I’ve gotten a bit of feedback on the previous two parts in this series. One of the things that’s been brought up is just how much of a “rabbit hole” various social media platforms can be. It’s to unwittingly get sucked down into it. Hours pass while you’re scrolling through posts and you suddenly wonder where all that time went. You’ve got work to do, so you want to avoid letting that happen.
Or, put a more curmudgeonly way, “I hate people. I hate small talk. How do I avoid wasting my time with this trite, cumbersome, and meaningless social media stuff.”
The important thing here, though, is making the best use of your time. Later in this post, I’ll cover that and provide you with some mechanical, procedural things you can do to optimize the time you spend on social media.
But, first, I need to talk about something else…
Let’s get real for a second
I need to address the curmudgeonly among you. Those folks bordering on misanthropy and generally abhor the thought of interacting with other people at a superficial level. You might think that the overwhelming amount of stuff posted on social media is insignificant discourse. Fake interaction. Tiresome insincerity.
On some level, dear curmudgeon, you’re right. In a lot of ways, social media can be a nasty mirror for the way things are in meatspace. Most social interaction, online and off, is small talk and icebreakers. What’s you’re name? What do you do? Wow, you’re pretty. How about that sportsweather? This is a photo of my cat. Look at how important I am. Blah blahbity blah.
Yes, most social interaction is meaningless and excruciatingly tiresome. But you’re not just a curmudgeon. You’re a “creative”. A maker. You’re on the producer side of the producer/consumer equation. If you’re reading this post (and the previous ones in this series), then it stands to reason that you have an interest in selling your work or your skills in your creative medium. If you’re selling something, that means you’re making money. If you’re making money (or planning on it), then that’s a job.
Jobs are work. Like all jobs, there are fun parts and there are less-than-fun parts that you have to do. For you, it just might be that this is the unpleasant part of your job. For me, when I was doing more freelance work, it was always the administrative tasks. They took me away from the fun stuff and I had to make a concerted effort to not avoid those tasks. Otherwise, my freelance business would flounder.
But that’s part of the job. That’s work. Work requires doing things that demand effort. Some of that exertion won’t be fun, but it is important. That said, if your “exertion” at this point is limited to muscling your way through digital small talk, then you’re probably doing alright. The alternative is to not do it at all. People can tell if you don’t like a social media platform and if you’re just going through the motions. And your response rate will reflect that. That’s fine, too. You don’t have to put on your happy face and get the work done. Just know that if you do so, you should be comfortable if you happen to create in obscurity… also keep that day job.
Nuts and bolts
But let’s say you want to do the work. You’re willing to stomach these trite interactions in an effort to increase your appeal to your target audience (that would be the people you hope will give you money). However, you don’t want to be a “social media person”, wasting all of your time in a sinkhole of awkward family photos and cat memes. Hell, even if you like all of that stuff, maybe you’re just more interested in getting some actual work done. In either case, you want to jump on social media, do a few things to build your audience, and get out before you feel like you have the wash the smell off yourself.
This section is for you.
There are a few strategies—some mechanical procedures—that you can follow to try and make the most use of your time without feeling dirty about it all. I’m going to list a few of them here, but know that although I’ve generalized a bit, these approaches aren’t universal. As I’ve mentioned before, every social media platform has its own idiosyncrasies. I’ve tried to include some specific notes for each platform where appropriate, but some of this you’re going to have to ultimate feel out yourself.
So here we go:
Be consistent. OK, so that’s kind of vague. What I mean to say is that people should have a reason, however small, to look forward to seeing your posts. But people can have goldfish memories. They need to be reminded that you exist… but they don’t want to know that they’re being reminded. My recommendation to start: Do some kind of social media activity once a day. “But I don’t have anything to share!” Find something. Do the work. You don’t live in a vacuum. Read articles your audience would read and share an interesting one. Re-share something interesting from someone you follow. Comment on a popular post. Even better, comment on a quiet post and start a real interaction.
Find important people. Interact with them. In social-media-marketing-speak, these people are called “influencers.” It’s a dumb name, sure, but it gets to the point. Alright, so you’re probably going to hate this strategy, because it’s going to feel like currying favor… and on some level, it is. The strategy works like this: find a person who gets a lot of engagement (that’s the catch-all word social media marketers use for replies, likes, reshares, and general interaction) with what they share. Ideally, the people engaging with this person are also in your target audience. Don’t just go chase after some popular celebrity. It needs to be a person your audience considers significant. Now, once you find this person, make it a point to periodically re-share a post of theirs. Or comment on something they’ve shared. Your interaction is public. Even if you get no immediate response for this activity, you’re associating your brand with that of this person. Yes, it’s absolutely an act of coattail-riding and yes, you probably should feel dirty for doing it. But it’s effective… and you can do this without being slimy about it, because you’re not going to be doing it very often. Why? Because this is a two-part strategy. The next part is coming up.
Interact with the followers of influencers. Now, most people take the above strategy and stop there. That’s a bad idea. The obvious problem is that everyone wants the attention and a glint of the limelight that shines on influencers. Unless your engaging with an influencer actually results in them interacting directly with you, those interactions are basically lost in a sea of noise from their audience. But here’s the thing: audiences aren’t mutually exclusive. People like more than one thing, more than one person. If you’ve found the right influencer, then chances are good that the same kind of people who like their work will also like yours. So interact with those people. Look for the people who consistently engage with almost every post from an influencer. These people are fans. They’re the kind of people who find someone they like and make it a point to evangelize that person’s work to everyone they know. Now, follow or otherwise connect to their social media account and engage with their posts. Don’t be a jerk about. You’re still being a genuine person. Reshare and comment on the things they post that are interesting and relevant to you and your audience. These people aren’t in the limelight, so your engagement is less likely to get lost in noise and they’re more likely to interact directly with you. And because they have a track record of engagement and being a fan, they’re a higher-quality connection than just an influencer or any random follower. You’re co-opting a fandom here, but you’re doing it by finding authentic common points of interest.
