.* Don’t try to follow them all. Find one or two per platform that you’re using that you like. Take what’s useful, leave what isn’t. And if their information no longer fits, find someone else that does. In the next part, I’ll share some experts I like, but there are many out there, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.
Great googly moogly, this is going to be a three-part series. Tomorrow (or maybe within the next couple of days), I’ll take a closer look at each specific platform and share how I use them. I may even give some recommendations. But you can take what’s useful and leave the rest.
*FTR: I am not an expert on anything, least of all social media. But I am a loud-mouth who will gladly share her opinion whether you ask for it or not. Actually, that may be the current definition of expert.