Good practice for social media
You can choose to approach social media however you want, but there are certain things you can do which will help you get the most out of it…
- Above all, remember it’s a conversation. If you want to ‘lurk’ - which is to say listen in without contributing your voice, that’s fine. You don’t have to join in. Many people are more comfortable listening at first, then joining in later. But the one thing which very rarely works is treating social media like a broadcast medium. It is NOT a place to just tell people what you’re up to and be done with it. Social media is the closest we generally get online to a face to face conversation: it works best when you ask questions, answer questions, join in with conversations that are already happening, and generally engage in a wider dialogue.
- Be nice. As a rule of thumb, you need to be about 30% nicer when you write things down than you would be when saying them out loud. Words on a screen don’t always have the nuance or context required for everyone to interpret them as you mean them. So by all means express your views and don’t censor yourself, but, especially when talking to or about individuals, be kinder than you think you need to be.
- Make the most of your profile. You don’t need a brilliant picture for your Twitter profile, but leaving it as the default egg icon will put lots of people off who might otherwise interact with or follow you; it’s associated with spam. Similarly many people will make a decision on whether to follow someone (on Twitter, Instagram or any other platform) based on what you say in your profile and the last few posts you published. So say something meaningful if you can, or at least tell them what they might get if they follow you.
- Don’t be spammy. It’s okay to ask others to help you spread your message once in awhile, but constantly asking for retweets and shares wears thin pretty quickly for those around you.
- Make it easy for people to take the next step. Let’s say I work in the same field as you, I find your YouTube channel, and I enjoy your videos. What I need now is to take a next step to find out a bit more - is there an easy-to-find link to your blog, or to your Twitter feed? Similarly, make it as easy as possible for people to share your content if they like it.
- Don’t just share your own stuff, share other people’s too. If you see something you reckon your audience will like, direct them towards it even if it’s not by or from you directly.
- Use the search functionality. A lot of people give up on a social media platform before they really get started, because they don’t see the point of it. In order for social media to work, you need to be following interesting people who talk about the things you care about. So search for keywords relating to your profession, hobbies or interests - and when you find people talking sense about them, follow them. This way, you should end up with a steady stream of interesting things in your feed. It won’t happen on its own, you have to make it happen.
- Don’t criticise your employer. There are limits to this, obviously. If you work for an unethical company and want to be a whistleblower, that’s a whole different conversation - but in this context we’re talking about unleashing everyday frustrations on the world, online, in public. It is never a good idea. Ever. It ends badly so much of the time. You think they won’t find out, but they will. At the very least, write the post, save it as a draft and revisit it no fewer than 12 HOURS later before pressing ‘publish’.
- Don’t be afraid to quit a platform. It’s very hard to delete a social media profile. Especially if you’ve invested a lot into it. But sometimes, if a platform is no longer working for you, or the community has moved on, or you’re stretched too far and simply don’t have time, it’s okay to get out. And it’s better to just get rid of the profile entirely than to leave it neglected but findable online, no longer reflecting you or your views.
- Make sure social media is working for you. Once you embark on a life of digital citizenship, things can snowball quickly, and you can find yourself spending a lot of time online, managing several parts of an online presence. That might be fine - but every so often it’s worth taking a step back and asking, is this working for me? Is it making me happy? Is it worth the time it takes?
Social media, when it works well, is amazing. It can be a source of support, it can create friendships, it can enhance your career, and it can educate you on things you wouldn’t otherwise learn about. But it has to work for YOU. Be proactive in ensuring social media is a positive and useful aspect of your online life.
© University of York (author: Ned Potter)