Social media can be used for a lot of purposes: providing an update on a moment in your life, letting other people know about an event or cause, or sharing an interesting article you’ve read… all great uses… but social media can be used for so much more. Social media starts off as a novelty. You get excited that other people are interested in what you have to say. You get glimpses into your friends and colleagues lives. It’s one long conversation that exists across the boundaries of time and physical distance, and that’s pretty neat.
I’ve heard some people lament that this means personal face-to-face interactions suffer, but I believe that if you’re using the power of social media, and understand how it works (and how it can work for you and others), then it will actually enhance these relationships, not hinder them. Don’t run away from social media, run towards it. When you next check your social media site of choice, ask yourself:
How can I uplift others?
Let me give you an example. I have a colleague who uses an automated Facebook app that will post a generic “Happy Birthday” message on your Facebook wall on your special day. When I see these posts, they really don’t mean much. The posts required no thought on behalf of the person. They required no action on their part. In fact, that person might go through the entire day and not actually know it’s your birthday at all. It’s apps like these that give social media a bad rap for being “isolating” or for degrading personal relationships. You might as well not do anything at all in this situation. At least then I will think you’re just busy that day or maybe didn’t log on to Facebook.
If you do a cursory look at your Facebook page, you’ll notice that some of the posts that tend to get the most likes and comments are pictures of significant life moments: the birth of a baby, a graduation, a wedding, etc. This “liking” is a way of saying to your friends, “congratulations” or “I’m happy for you.” If you want to take it one step further, writing a “congratulations” in the comments only enhances this effect. Better yet, you can personalize your comment by including someone’s name, or making a reference to something you both have in common. “Janie, I’m so happy for you. Excited to meet the little one.” When I look at social media posts, I don’t just read them as throw away snippets, but as a way to connect with a colleague, friend or family member that is important to me. The simple act of commenting can uplift, validate, and help me connect with someone else. “Liking” matters and I’m very willing to give it out liberally. Commenting matters and I’m willing to take the extra 15 seconds to make a connection.
That is not to say you should be a serial “liker” or commenter, it should come from a place of genuineness, but engaging with others is what brings social media to life. It’s what communicates to that person I met only briefly a few years ago that they are still in my thoughts. It’s the high school classmate with whom you may have lost connection, but want to tell, “Hey! I’m still rooting for you!”
At the most recent ACPA–College Student Educators International Convention, Ed Cabellon presented a PechaKucha talk on “Using Social Media to do Social Good” (see below). In it, he goes beyond this post to talk about how you can use social media to effect causes and organize for change, but the concepts apply equally to what I’m discussing here. Ed talks about “tending to your social media garden.” This garden metaphor is a great way of understanding how to use social media with a purpose. Good produces good. If you tend to your garden, it will grow, flourish, and produce other goodies you may not have expected. When you tend to your social media garden, it will expand, go more viral, and produce positivity that will come back to you.
The next time you log on to social media, think, “How can I lift someone up? How can I let them know they matter?” If you make a point of doing this at least once a day, I promise that not only will you affect others, but you will also affect yourself.