A lot of people tell me I’m “good at social media.”
For the last two years, I “did” social media as a career. Worked with dozens of local businesses, listened to a bunch of special webinars, spoke at social media seminars.
It was great! I love “doing” social media and I hope to have a long, prosperous career in the field.
But the billion-dollar question is: what differentiates a “good” social media professional?
Because, let’s face it, anyone can read a whitepaper of Twitter tips and tricks. Anyone can master the perfect Instagram filters. Heck, I’d even argue anyone can learn the best methods to “defeat” Facebook’s almighty algorithm (known in a previous life as “Edgerank.”)
Honestly, a social media professional could be eighteen or eighty -- with some effort, the nuts and bolts of these mediums are not difficult.
In my mind, the mark of the best social media pros is the ability to recognize a story.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent five years on the copy desk at a “real newspaper” -- the Press & Sun-Bulletin (a Gannett property) in Binghamton, N.Y.
In fact, many of the principles there felt the same: a “good” designer could make a page look incredible, but a GREAT designer recognized the value of each piece of provided information, and used the given tools to truly tell the story.
Five years on a professional copy desk, and the biggest lesson I learned was just that: recognizing when something was under- (or over-) played, and intelligently negotiating the budget back into proper balance.
Unfortunately, this is not a skill one can learn by reading Quark For Dummies.
In many ways, social media is a roundabout manifestation of the daily newspaper -- except now, everyone is a designer … whether they know it or not.
In this sorely digital age, for 95% of the people who “know” you, your Facebook page IS who you are. Your likeness, and, sadly, by association your likeability, is inextricably tied to your Twitter feed. Like it or not, YOU are commonly defined by your social footprint -- The Your Name Here Daily Herald, if you will.
Fortunately, congratulations! YOU are the President and Publisher of that personal paper. Sure, others can chime in, offer their two cents, but you know what? If you don’t like what those others are saying, you’ve got the absolute authority to fire them! (It’s called the ‘Unfriend’ button.)
Your story is narrated, directed, produced and published by you and, like it or not, these digital footprints you’re leaving will define you for the rest of your life.
For a business, the principle is the same. Is your daily story “come buy a bagel?” Are you -- digital you -- sitting idly with a microphone, screaming “come buy a bagel, come buy a bagel!”
Would you use that tact in real life? In all honesty, with insanity defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, I sure would hope not.
With that principle in mind, I was able to help many businesses “improve” their social media presence. It’s a simple premise, really: tell your STORY. What is it about you that people will connect to? Be transparent, be communicative, be down-to-earth, and people will believe in what you’re doing. (That, or they’ll unsubscribe.)
I preached those principles (along with Nuts&Bolts 101) for two years … and it worked. In fact, not coincidentally, the most socially successful businesses were the ones who most deeply embodied those ideas -- and the ones that themselves had the most compelling stories to tell.
And for two years, I’d wake up in my one-bedroom apartment, with all my own personal social media channels at my disposal, and think about those same principles:
Is my life as successful as I want it to be? Am I being transparent, communicative and down-to-earth? Most importantly, do I have a compelling story to tell?
Month after month would pass, and those questions became more difficult to honestly answer. Was I successful? Sure. But was I as successful as I wished to be? No.
Was I being transparent, communicative and down-to-earth? Ehhh, sort of. I’d use the “tricks” of social media (again, really not at all complicated) to hide certain aspects of my life from certain people.
And, the biggest of them all, did I have a compelling story to tell? Ehhhh, again, yes and no. I was an excitable, enthusiastic twenty-something making a living in a nice city with a, quite frankly, depressingly low number of twenty-somethings in my shoes. Good story? Sure. Amazingly incredible, blow you out of the water, great-as-can-be story? No way.
But I felt well-equipped to make positive changes.
Firstly, I had a good handle on the social media tools themselves. (Which, I will say again, is really not rocket science; just follow relevant sites/accounts like SocialMediaToday and you’ll pick up the X’s and O’s in no time.)
Secondy, I’d developed the ability to identify and tell a story. (This step is harder; it takes time, but is worth the commitment.)
But, most importantly, the solitude of living alone allowed me to develop a sense of deep introspection -- a skill that for many people comes much, much too late in life.
I looked myself in the mirror and recognized that MY story was not on track to be what I wanted it to be. I looked myself in the mirror and recognized that the only person who could CHANGE MY story was ME, no matter how tumultuous those changes might be to those living comfortably around me. I looked myself in the mirror and recognized that I was both courageous and intelligent enough to try to live a life outside of what is “expected” of people in my position.
And -- this is the hardest part -- I looked myself in the mirror and recognized that MY time to change was NOW. Not next year, not ten or fifty years from now -- RIGHT NOW.
So here I am, on a King Size bed at Howard Johnson in Evansville, Indiana, approximately 22% through an experience completely my own. I’m feeling empowered, feeling energized, feeling sexy, feeling powerful, feeling FREE, and feeling that even if my journey fails, that I will be able to say I took a chance, I tried to do it my way and I accomplished goals that I set for myself.
But I don’t believe I’m going to fail. In fact, because of my history of positive experiences personally and professionally, I know the path that I’ve set for myself leads to success:
Am I being transparent? Hells yes.
Am I being communicative? Absolutely yes.
Am I being down-to-earth? Yes.
And do I have one hell of a story to tell? With all of the characters I’ve seen in these 16 states, I can unequivocally say yes.
And so as this journey continues, I don’t expect to “get better at social media” -- no no. I’ll leave that to the “professionals.”
Rather, with my business and personal life pretty clearly merged, my priority this summer is to continue to grow and build my story -- a story that I can use social media to share with all of you, but more importantly, a story I can wake up each morning genuinely satisfied to call my own.
Thanks for listening; more soon.