I’ve been working with social media for a number of years now so I’ve seen my fair share of people who have, like me, fallen head over heels for the stuff.
What’s not to love?
When you finally find your groove in the medium, it can be an entrancing experience.
- Total strangers come up to you in public and compliment you.
- People point and whisper like you’re a celebrity when you walk into events.
- Your thoughts are read, shared and pondered as if you were a media heavyweight.
While those things are indeed real by-products of heavy engagement with these tools, they’re generally not actually a reflection of reality. But most people don’t make that distinction because the line between viewer and viewed in the space is so ephemeral and translucent.
So, month after month I’ve watched as waves of new people fall deeply into the waters of social fame and drink of its blurry waters. And often, as a result, they begin to blur themselves, which is deeply sad to watch.
I wish I could be a Mrs. Garrett for some of these social students. If I could, I’d gather them all in the cafeteria for a pep talk and some hugs and share the facts of life that I’ve learned from walking in their shoes…
1. Attention is a drug.
We all want to be noticed, appreciated and loved. So when people start friending or following us, syndicating our thoughts or laughing at our jokes, it feels amazing.
I know what it’s like. The more you give, the more you get and the better you feel, so the more you give…and so on.
We humans do this a lot. Sometimes, it’s a process we can control, but for many others, it quickly becomes a process that controls us.
Know who you are and what you want from social media before you invest within it so much of your soul. If you don’t ground yourself first, the tornado of people, ideas and activities may gradually blow you off course.
2. Top of their minds, doesn’t equal the bottom of their hearts.
If you want a large following on social media, it isn’t hard to make it happen.
You just use it a lot.
If you ask someone to notice you, invite them to respond when you talk and you do it in an environment where it is incredibly simple to comply, they will. It’s a function of how the stuff works, not a indication of your prowess in working it.
I know it seems like you are touching a lot of people in your social media adventures, but the reality is that you’re likely just speaking to a lot of them. Their behavior in return is but a reflection of their connection to you, not a commitment.
3. Everyone influences someone.
The community that will form around you in social media is likely going to be attracted to how you think and what you say. And this will probably happen because you are a great person (and you have likely made the deliberate choice to lead in this space rather than follow).
But that doesn’t mean you are the greatest person.
There are millions of micro communities forming around people every day. And those communities think their thought leaders are equally great too.
You are master of your backyard, not the world. And when people in the yard tell you that you are influential, they mean that you are influential TO THEM. While this is spectacular and something to be proud of, it doesn’t mean that you’ve won the awesome lottery and have become a Twitterlebrity. It just means you’re doing your job right.
4. People can love you, without really loving you.
People in social media throw the word “love” around constantly.
Invariably, what they mean when they’re saying it is that they are “highly enamored” of you. But we humans (who want to be loved) like to translate it literally — they said “love”, so it’s love. The end.
This may hurt to hear, but in many cases people in social media don’t actually love you (heck, sometimes they don’t actually even know you – just a curated representation of you).
Sure, if you tweeted that you were suicidal, your social network would call 911, and if you had a new baby, they’d post dozens of congratulatory messages. But those actions alone don’t constitute “love.”
Love is a complicated, fickle, staggering and breathtaking thing that grows in cracks and in gardens under watchful eyes and open hearts. Yes, it can grow in social media too, but it needs to have roots.
So, the next time you see the word float by in your conversation, don’t be afraid to lift it up and look for some.
5. The number is just a number.
I once had a friend say to me, “I have FIVE THOUSAND followers on Twitter who I can call on at any time to make this happen.”
And I thought, “Oh my God. What are you? Kim Jong-Il? Do you honestly think 5,000 people have pledged allegiance to your avatar and are waiting right now to do your bidding?”
The reality is that the followers of any Twitter feed of heft are likely: robots, people who no longer monitor or maintain their accounts, people who follow you just to email your tweets to your friends and make fun of you, your competitors, people who saw you somewhere and followed you — but now have only a vague recollection of why, and yes — your friends, many of whom only catch about 20% of what you post.
So try to forget everything you learned in math class in school. In social media, there are a lot of numbers, but sometimes the lot of them just add up to a whole bunch of nothing.
These are the facts as I see them, students.
I’m no professor – just a house mother who has seen many people pass this way and wants to spare you some of their pain. And I’m terribly sorry if I’ve rained on your parade and shot a few of your unicorns along the way.
Maybe your facts of life will be (and have been) different. Maybe time and technology will send you on another journey where the knocks are not quite as hard and the waters calmer for you to sail.
I hope so. But if it doesn’t, don’t worry. I’ll still be hanging out here in the cafeteria when you return, ready with a hug if you need one.