Putting the ‘Social’ Into ‘Social Media’

I’ve just been having a clear-out of people I was following on social media. Don’t worry, it’s not anyone whose posts I read and interact with, it’s people who’ve obviously stopped using the platform. Some accounts hadn’t been used for several years and I couldn’t even remember some of the people!

It reminded me that at the very heart of social media is the notion of being ‘social’. I think it’s quite easy to forget that sometimes. I frequently see people and businesses who are new to social media simply using it as a loudspeaker. In this ‘digital age’ it’s easy to get online, and I can see why people are drawn to using social media as a means to promote themselves and/or their business.

Now, let’s be clear, I’m no social media expert and I’ve had no training in social media. I do use it though…a lot! For all its faults, it offers so much. I often joke that I wouldn’t have any friends if it wasn’t for Twitter, and maybe, this isn’t so far from the truth. Perhaps one of greatest joys in life (for me anyway) is meeting people in person whom you get to know online. I’ve met so many wonderful people over the years, and I count many of them to be my closest friends. One of them is now my wife!

But, if you’re new to social media, it can be daunting. It’s hard to know where to start (and where to stop), so I thought it might be useful for me to share, from my own experience, some tips and ideas to help you navigate social media if you’re just starting out and would like to use it for promoting yourself and/or your business. Even if you’re not new to social media, I hope these tips will still help:

1. Starting your social account is the easy bit

Setting up your account is the easy bit, it’s then the hard work starts. Setting up is easy, but now you have to manage, grow and run your account, and that’s a whole new challenge. Try and do a bit of planning before you make your accounts live. What will you use them for? Why are you setting them up? What do you want them to say about you and/or your business?

2. Be present and active

Whatever platform you’re going to use, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another, use it regularly. Particularly if you’re going to use it for promoting yourself and/or your business, I personally think you need to be doing something most days. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break from it occasionally, and it doesn’t mean you have to be on there 24/7, but I think that a regular presence is necessary, and a welcome way of building community and making connections. Develop a mindful relationship with social media which works for you. There is no ‘right’ way.

3. No one owes you a follow or a like

Don’t expect people to follow you back just because you follow them. These days, I’m quite picky. I tend to follow people back only if I’m interested in their posts, or they’re clearly interacting (or are going to interact). Trust me, it’s by being social, by chatting to other people and getting to know them, and by interacting with what they post, that you’ll acquire followers (and hopefully friends too). Social media is a community, and like any community, there are those who take lots, but sadly put little back. One of my pet hates is people who continually follow and unfollow in the hope you will follow back. Another pet hate is those who only show up on social media when they need to sell something and are absent for the remainder of the time.

4. Follow the 80/20 rule

Don’t just use social media as a loudspeaker to promote you and/or your business. Some people say that you should apply an 80/20 rule, that is to say only 20% of your content is advertising. On busy platforms, even 20% can be a lot. Take the time to be social first because from experience, I know that will reap rewards further down the line if you want to use social media for promotional purposes. Sometimes it is the loudest people who have the least interaction.

Social media apps on phone

5. Slow growth is sustainable growth

It’s a slow process. It’s a very slow process. I believe that if you really want your social media content and interaction to be high quality, it might take years. I’ve been on Twitter since 2010, but it was probably four years before it really took off for me. Likewise, I didn’t acquire 1,000 Facebook likes or 4,000 followers on Instagram overnight (or even in a year). But again, make the most of the social interaction, because I truly believe this will be the thing which grows your following. Slow growth is far more likely to be sustainable and meaningful. Rather than attracting a lot of followers, it’s best to attract those who will genuinely be interested in what you share and post.

6. Be authentic and be human

I’m a firm believer that you and your content should be authentic. Some people choose to use their account just for business, others use it for a mix. I guess that I don’t have that clear divide between work and leisure (I like to think I just have ‘life’) so you get a bit of everything from me, but I do use different platforms for different aspects of life. I personally think this is a good thing because it shows I’m human, and let’s face it, most of us would rather interact with other humans than faceless bots.

7. Think before you post

Take your time. Think before you post. Remember that even if you go back and delete something you’ve posted, it’s probably already been archived somewhere, and it’s dead easy to screenshot these days. Maybe sticking to the mantra that you shouldn’t post anything online which you wouldn’t say to someone’s face isn’t a bad idea. In the main, whilst I often champion the causes closest to my heart, I generally avoid politics. Social media is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t need to be a loudspeaker for your latest political crusade (or if it is, then consider whether you should be having separate accounts…)

8. Things you post and share reflect you and your business

Remember that what you post reflects you and/or your business. That includes things you share/retweet/repost. Again, think before you post. Are the things you’re sharing things you’d like to be associated with you and/or your business?

9. No one is perfect

Don’t correct other people’s spelling and grammar. I try my best to check the spelling and grammar of my posts, but even then, mistakes happen (we’re all at the mercy of autocorrect too!). When the odd mistake creeps through, I really don’t need this pointing out to me (either publicly or via private message). You won’t make friends online by trying to score points.

10. Don’t take social media to seriously

Enjoy it! Sometimes, the best way to approach social media is to just enjoy the journey. Don’t expect too much from it, and again, don’t expect too much, too soon. Tread carefully, be yourself, and above all, be social.

Thank you to Clementine for allowing me to use some of her photos to update this post.

Originally published August 2018; updated May 2024.

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