Bring something across platforms. Here’s another decent approach. If you happen to be on more than one social media platform, you’ll notice that there’s actually very little overlap. Most people will follow you on one platform or another, but not multiple. That’s because most people have only one or two social media platforms that they actually like to use. The rest, they usually ignore. But you’re not there to socialize, you’re there to market yourself. So it makes sense that you’ll eventually be on multiple platforms and that the people who follow you on one won’t be the same as the people who follow you on another. This presents you with an exciting opportunity to share things to an audience who may have not seen them otherwise. You’re a window into another world for them. So if someone posts something interesting on Twitter, share that post with your followers on Facebook. Now, you could share a link to that specific Twitter post, and if the text there is interesting, that might be a good idea. However, if the thing being shared is an off-site link to an image or a blog post out on the web, I would recommend that you share the direct link to that original thing that was shared. Of course, you still want to name your source from Twitter, that’s just good etiquette (e.g. “@monsterjavaguns on Twitter clued me in on this. Totally helpful stuff”… or something along those lines). The link to the original content is a better post for you to make. The companies that run social media platforms look at the other platforms as competitors, so links across platforms tend to be weighted lower than direct links to art or blog posts.
Funny is always good. There’s a bunch of studies (but I’ve forgotten any specific one and I’m too lazy to look any up right now) that show the incredible lasting emotional impact of humor. Make someone laugh and you’ve cemented a positive foothold in their mind. Of course, humor is hard. We can’t all be funny… and we pity the people who try to be, but aren’t. Fortunately, we’re talking about social media here. You don’t have to be funny. You just have to find something funny that someone else has shared. Then you can share that and be funny by proxy. Of course, if you are actually funny, definitely take advantage of that in the posts, shares, and comments that you make.
Be helpful, but don’t offer unsolicited critique… that’s a jerk move. The idea here is you want to be a valuable resource to people, be it for education or entertainment. You create things. You have experiencing making stuff. Share that experience and help people get better at producing their own things. But you want to make sure you’re doing it in the right environment. This is the kind of thing you do in the confines of something like a Facebook group where it’s a slightly more controlled space and people are expecting this kind of feedback. It’s unwise to publicly jump on someone’s timeline and tell them all the ways they can make their work better when all they really wanted to say was “lookit what I just did!” However, if you can genuinely help a few people who actually ask for it, that’s a quick road to making a fan (and—more importantly—it opens the door to actually having real, non-superficial conversations. Wouldn’t that be nice?)
Share your work. This is obvious content fodder. It’s the whole reason you’re actually on social media to start with. You want people to see your work and ultimately give you money for it. However, as I said in Part 2 of this series, you don’t want to constantly be peddling your wares with every post you make. These posts should be in the minority of the posts you share. Even though these posts are arguably the most important, most of what you share should be everything else. Also, you don’t need to always show completed work. Mix it up a bit. Show works in progress. Show absolute failures that you needed to restart six times. Show goofy warm-up work that was just there to get you going on your real project. You’re a creative maker of things, yes… but you’re also a person. It’s OK to share that.
Share other people’s work. “What? Other people’s work? Those are my competitors! Why would I ever do that?” Hold on there, Captain Excite-o. You’re building your brand. You want to associate your brand—your work—with other work of high quality. Stuff your audience would enjoy. In a way, this is the same move as interacting with an influencer, but without that icky feeling of kissing up to the popular kid. You’re setting yourself up as a resource of quality creative content to your audience. Show them that you have good taste (or that, at the very least, your tastes line up with theirs) and they’re more likely to believe that what you produce is also of fantastic quality. The only thing here is to be absolutely clear that the work your sharing in this posts isn’t yours. Definitely name the artist. If possible, link to that other person’s website or relevant social media account. You’re showing off the work of another great creator. You’re not trying to take credit for that work.
If you need, systematize your social media. I’m listing this one last because it’s my least favorite strategy. Part of the reason I don’t like it is because it’s so blatantly automated and impersonal. This approach coldly treats social media as a pure marketing and brand awareness platform and disregards any potential social value one could get out of it. That said, it can be effective for some people. Basically, it goes something like this… let’s say you’re sticking with the “once a day” interaction thing I suggested above. You could set a schedule for yourself such that Monday is for reshares, Tuesday is for sharing your work, Wednesday is for article shares, and so on. There are absolutely advantages to this approach. If you’re an author, for example, and you know that people are more likely to buy books on Fridays so they have something to read over the weekend, then perhaps that’s when you share your work and get the most effective juice from that post. You can also use third-party tools to batch your social media shares. Spend part of Monday figuring out what you want to post for the rest of the week and schedule those posts for the most optimum time of day to release them. Then you don’t have to worry about social media for the rest of the week unless someone responds to the thing you posted. I don’t like doing that because it feels really impersonal and doesn’t necessarily take advantage of the idiosyncrasies of individual social media platforms. However, I can’t deny that some people have found this approach useful
And there we go, a set of nuts-and-bolts strategies for making the most effective use of your time on social media. With any luck, you can employ a few of these to successfully get yourself started and not feel like you’re wasting your time or getting sucked down a hole. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself having a few genuine, non-superficial conversations that people that get you to actually enjoy the time that you’re working at your marketing.
Are there any strategies I’ve missed? Want to suggest one that might be worth trying out? Drop a line in the comments and let me know what they might be. I’m always down for experimenting.